Supreme Court begins new term with major challenges ahead

U.S.

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The Supreme Court opens a new, nine-month term Monday following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and amid a Senate confirmation battle over her successor.

The return to work for eight justices comes as Republicans inch closer to securing a conservative majority on the high court, which could lead to a rollback of abortion rights, an expansion of gun rights and changes to the power of government.

The shorthanded court faces a series of major cases, including a Republican bid to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which provides more than 20 million people with health insurance. Arguments are scheduled for Nov. 10, a week after Election Day.

If President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Ginsburg, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, is confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate as expected, the court’s ideological balance would tilt with a 6-3 conservative majority. It could diminish Chief Justice John Roberts’ ability to moderate the court’s decisions because conservatives would have five votes even in cases where Roberts might side with the remaining three liberal justices.

“I would guess that on the whole we’re going to see a considerable and perhaps quite rapid shift to the right,” said Orin Kerr, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

The court kicks off its term according to custom on the first Monday of October. It will begin unlike any other, with two cases being argued by teleconference due to the coronavirus pandemic. The court for the first time began hearing cases that way in May, and will continue doing so at least at the term’s outset.

The court building, where large crowds of mourners gathered outside after Ginsburg’s death on Sept. 18, remains closed to the public because of the pandemic.

The most anticipated case in the term’s first week comes on Wednesday, when the justices weigh a multibillion-dollar software copyright dispute between Alphabet Inc’s Google and Oracle Corp. The case involves Oracle’s accusation that Google infringed its software copyrights to build the Android operating system used in smartphones.

The day after the election brings a battle of religious rights and LGBT discrimination from Philadelphia. A social service agency run by the Catholic church sued after the city decided to stop placing children with the agency over its policy of not permitting same-sex couples to serve as foster parents. It could be one of the first cases the court hears with nine justices, if Republicans succeed in confirming Barrett before the election.

In December, the justices will decide whether the House of Representatives can obtain grand jury materials that were part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the last election.

It’s among several cases that could go away or at least look very different if Democrat Joe Biden wins the election.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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