Supreme Court in Focus

The U.S. Supreme Court inaugurated a new session on Monday in a season that promises a number of high-profile rulings from the Justices. Already on the docket is Town of Greece v. Galloway, a landmark public prayer case spearheaded by Alliance Defending Freedom, as well as proceedings related to abortion, the constitutional separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative Branches, and campaign finance. Many are watching with great interest to see if the Court will agree also to hear cases related to the highly controversial Obamacare mandate that requires all but a handful of employers to subsidize contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of any religious objection.

Leading up to the new Supreme Court session, the Justices themselves have received significant media attention. Many eyes are on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who insists that she has no plans to step down from her lifetime appointment during President Obama’s term. In addition, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on the Court and the author of the summer’s 5-4 majority ruling gutting the Defense of Marriage Act, received attention when he reflected last week, “Any society that relies on nine unelected judges to resolve the most serious issues of the day is not a functioning democracy.” He continued, “I just don’t think that a democracy is responsible if it doesn’t have a political, rational, respectful discourse so it can solve these problems before they come to the court.”

Justice Antonin Scalia, perhaps the most outspoken conservative Justice on the Court, granted a wide-ranging interview to New York Magazine. Regarding the highest Court in the land, he opined,

What I do wish is that we were in agreement on the basic question of what we think we’re doing when we interpret the Constitution. I mean, that’s sort of rudimentary. It’s sort of an embarrassment, really, that we’re not. But some people think our job is to keep it up to date, give new meaning to whatever phrases it has. And others think it’s to give it the meaning the people ratified when they adopted it. Those are quite different views.

Of the Legislative Branch headquartered across the street, he asserted, “[T]he power in Washington resides in Congress, if it wants to use it. It can do anything… if it can ever get its act together to do anything.”  Justice Scalia did not shy from a number of other inquiries, including his thoughts on religious beliefs. On the subject of homosexuality, he stated:

I still think it’s Catholic teaching that it’s wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other.

Asked about Heaven and Hell, Justice Scalia replied, “It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it…. Everyone is going one place or the other.” Following more questions from the reporter about the Devil, Justice Scalia exclaimed, “You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.”

The Supreme Court is expected to remain open, despite the ongoing government shutdown. The Town of Greece v. Galloway prayer case is slated for oral arguments before the Justices on Wednesday, November 6.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: October 11, 2013