The 2021-2022 Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) term seemed to have one impactful case after another and with the court being the center of attention this summer, learning about the court, the cases and how it will impact you is especially important.
The Supreme Court is normally not discussed every day like legislation in Congress and the president's actions are. Currently, SCOTUS is made of 6 conservative justice and only three liberal justices — all who will serve life-long terms.
"The strategy has always been to get enough conservative justices on the court and then start legislating from the bench, so to speak, that's the phrase that's often used, and I think this year certainly fits that bill," Kirk Randazzo, a professor of political science and the chair for the political science department at USC, said. "And I think there was very much a desire to radically reset the law of the land."
In the past, the media covered maybe six out of the 80 cases SCOTUS takes every session or when a new justice is nominated. But with the session from October 2021 to July 2022, the court saw significantly more media coverage and attention. After Politico broke the news in early May about the leaked Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization opinion, it seemed like the hits never stopped.
It can be hard to keep up with all the cases and understand the legal terminology they often involve, but it's important to understand on some of the cases can affect you.
There are a lot of cases from the 2021-2022 term that affects South Carolina and the nation that everyone should educate themselves on.
Abortion rights before 1973 were left to the states to decide if it would be legal and what kind of restrictions they had. States all over the U.S. had different rules when it came to abortion, but in Roe v. Wade and later Planned Parenthood of Southern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the decision was at the federal level, protecting abortion rights in all 50 states.
In the past couple of years, however, states in the deep south have started restricting abortion rights, like Texas with its ban, which outlawed abortions after six weeks and citizens could report others if they had anything to do with abortion, even driving a person to get an abortion. South Carolina also tried to restrict abortions with the fetal heartbeat bill. But most of the time, it was stopped because of the court's previous abortion rulings.
On June 24, it was confirmed that abortion rights were now the state's decisions, giving southern states the ability to fully ban abortions.
"South Carolina legislature has already proposed, they already had a six-week ban in place on abortion," Jessica Schoenherr, an assistant professor of political science at USC, said. "The legislature is already getting to work on not only making a total ban but also the proposed legislation would make it illegal for people to give advice about how to obtain an abortion or to help people."
While states in the south are already restricting abortion rights, many are getting blocked since they go against the citizen's right to privacy. Congress has the power to do something bigger.
Codifying abortion rights, which would make it a federal right, is one of the only things that can be done. However, the liberals in Congress don't have the numbers right now to do that.
"Of course, the other thing is they never have codified Roe," Kathryn Luchok, an instructor of women and gender studies and anthropology at USC, said. "That's still an option, but as you saw, they were able to filibuster it. So, unless we get a bigger majority of people in Congress who were for it, the simple majority cannot make it happen."
It's a grim future for the Conservative-run states, and now Justice Clarence Thomas, an uber-conservative went as far as saying contraceptives, same-sex marriage and the right to privacy are some of the other things the court is looking to overturn.
There's no secret how divided America is on gun rights, some think that the thought of guns causing problems is outlandish, but it's the truth. There have been 369 mass shootings in 2022 so far. South Carolina alone has had 17 mass shootings, and with it only being the halfway point of the year, that number is sure to rise.
Access to guns is unacceptably easy. Just in Columbia alone, residents have been victims of multiple shootings, like the Columbia Mall shooting on Easter weekend or the two shootings at student apartment complexes. One of which was fatal.
But despite all the violence, Congress can't seem to get anything done and SCOTUS, when given the opportunity, chose the side of guns not being a problem.
The case, originating in New York, asks if the law requiring citizens to have a special need for self-defense in order to have the right to carry, violates the constitution. The court decided it violated the 14th amendment by discriminating against citizens with no special need.
Decided on June 23, the verdict allows more guns in more places, creating a potentially deadly situation. This can also set a precedent for the other states. In South Carolina, obtaining a license to openly or conceal carry a gun is required. You need a permit or instant background check, which is a makeup of basic information that gun sellers can look up on a special database, but the information isn't checked against official county court records, in order to obtain a gun.
Most people have heard the phrase, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." These are called Miranda rights. Police officers must read this before a custodial interrogation, an interrogation that occurs after a person is taken into custody. This ensures the officers are not violating someone's fifth amendment rights, which states that citizens have the right to not self-incriminate.
This case involved a police officer, Carlos Vega, not reading the Miranda rights before taking Terence Tekoh's statement for a crime. Tekoh then sued Vega for violating his fifth amendment rights. The court on June 23 determined that Vega was not in the wrong, basically confirming a citizen can't sue an officer for failing to read their Miranda rights.
This could affect a lot of people, including those with little knowledge about the legal system, who don't understand their rights or who have an intellectual disability.
South Carolinians, especially college students that don't know a lot about the legal system need to be aware of this case. South Carolina is home to a lot of colleges, meaning a lot of college kids where things happen all the time like underage drinking that might result in an arrest. It's important to know what your rights are.
In 1962, the Supreme Court deemed school-sanctioned prayer in public schools unconstitutional because of the first amendment right to freedom of religion. But in the Kennedy case, decided on June 27, a high school football coach prayed on a field on his own time. He was punished for doing this, but according to the court and Kennedy, this violated his freedom of religion.
"What this Kennedy case ultimately kind of comes down to is the idea that teachers have space to pray within their workplaces," Schoenherr said."The argument that's come back is basically, well, people also have a right to express their religious freedom as long as they do so in an appropriate manner, that's fine."
Schoenherr also said that some schools never stopped with prayer in schools, and we will start to see more push for religion in the classroom.
There is a time and a place to voice your religion and a public school in front of children is not it. Children come from all types of backgrounds, and not everyone is a Christian. It's not fair for anyone to feel pressured by an adult figure about anything, much less religion.
In 2013, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev set off two pressure cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon. Tamerlan died in the police shootout while Dzhokhar awaited a trial. He was sentenced to death, but it was overturned since the jurors weren't asked to disclose what kind of media attention they've seen about him.
The sixth amendment of the constitution gives the right to a fair trial and impartial jury, but SCOTUS decided on March 4, that the prosecutors didn't have to ask the potential jurors what they had already seen about the case.
This is a complicated case because, for one, the Tsarnaev brothers killed three people and injured over 200. They deserve to face the consequences of their actions, and Dzhokhar deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison. However, he also deserves the right to an impartial jury.
With South Carolina being a state that still has the death penalty, it's important that everyone gets a fair trial, and this case shows just how much a fair trial means to the justices.
SCOTUS, like other branches of the government, are confusing so everyone must educate themselves on how it actually works and what kind of checks the other branches of government have on the court when it becomes as powerful as it is now.
"I think it's important to understand that the Supreme Court can be overturned," Schoenherr said. "Congress can pass laws to undo Supreme Court decisions. There are constitutional amendments that can undo Supreme Court decisions if it's decided on a constitutional issue. The Supreme Court doesn't have the final word. So if they're interpreting something, and it's problematic, Congress has the power to go back and rewrite a law."
With the next session starting on Oct. 3, everyone should be holding their breath in anticipation of what the court will do next, especially with one case on the docket, Moore v. Harper.
"The case is going to ask whether courts have any authority to rule on election laws," Randazzo said. "If the Supreme Court says no, then there is no monitoring that would happen when state legislatures decide to pass any statute regulating elections. Given the fact that we have this conservative majority, there is a concern that they will rule exactly that way."
This would allow states to decide the manner of all elections. With the recent controversy of former President Donald Trump saying the election was stolen, if this goes into law, that could have had a completely different outcome, possibly allowing Trump to secure the presidency.
The court is not something to take lightly. Although there's nothing significant citizens can do as justices aren't elected and have life terms, it's still something everyone should know about, since these cases are so important. But there is one thing that can be done, the president nominates justices, the Senate confirms and Congress has the power to do something about it, and those people are picked by us.