Are Narrow Rulings The Supreme Court's New Normal?

Jun 27, 2018

The Supreme Court issued more rulings this week, some falling along a familiar margin.

On Tuesday, the court voted 5-4 to uphold President Trump’s controversial travel ban. In its third version, the ban restricts entry from seven countries: Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Venezuela. Advocates, including Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., maintain that the travel restrictions are not based on religion, though several of the countries are majority muslim.

President Trump celebrated the ruling in a statement:

Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a tremendous victory for the American People and the Constitution. The Supreme Court has upheld the clear authority of the president to defend the national security of the United States. In this era of worldwide terrorism and extremist movements bent on harming innocent civilians, we must properly vet those coming into our country. This ruling is also a moment of profound vindication following months of hysterical commentary from the media and Democratic politicians who refuse to do what it takes to secure our border and our country.

Critics have condemned the decision, calling it unconstitutional, unprecedented, and un-American.

The court also ruled Tuesday in favor of crisis pregnancy centers, which often advise women against having abortions. A California law had required them to disclose other options for women.

As NPR reports:

The case pitted the right to know against the right of free speech. On one side are self-identified “crisis pregnancy centers” that seek to prevent abortions and on the other side is the state of California, which enacted a 2015 law to ensure that these centers do not intentionally or unintentionally mislead the women who walk through their doors.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the centers are likely to succeed in their claim that the law violates the First Amendment. That overturns an earlier decision by the Ninth Circuit upholding the law and sends the case back for further consideration.

This term was the first full term with nine justices on the court since Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016. And while it seems that the share of cases decided by one vote has been increasing for several years, the close margin is most often seen on high-profile cases that fall along traditional liberal/conservative arguments.

Do the rulings issued in recent weeks, say anything about the shape of the court with Justice Neil Gorsuch now seated?

*Text by Kathryn Fink*


Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO, The National Constitution Center; professor at The George Washington University Law School; author of “William Howard Taft” and “Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet” @RosenJeffrey

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