A Supreme Court scholar at Illinois State University said the two rulings this week in support of LGBTQ rights and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) may show how justices can sometimes be swayed by popular opinion.
Associate professor Meghan Leonard said while the two decisions were surprising, it appears the court broke from its conservative leanings perhaps because the public largely supports gay and immigrant rights.
“They are made up of justices that are part of society and in many ways they are connections between public opinion and legal outcomes,” Leonard said.
But she expects the court will revert back to its more conservative leanings when it rules on pending cases involving abortion and presidential power.
“I don’t see more surprises to come,” she said. “I see more conservative decisions backed up by the five conservative justices, including Chief Justice (John) Roberts.”
Roberts cast the deciding vote in the DACA ruling, indicating the Trump administration could challenge Obama administration directives in the future, but would need to make better legal arguments.
She said it is rare for the chief justice to become a swing vote on the court, as Roberts has become in several high-profile cases, including the court’s 5-4 ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act.
She said Roberts’ legal opinions appear to be guided by a desire to uphold the legitimacy of the court.
“He’s kind of saying, ‘The court is here and we are going to move a little slower,'" Leonard said. “We are here to check the other branches (of government). That’s still our job and we want people to trust us as an institution."
The court is expected to issue rulings soon on challenges to abortion rights in Louisiana and to presidential power.
The abortion case is similar to a 2016 case in Texas in which the court ruled 5-3 against a law to require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. That case came before Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Cavanaugh joined the court.
Congress is seeking to gain access to Trump’s financial records, while investigators in New York are seeking similar records for a criminal probe. Trump has cited executive authority in refusing to turn over the records.
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