Raul Garcia, a legislative director for Earthjustice, speaks to a crowd in the rain outside the U.S. Supreme Court to support the Clean Water Act on the first day of the Supreme Court's new term in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 3 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court has a number of high-profile cases on the docket, as it begins its latest term Monday, looking to further reshape U.S. constitutional law.
Monday's session also comes with slightly more attention. It is the first time the public will be allowed back inside the Supreme Court building, since it was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, 2020.
The term comes amid a record low approval rating for the nation's top court. An August poll conducted by Gallup found the Supreme Court's overall approval rating sat at 43%, with a disapproval rating of 55%.
The dismal ratings led Chief Justice John Roberts to publicly defend the court's legitimacy in September.
"You don't want the political branches telling you what the law is. And you don't want public opinion to be the guide of what the appropriate decision is," Roberts said at the time.
"Yes, all of our opinions are open to criticism. In fact, our members do a great job of criticizing some opinions from time to time. But simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for criticizing the legitimacy of the court."
Elena Kagan, one of three Liberal justices on the court, had a different point of view.
If "over time the court loses all connection with the public and with public sentiment, that's a dangerous thing for a democracy," Kagan said in July.
"Nobody can throw the bums out. The way the Court retains its legitimacy and fosters public confidence is by acting like a court. By doing the kinds of things that do not seem to people political or partisan. By not behaving as though we are just people with individual political, or policy, or social preferences that we are making everybody live with."
This comes after the court handed down a decision in June that overturned its 1973 opinion in Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide. The 6-3 decision saw Roberts side with the conservative majority, eliminating the federally protected right to abortion procedures.
Liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson begins her first term replacing the retired Stephen Breyer, but the 6-3 Conservative majority is likely to continue a string of decisions that fall along partisan party lines.
Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court, has been taking part in court activities since June when she was officially sworn in.
"There's no reason to think this coming term, or any term in the foreseeable future, will be any different. On things that matter most, get ready for a lot of 6-3s," Irv Gornstein, executive director of Georgetown Law's Supreme Court Institute said in an interview with The Hill.
The Conservative-leaning court begins its term by taking on a case involving the Environmental Protection Agency and a dispute over the reach of federal oversight to protect clean waterways. Depending on the interpretation of the Clean Water Act, the decision could give private businesses greater leeway when discharging pollutants that ultimately end up in groundwater or wetlands.
Arguments in Sackett v. EPA began Monday morning.
On Tuesday, the justices will hear arguments related to voting rights and racial gerrymandering, stemming from a case in Alabama. In Merrill v. Milligan, a lower court ruled Alabama's newly-drawn voting districts likely do violate the Voting Rights Act, diminishing the influence of racial minorities. Alabama's Black community accounts for 27 percent of the overall population, but claims only one of the state's seven seats in the U.S. House.
The court will hear another gerrymandering case at some point, although a date for arguments in Moore v. Harper hasn't been set. In that case, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are arguing that the state's supreme court erred when it said a new voting map amounted to an illegal partisan gerrymander. The outcome of the case could greatly affect future redistricting.
A pair of high-profile discrimination cases are also on the docket.
On Oct. 31, the court will hear arguments for both Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. The two filings challenge the use of race in college admissions. The cases reference the Supreme Court's 1954 decision outlawing segregation in public schools.
In another case involving inequity, the court will hear a Colorado case involving a web designer arguing her religious belief permits her to exclude gay weddings. A state law makes it illegal to deny customers base on sexual orientation or other identiy aspects. Arguments for 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis haven't yet been scheduled.
Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson stands outside the court after her formal investiture ceremony on September 30, 2022. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo