Most of the attention in Washington D.C. in recent weeks has been on the new presidential administration and Congress, both now controlled by Democrats. But the third branch of government remains squarely in GOP hands. The U.S. Supreme Court is now entering its first full year with a 6-3 advantage of Republican appointees. It's been anything but business as usual for the high court lately---with the death of longtime Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last September, followed by the contentious nomination and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to replace her, followed by a presidential election mired in controversy and partisan discord that stretched into the new year. Democrats in Congress have even called for expanding the court, but that is unlikely to happen.
The court already has plenty on its plate for 2021, but the flurry of controversial executive orders signed by President Biden during his first days in office will likely mean more cases coming before the justices. Josh Blackman, professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, compares this to when President Trump first took office and tried to undo many Obama policies via executive order. "The courts, by and large, made him stick with those Obama policies because Trump didn't do a good enough job of saying why he was changing them," says Blackman. "I think we're going to see a similar dynamic...Biden will try to get rid of Trump policies, and the court will say you didn't do a good enough job of explaining why you're changing them."
On a broader level, Blackman expects we will start to see the effects of the 6-3 conservative majority on the court as time goes on. "I think the court will find that more abortion restrictions are valid, I think the court will find certain affirmative action programs are not valid, and we may also see a more robust Second Amendment approach, where the court finds that more gun control laws are invalid," he says.
"On the social issues that are very longstanding, I think those will go pretty consistently to the right," says Blackman. "It may not even happen this year or next year, it may take a couple of years. But I think the court will slowly and deliberately tilt toward the right."