Three cases set to make waves in legal waters

Every year the Supreme Court selects around sixty cases to hear, which constitute the “docket” of the Court. This year, several of these cases have received attention for their potential to alter or build upon previous court decisions, specifically Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which deals with abortion; Carson v. Makin, which covers religious liberty issues; and New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc v. Bruen, which focuses on the Second Amendment.

Dobbs v. Jackson has received the most media coverage. Both pro-abortion and pro-life advocates believe that changes in the composition of the Court during the Trump administration have the potential to change the Court’s stance towards abortion. The case involves a 2018 Mississippi state law that banned most abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which an unborn child can feel pain. This law seems to violate previous rulings such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where the Court has held that a state may only outlaw abortion post-viability, which occurs after Mississippi’s 15-week line.

Many pro-life advocates argue, however, that the Court should overrule the precedents in its decisions. O. Carter Snead, a Notre Dame Law School professor, and Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor emerita, argue in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court that “[t]he Court’s abortion jurisprudence is completely untethered from the Constitution’s text, history, and tradition … It has imposed an extreme, incoherent, unworkable, and antidemocratic legal regime for abortion on the nation.”

However, abortion advocates are not swayed. Jennifer Dalven, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, says, “If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Mississippi, it will take the decision about whether to have an abortion away from individuals and hand it over to politicians. The American people overwhelmingly support the right of individuals to make this decision for themselves and will not tolerate having this right taken away.” The Court is scheduled to hear the case on December 1, 2021.

Social conservatives are also excited about Carson v. Makin, a case dealing with religious liberty issues. The case concerns a Maine law that prevents parents from using a public program that provides tuition assistance for private schools to send their children to sectarian schools. The question before the Court is whether such a law violates the Free Exercise Clause or the Equal Protection Clause in the Constitution.

Rick Garnett, the Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law at Notre Dame, told the Irish Rover: “[In] two important cases in recent years, the justices have ruled that such discrimination against religious educational choices violates the Free Exercise Clause. And, it seems very likely that the justices agreed to review the Carson case in order to re-affirm this rule [that] once a state decides to offer school-choice to families, they may not then selectively discriminate against otherwise qualified religious schools.”

Professor Garnett predicts, “If the Court so rules, the decision will have important implications for educational reform and pluralism in a post-COVID environment.” Carson will be argued in front of the Supreme Court on December 8, 2021.

Finally, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc v. Bruen has recently received attention for its potential to expand concealed-carry gun rights. The case came about because of a New York law that requires applicants for concealed-carry licenses to demonstrate a special need for self-defense. When the applicants were denied concealed-carry licenses, they decided to sue, arguing that such a law sets an unconstitutional standard, and violates their Second Amendment rights. If the Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it’s possible that they could go as far as to rule that any restriction on one’s ability to conceal carry is unconstitutional.

Other notable cases on the docket include United States v. Zubaydah, which deals with the ability of national security agencies to withhold information under the state-secrets privilege, and CVS Pharmacy v. Doe, which covers questions of disability discrimination in healthcare plan rules. Another religious liberty case is Ramirez v. Collier, covering the extent to which a pastor may pray in the execution chamber. The Court started hearing cases on October 4, and is expected to release most of their decisions in mid-June.

Sam Delmer is a senior studying economics, philosophy, theology, and constitutional studies. He is originally from San Antonio, Texas, and currently resides in Dillon Hall. Contact him at

Photo credit: Panorama of Supreme Court by Joe Ravi, licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 License