Melissa Harris-Perry: Fasten your seat belts and get ready for a potentially very bumpy ride. The Supreme Court is due to hear some important cases over the next few months with rulings that impact just really everybody from reproductive rights to gun control. Our conservative-leaning court may test the boundaries of our democracy. Here to discuss some of the cases this term and what's at stake is Ian Millhiser, a senior correspondent at Vox, where he focuses on the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the decline of liberal democracy in the US. Welcome, Ian.
Ian Millhiser: Good to be here. Thanks so much.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, what are some of the big cases up for the Supreme Court this term?
Ian Millhiser: Well, the biggest case that I think everyone's going to be talking about is the Dobbs case. This is an existential threat to Roe v. Wade. The specific law at issue here is a Mississippi Law, which bans abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy and the reason why that timeframe is significant is that the rule right now is that if you are pregnant, you have an absolute right to terminate your pregnancy up to the point of viability when the fetus could live outside of the womb.
Viability occurs around the 22nd to the 24th week, so this is just a blatantly unconstitutional law and the state of Mississippi has responded to that fact by just telling the Supreme Court, "Oh, yes, you should just overrule Roe v Wade and take away abortion rights altogether." I think that there's a very high likelihood given the 6 to 3 Republican majority on the Supreme Court that this is going to end in maybe the explicit demise of Roe v. Wade, maybe a more roundabout way of ending abortion rights, but it's not going to be good news for people who need abortions.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Ian, you just said there the 6 to 3 republican balance of the court, but the justices are not themselves partisan. It's not like they ran for office here. Yes, they were appointed, but are they ever acting in ways as surprising as the dog in the background, doing something that we don't expect?
Ian Millhiser: My dog, Watson, has very strong feelings about the partisanship of the supreme court. [chuckles] Here's the thing. Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans didn't block Merrick Garland's nomination and confirm Neil Gorsuch for no reason at all. They didn't race through to get Amy Coney Barrett into her seat while Donald Trump was still President for no reason at all. They understand that there are tremendous policy implications to whether the justices were nominated by Democratic or Republican presidents. What I think has changed a lot in the last several years-- Well, two things that have changed.
One is that both parties, I think, just have a much more coherent sense of what they want from the court than they did 10 or 20 years ago, but the other thing that's changed is for most of American history, the court has always been political, but it wasn't particularly partisan. You'd normally find Democratic and Republican appointees on both sides of the major cases. That changed in 2010 when Justice Stevens, who was a liberal Ford appointee, was replaced by Elena Kagan, who is an Obama appointee.
That was the first time you had a coherent block of Republican appointees who tended to vote together, and a coherent block of democratic appointees that tended to vote together. That's a very new phenomenon in American history, but it's a real phenomenon. I think it's something we have to confront when we talk about the Supreme Court.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, I want you to talk to us about a case that may not be as headline-grabbing or sexy but is absolutely critical. Can you talk about the American Hospital Association v. Becerra?
Ian Millhiser: Sure. There's no short way to summarize it. It involves a fundamental question, though, of how our government is structured. There are a slew of laws where congress will lay out a broad policy and then delegate to a federal agency the power to implement some of the details of that policy, to update the part aspects of that policy as things change. An example of this is the Clean Air Act says that certain power plants have to install what is called the best available technology that is cost-effective to reduce emissions.
The best available technology is going to change over time, new technology is invented. It's the job of the EPA to monitor the technology that's out there and to issue new regulations saying, "Oh, they just invented this new thing that can reduce emissions even more. Now all your power plants have to install it." Conservatives like the conservative Federalist Society is really all in on this, just don't like the fact that agencies have this kind of power.
The Becerra case is an attempt to limit the ability of agencies to make these decisions. There are a number of briefs that have been filed, arguing that a very important case called Chevron, which says that when it is unclear whether an agency has power to act, court should typically defer to the agencies, whether that should be overruled. I think this is going to be a major step along a longer road where the court is likely to dismantle much of Congress's power to empower agencies in this way.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes, Chevron Rule, it's like one of those things I learned when I married a lawyer for sure. Final thing I want to ask you about here is about guns. What are we looking at in terms of cases that might make some decisions around that?
Ian Millhiser: There's a big case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v Bruen. This challenges a New York State law that is over 100 years old, saying that in order to get a license to carry a handgun in public, you have to demonstrate proper cause to obtain the license. You can't just say, "I want to carry a gun." There has to be some reason why you're fearful and you think you need one.
The significant thing about this case, the seminal Supreme Court case defining the scope of the Second Amendment is a case called DC v. Heller from 2008. Heller has a ton of language limiting the scope of the Second Amendment. Bans on concealed weapons are still okay. Bans on possessions of guns by people of felony convictions or serious mental illnesses are still okay. You can still ban guns in sensitive places. You can ban what are called dangerous and unusual weapons, a whole lot of limits on the second amendment. That language in the Heller decision was inserted at the insistence of Justice Kennedy, who was a more moderate conservative than the conservatives that are on the court right now. Now that Kennedy is gone, he was replaced by the much more conservative Brett Kavanaugh. Now that Justice Barrett is there, I think it's very likely that the court is going to expand the Second Amendment and possibly dismantle much of that language from the Heller decision.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Ian Millhiser is senior correspondent at Vox. Thank you and your pup for your time.
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