Clip: Analyzing the first week of the new Supreme Court term

Oct. 06, 2022 AT 5:53 p.m. EDT

The U.S. Supreme Court term is underway with oral arguments in an Alabama redistricting case that challenges the state’s new congressional map as it dilutes Black voter strength. It also marked the debut of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the court.

Get Washington Week in your inbox

TRANSCRIPT

Yamiche Alcindor : This week, the Supreme Court began its new term featuring several high profile cases. On Tuesday, the justices heard oral arguments for Merrill V. Milligan. The plaintiffs are arguing the Alabama's new congressional map dilutes the voting power of black residents. Here is Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black woman on the court, who made her debut this week, talking about the case.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court : It became clear to me that the Framers themselves adopted the equal protection clause -- in a race-conscious way. That we were, in fact, trying to ensure that -- the Freedman, during the Reconstruction period, were actually brought equal to everyone else in society.

Yamiche Alcindor : Conservative Justice Samuel Alito also weighed in.

Samuel Alito, Conservative Justice of U.S. Supreme Court : They're not going to win on whether the majority votes as a block, which may be due to ideology and not have anything to do with race. It may be that black voters and white voters prefer different candidates now because they have different ideas about what the government should do.

Yamiche Alcindor : Quite an experience to be able to hear those oral arguments. I might just call this part of the show "The Ariane De Vogue Show", because clearly, you're the expert at the table. So, I'll just ask you. What are the most important cases coming out of the Supreme Court, especially as we think about everyday Americans lives?

Ariana De Vogue : Well, it was so interesting to hear her there because, usually when a justice starts on the court, they want to show that they know what they're doing. But, -- and, they asked a few questions. She actually dominated those arguments there. That was what was interesting. She went on and on and on. And, she knows she has these Conservative colleagues. And, you saw that clip there. What was interesting is she saw her Conservative colleagues who believe in originalism, right, and she is making an originalism argument there. She is saying, "Don't talk to me about how these maps have to be race neutral", when, in fact, look at the 14th Amendment. They took race into consideration there. It was so fascinating to see you're trying to take that away.

So, we do have these big cases coming. We've got this -- we've already had that one, the Section Two case. And then, there is another case that's infused with race again this term, and that has to do with affirmative action. In fact, there is two disputes. Court precedent says remember that you can take race in consideration as a factor in admissions. But now, a Conservative group is coming to the court and saying, we don't want you to take race in -- you can't look at race at all, otherwise, you're violating the Constitution.

So, once again, this court is being asked to look at an overturned precedent, as we saw last term. There is another interesting voting rights case, and it comes from supporters of Trump who want the court to adopt this obscure legal theory that basically says that state courts cannot play a role when they're looking at laws passed by state legislatures when it comes to federal elections. And, what that would mean, critics feel, is that state legislatures could go rogue. They could pass whatever they wanted to, and the state courts couldn't stop them. And, right now, most of the state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. So, there is a real fear among supporters of voting rights about where this case could go.

There is also a really important LGBTQ case coming up, again, pitting those rights, gay rights against claims of religious liberty. That's going to be a hot button topic. But, it was so fascinating to see that Justice Jackson is going to take over this term that is so infused with race, handling these cases, and she started out there, she was at ease, she was confident and she was super aggressive.

Yamiche Alcindor : And, I was texting to some I call them her group chats and all her friends that have now sourced up. And, they were they were saying, Yeah, this is who we know. This is our friend. She is going to speak up. Ariane, I want to ask you because, again, this is your part of the show. The Supreme Court term, it started with its lowest approval rating in modern history. How aware are the justices of the perception of the court? How does that factor in at all to just their thinking about their jobs?

Ariana De Vogue : Well, it's so interesting, because over the summer, usually when a Supreme Court justice gives a speech over the summer, there is not a lot of meat there. This summer, we saw a squabble. We saw the liberals, Justice Elena Kagan saying, Whoa, a court can no longer be considered legitimate, right? If you're doing things like overturning precedent, and not fully explaining why, or if you're straying from your commitment to a certain judicial philosophy, that's a problem. And, she kept saying, I'm not talking about any cases or controversies directly. But, of course she was, because that's what she said all along.

And then, you had Chief Justice John Roberts come forward and say, Whoa, you can't talk about the legitimacy of the court just because you don't like the opinions that are coming out. And, Justice Alito, who you saw there, he also jumped in. They know that the legitimacy of the court is so important, they never want to be looked at as another political branch for the simple reason is that they want, when they issue opinions, they want the public to follow them and not think, Oh, this is just politics. We'll wait for another politician to get on the bench. They're very concerned about it. They know about this approval rating, but I'm not sure they know how to haunker (ph) it, right?

Yamiche Alcindor : And, one last question here. It's -- we have about a minute left. President Trump, he has gone to the Supreme Court to ask them to basically revoke the DoJ from having access to these classified documents that were seized from his home. What's the latest there, and what kind of politics are going on there?

Ariana De Vogue : Well, that's so interesting, right? So, there had Trump draws the Supreme Court. It's starting a new term. It's starting -- trying to be a fresh. It's drawn into this white hot fight. Actually, it's a narrow dispute, because the -- Trump isn't looking for relief that would deal with the criminal justice probe that's going on. He was clear, He is not asking for relief there. What he is asking for is that that special master cannot get the chance to see about 100 of those documents that were seized, that were marked classified. That's the issue before the court. It's kind of technical, did the lower court do things right?

But, again, we've seen another document -- case around documents last term, and Trump lost badly there, except for Justice Clarence Thomas, who ruled in his favor. So, now, it doesn't feel like that they're going to get -- they're going to give him relief. They'll probably deny it. But, at the same time, they're being dragged in, the political spotlights on them, the terms beginning, and this will probably be resolved sometime next week. It's just where they don't want to be.

Yamiche Alcindor : It's not where they want to be, but it's exactly where they found themselves. So, we're going to have to continue to watch that. Thank you for coming on and breaking all that down, and thanks to our panelists for joining us and for sharing your reporting.

Washington Week Logo

© 1996 - 2022 WETA. All Rights Reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization

Support our journalism

WASHINGTON WEEK

Contact: Danielle Manning-Halsey,

Director, Principal and Major Gifts

dmanninghalsey@weta.org or 703-998-2812