Supreme Court ’23-’24 Term in Review: ‘It’s About Power. It’s About Politics.’

Gun Rights
Goodwin, Stern, Donegan, Bouie, Dennie and Geidner. (Courtesy of Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law)

Monday, July 1, marked the end of a historic and ominous Supreme Court term—with bombshell rulings on presidential immunity, the right to abortion care in emergencies, gun control, the criminalization of homelessness, the availability of medication abortion and more.

The same day, legal experts and commentators gathered for the 14th annual Supreme Court Review at Georgetown Law School, co-sponsored by Ms. The event gathered Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Linda D. and Timothy J. O’Neill professor of law at Georgetown Law and Ms. Studios executive producer, in conversation with: Mark Joseph Stern, senior writer at Slate; Moira Donegan, U.S. columnist at The Guardian; Jamelle Bouie, opinion columnist at The New York Times; Madiba Dennie, deputy editor and senior contributor of Balls and Strikes; and Chris Geidner, founder of the Law Dork Substack and MSNBC columnist. (It was part of a full day of programming at Georgetown, which you can watch in full on C-SPAN.)

The panel discussed the high Court’s monumental decisions from the last several months, which will have ripple effects for years and decades to come. 

Watch the panel, or read on for the rulings that most caught our attention and some of our favorite takes from Monday’s SCOTUS review, lightly edited for clarity.

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Goodwin, Stern, Donegan and Bouie. (Courtesy of Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law)

On the highly political nature of the current Court:

During Donald Trump’s term in office, he and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitchel McConnell (R) led a concerted effort to fill the courts with a record number of reactionary right-wing justices, including three Supreme Court justice seats.

“The conservative legal movement … comes forward with plaintiffs that have been very specifically chosen. They are meant to be publicly sympathetic plaintiffs, but the facts that are alleged by these conservative movement attorneys about their plaintiffs’ experiences and conduct will just simply not be true.”

—Moira Donegan

“[The Supreme Court] isn’t striking down the laws that are broadly popular. … What they’re doing is hobbling the enforcement of those laws in a way that is frankly very difficult for many non-lawyers to understand.”

—Mark Joseph Stern

Protesters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on July 1, 2024. (Drew Angerer / AFP via Getty Images)

On former President Donald Trump’s immunity in the attempts to overturn the 2020 election:

In Trump v. the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that former President Donald Trump is partly immune from charges regarding his attempts to overturn the 2020 election during the Jan. 6 insurrection. In the 6-3 decision, the Court’s conservative majority said former presidents have absolute immunity from prosecution for official acts that fall within their “exclusive sphere of constitutional authority,” thus allowing American presidents to be put above the law.

In a scathing dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor—joined by Justices Jackson and Kagan—signed off, “With fear for our democracy, I dissent.”

This case is not actually about law at all. It’s about power, it’s about politics, it’s about the Court’s support for the Republican candidate.

Madiba Dennie

“In my view, the Court has really cut the heart out of the indictment against Trump for January 6.”

—Mark Joseph Stern

“This case is not actually about law at all. It’s about power, it’s about politics, it’s about the Court’s support for the Republican candidate.”

—Madiba Denie

“What can’t the president do under this dispensation?”

–Jamelle Bouie

On the ability of anti-abortion plaintiffs to question established FDA precedent on mifepristone:

In FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, the Court ruled 9-0 to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a group of anti-abortion doctors, led by the far-right Alliance Defending Freedom. The justices ruled that the group did not have standing to bring the suit, not on whether the FDA acted properly in expanding access to mifepristone.

Matthew Kacsmaryk, the Trump-appointed judge in this case, ignored about 150 peer-reviewed scientific studies that show that mifepristone is safe and effective, safer and more effective than Tylenol and Viagra.

Mark Joseph Stern

“There was definitely a significant disconnect between what was happening on the ground or what the conservative parties were claiming was happening… 

“So in order to actually have a law, like a legal case, you need to have a thing called standing. Standing is like the fancy law way of saying, ‘What’s it to you?’ … A loosely affiliated group of some doctors—and some dentists, for some reason—quickly made this group and ran to their favorite forum where Matt Kacsmaryk sits, and they said, ‘We have a problem. We have been harmed.’ And Matt said, ‘What’s the harm?’ And they said, ‘Those women are having abortions.’  … You have Kacsmaryk say, ‘This sounds like standing to me.’ 

“It goes to the Fifth Circuit. And the Fifth Circuit agrees. … [There, Judge James Ho] said, ‘Abortion gives me a case of the sads because I like looking at sonograms, and therefore I should be able to coerce someone into childbirth.’ This is outrageous. It should never have made it into any court. It should never have made it into an opinion. And yet this was something we saw multiple Trump-appointed federal judges bless as a reasonable argument.”

—Madiba Dennie

“Matthew Kacsmaryk, the Trump-appointed judge in this case, ignored about 150 peer-reviewed scientific studies that show that mifepristone is safe and effective, safer and more effective than Tylenol and Viagra … and he cites two studies that he claims show that mifepristone is incredibly dangerous to women and girls … based on anonymous blog posts that were fielded and collected by antiabortion activists on the internet.”

—Mark Joseph Stern

On the Court’s decision to dismiss a case that would have definitively decided if EMTALA protections extend to abortion access:

In Moyle v. United States, the Court ruled 6-3 to dismiss Idaho’s appeal, temporarily allowing hospitals to perform emergency abortions that protect pregnant patients’ health as per the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). The justices ignored the question of whether federal law precedes state abortion bans. The case will now play out in lower courts. 

It’s a problem that our understanding of slavery is primarily about physical labor, and not about reproductive labor.

Jamelle Bouie

“[EMTALA’s] original meaning was, ‘How do we pay close attention to and help all Americans in crisis, but in particular, people that are pregnant and in crisis. How do we make sure that these people aren’t what was being called Patient dumped, not provided the care that they need?’”

—Michele Goodwin

“The distinction between a health-saving and a life-saving abortion is actually really difficult for healthcare practitioners to identify in these emergency moments.”

—Moira Donegan

“[Abortion bans without health exceptions for the pregnant person] requires [healthcare providers] to keep waiting for those patients to get sicker and sicker and sicker until they are on the precipice of death, and only then are they allowed to intervene. You also have a situation where, because of that legal uncertainty, a lot of practitioners do not want to participate in this care whatsoever, out of concern for the liabilities they might face if they do. This is a legal recipe to impose disfigurement and potentially death on women who happen to live in these states with these statistically cruel bans, and in fact, it is creating emergencies.”

—Moira Donegan

“Because of that ruling, there was no national ruling. There is no national resolution.”

—Moira Donegan

“One is the practical reality for pregnant patients on the ground, that they’re still dealing with this question of, how much do I have to suffer, or how close do I need to be? Do I need to be knocking on death’s door to get care, or do I need to be already standing in the vestibule? That’s the kind of question that they’re being forced to answer in order to actually get care.”

—Madiba Dennie

“It’s a problem that our understanding of slavery is primarily about physical labor, and not about reproductive labor.”

—Jamelle Bouie

“When we think about these issues, I think about the doctors, the nurses, the medical providers, who really do this courageous work of providing healthcare to women, and I want to thank them.”

–Michele Goodwin

On overturning the Chevron deference, that federal courts should defer to experts at agencies:

In Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, the Court ruled 6-3 to overrule the 1984 Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council decision and the subsequent Chevron doctrine. By overturning the doctrine, which compelled courts to defer to federal agencies on vague statutes, the justices severely limited the ability of federal agencies to interpret the laws they are experts on and administer.  

All of these decisions that we’ve had … what they do is make it more difficult for people now to even make laws that allow for future progressive action.

Chris Geidner

“Chevron is a doctrine of judicial humility that says … ‘Unelected judges, they don’t really understand this stuff on the same level as the experts at agencies, and they sure as heck aren’t accountable to the people in any way, shape or form.’ … That whole paradigm is now gone, overturned.”

–Mark Joseph Stern

“None of this is hypothetical. … With Chevron overturned, it will be the courts that determine whether or not the regulation was reasonable.”

–Jamelle Bouie

“They are part of the same project of doing as much as possible to remove governance from democratically accountable institutions into the ones they believe they can hold in perpetuity—whether that is courts, state legislatures, whatever it might be.”

–Jamelle Bouie

“All of these decisions that we’ve had. … What they do is make it more difficult for people now to even make laws that allow for future progressive action.”

—Chris Geidner

“What the Supreme Court is doing is very clever. They aren’t striking down laws that are very popular. … What they’re doing is hobbling the enforcement of those laws that is confusing for non-lawyers to understand.”

–Mark Joseph Stern

(O’Neill Institute / X)

On restricting the gun rights of individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders:

In United States v. Rahimi, the Court ruled 8-1 to uphold a federal law that prevents individuals from possessing a gun if they are subject to a domestic violence restraining order. The lower court had previously ruled according to an originalist interpretation using the Bruen test. Justice Thomas was the sole dissent in the decision. 

[The Supreme Court] got really nervous all of a sudden, now that they were faced with the consequences of originalism, and most of them realized they didn’t like those consequences.

Madiba Dennie

“What was going on in the 1790s? Not caring about women. Not caring about domestic violence. Though they had guns, a musket is very different than a glock.”

–Madiba Dennie

“[The Supreme Court] got really nervous all of a sudden, now that they were faced with the consequences of originalism, and most of them realized they didn’t like those consequences. I say ‘most of them’ for a reason, because Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissent.”

–Madiba Dennie

On the decision not to ban bump stocks, attachments that increase a semiautomatic rifle’s firing rate:

In Garland v. Cargill, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the Trump administration overstepped in its ban of bump stocks. The conservative majority claimed that the addition of a bump stock does not change a semiautomatic rifle’s classification to a “machine gun.” In the dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “The majority puts machine guns back in civilian hands.” The Trump administration enacted the ban after a gunman who used the attachment killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others at a Las Vegas concert in 2017.

I want to point out the gap in morality right between the technicality that Clarence Thomas is arguing and those 60 dead people in Las Vegas.

Moira Donegan

“This was a decision that the Court decided based on a very technical, abstract definition of the term ‘function of the trigger.’”

–Moira Donegan

“[Clarence Thomas] writes like a gun fetishist. He copies and pastes these diagrams and a GIF from an amicus brief that was filed by one of the most extreme gun groups that exists. They make the NRA look moderate. … These are the people who have Clarence Thomas’ ear.”

–Mark Joseph Stern

“I want to point out the gap in morality right between the technicality that Clarence Thomas is arguing and those 60 dead people in Las Vegas.”

–Moira Donegan

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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