Former President Donald Trump’s legacy will in some ways be focused on his efforts to add three conservative Justices on the Supreme Court. However, the new additions have not always ruled along expected lines.
Two recent cases have revealed the 6-3 conservative majority may not be as clearly defined as expected. A recent case that offered an opportunity to oppose the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) was shot down by the conservative majority.
In addition, a second ruling that supported a Catholic group excluding same-sex foster parents also included language that appeared to target conservatives. Both rulings have led some to wonder whether the court should be seen as a 6-3 conservative majority or a 3-3-3 conservative-moderate-liberal coalition.
Alito Is Not Happy
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Affordable Health Care ruling, “No one can fail to be impressed by the lengths to which this Court has been willing to go to defend the ACA against all threats.”
Alito added, “A penalty is a tax. The United States is a State. And 18 States who bear costly burdens under the ACA cannot even get a foot in the door to raise a constitutional challenge. Fans of judicial inventiveness will applaud once again. But I must respectfully dissent.”
The 7 to 2 case included a ruling from liberal Justice Stephen Breyer largely focused on technical aspects of the Obamacare case that avoided the political rhetoric associated with the topic.
Instead of ruling on the act itself, the court ruled those filing the lawsuit had suffered no harm that required remedy. In other words, there was no “standing” that required a ruling in their favor.
Conservative, but Limited
The Catholic foster care case fell in a different direction. The court sided with the foster care provider in a unanimous decision. However, the decision’s ruling was so limited that it would be extremely difficult to apply to other religious liberty cases.
The 77-page statement offered a wide variety of case law perspectives. Though ruling in favor of the Catholic provider, the limitations added were so numerous as to frustrate future related cases seeking help from the ruling.
CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic also highlighted the new composition of the highest court. “But the latest developments suggest a possible 3-3-3 pattern, with Roberts, Barrett and Kavanaugh at the center-right, putting a check on their more conservative brethren who regularly push to overturn precedent.”
She added, “The trio were part of majorities that rejected yet another challenge to the 2010 Affordable Care Act and took only a small step — over complaints from other conservatives — in favor of a religious entities that would discriminate against LGBTQ individuals.”
The new court may not be as strongly conservative as many Republicans would desire. However, it still beats the alternative of a liberal leaning court that would rule strongly against conservative Constitutional views.