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The Supreme Court Is About to Display Its Power Imbalance Again

The justices begin a new term on Oct. 3, and cases involving the Clean Water Act, LGBTQ protections, voting rights, and affirmative action could be as controversial as the last round.

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Photo illustration: 731; Photographers: Erin Schaff/The New York Times/Redux (Justices); Fred Schilling/United States Supreme Court (Jackson); H2rty (hands)

An air of inevitability hangs over the US Supreme Court. Gone is the 8-foot-high fencing around the majestic building, erected to keep out protesters after an unprecedented leak in May revealed the court was poised to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion. But inside the marble walls, where the justices return on Oct. 3 for their next nine-month term, the court has an ambitious agenda—one by all appearances destined to fulfill more conservative wish-list items that will exacerbate the nation’s political and cultural divides.

Overturning Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision in June was merely the biggest jolt in a term that ushered in major doctrinal changes. The conservative majority created a new “history and tradition” test to strike down a century-old New York restriction on concealed-carry handgun permits. The court established the “major questions doctrine” as a powerful curb on federal regulators, using it to restrict what the Environmental Protection Agency can do to tackle climate change without clear congressional authorization. And in ruling that a public school football coach could pray at midfield after games, the justices jettisoned a 51-year-old precedent that had kept the government from promoting religion.