Supreme Court kicks off new term with new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson
The Supreme Court kicked off its new term on Monday with a new justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, joining oral arguments and the public welcome in the courtroom for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Jackson, the first black woman to serve on the high court, was appointed by President Biden in February to replace Stephen Breyer, whose retirement took effect at the end of the last term in June.
Jackson’s appointment did not alter the 6-3 conservative majority of the court, but in a first, four women are on the bench at the same time — Jackson, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.
On her first day on the bench, Jackson appeared to align herself with the court’s two other liberal justices — Kagan and Sotomayor — in backing Justice Department arguments to preserve the federal government’s authority to regulate wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
The case, the first argued Monday, involves an Idaho couple, Chantell and Mike Sackett, who want to build a home on property that the Environmental Protection Agency determined in 2007 was part of a protected wetland.
The Sacketts were required to get a permit under the Clean Water Act before beginning construction, but did not do so.
Three of the six conservative members of the court — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — appeared inclined to agree with the Sacketts’ lawyer, Damien Schiff, over his claim that a wetland must physically abut an adjacent body of water, like a stream, river or creek, to require such a permit.
“I’m not sure that’s right,” Chief Justice John Roberts said at one point. “You would readily say that a train station is adjacent to the tracks even though it’s not touching the tracks.”
Kagan raised another example.
“I grew up in an apartment building in New York City,” she asked. “If I say there are two adjacent apartment buildings, do they have to be touching each other?”
However, Roberts also appeared unsatisfied with Justice Department lawyer Brian Fletcher’s explanation of a 2006 opinion by former Justice Anthony Kennedy, which stated that regulators can require permits before allowing development on properties far from waterways as long as they prove a significant connection to the waterways.
“What does that mean?” Roberts asked Fletcher at one point as Kennedy looked on from the audience.
Prior to oral arguments, the court issued a series of orders in which they agreed to hear some cases and rejected others.
The justices will hear a challenge to Section 230 protections for internet and social media companies freeing them of responsibility for content posted by users in a case involving an American student killed in the 2015 Paris terror attacks.
But the court also turned away several appeals, including a challenge to a federal ban on devices called “bump stocks” that enable semi-automatic weapons to fire like a machine gun. The justices also rejected an appeal by Missouri and nine other states to President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers in health care facilities that receive federal funds.
Mike Lindell, a prominent ally of former President Donald Trump, must face a $1.3 billion lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems accusing him of defamation, as the court declined to hear his appeal as well.
With Post wires
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