Skip to content

Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on abortion and Trump

The final week of oral arguments for the term has potential blockbuster cases

Activists protest at the Supreme Court in March as justices heard oral arguments on an abortion medication case. The justices are set to hear another abortion-related case Wednesday.
Activists protest at the Supreme Court in March as justices heard oral arguments on an abortion medication case. The justices are set to hear another abortion-related case Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Supreme Court will close out oral arguments for the term this week with two high-profile cases: whether federal law guarantees access to abortion in emergency rooms and whether former President Donald Trump is immune to federal criminal charges.

The cases are emblematic of a term in which the conservative-controlled court is poised to broaden its impact on American law and politics in ways that could reverberate for years — as well as the remaining months before this fall’s presidential election.

This term doesn’t have cases that could match up to the court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University.

But the court’s decision in the Trump immunity case could come close, she said. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for Thursday, the last in a term that could reshape abortion access, gun rights, the balance between federal agencies and the courts, and more.

“I think the election year adds to the significance of it,” Levenson said of the Trump case. “I mean, you can’t take the intellectual issues in the Trump case and say, ‘Well, those are interesting issues.’ We have one here where there can be a chain reaction that actually affects an election. That’s beyond the usual impact, the direct impact that we see from the Supreme Court.”

After Thursday’s arguments, all that remains for the court are about four dozen cases argued this term on which the court has yet to decide. The justices are expected to issue decisions before the conclusion of the term at the end of June.

The Supreme Court’s remaining cases this term deal with the fallout of previous decisions like Dobbs or affect how the federal government would work, such as a case that could change the balance of power between courts and federal agencies.

“There are some reasonably big cases still to be decided. That’s not unusual,” Levenson said. “But we will have some real blockbusters in there too.”

Trump immunity

The most high-profile oral arguments will be over whether Trump’s presidency makes him immune to federal charges tied to his effort to overturn his loss in the 2020 election.

The prosecution has remained on pause while Trump appeals the issue and the Supreme Court’s decision could determine whether Trump faces trial before the election.

Levenson said the Supreme Court’s decision in the case could determine whether Trump faces trial before the election. Even if the justices ruled against Trump, they could return the case to the lower court for more deliberation and forestall a trial, she said.

Earlier this year a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against Trump, finding the Constitution did not support Trump’s claims of blanket immunity from federal prosecution.

The political implications of the justices’ handling of the case surfaced repeatedly in the briefs and Trump’s accusations of “election interference” for bringing the case in the first place. More than a dozen states weighed in on Trump’s behalf, accusing prosecutors led by special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith of playing politics with the prosecution.

The brief lumped the four criminal cases that Trump faces this year, including a state trial in New York that began Monday, and said that “the United States of America is rushing to try the sitting President’s leading challenger in time for the 2024 election.”

Republican senators weighed in to defend Trump through the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party’s campaign arm, arguing that he should not face prosecution.

Smith, who has defended the charges and argued Trump is not immune to prosecution, said the trial could take place as soon as three months after the Supreme Court decides the case.

Abortion case

On Wednesday the court is scheduled to hear arguments in Moyle v. United States, a dispute over whether a federal law guaranteeing emergency care, known as Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA, supersedes Idaho’s law banning most abortions.

The case comes as the ripple effects of the court’s decisions have frequently outpaced Congress, for instance leaving more than 300 members on both sides of the aisle arguing over how a statute passed in 1986 to guarantee emergency room care should apply in Idaho.

After the court’s Dobbs decision in 2022, the state enacted its near-total ban on abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. The law has faced court challenges since, and a federal judge in Idaho ruled that the law likely conflicted with EMTALA.

After an appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit put the state law on pause and Idaho successfully asked the Supreme Court to intervene. In January, the justices agreed to hear the case and allowed the state to enforce the law in the interim. The state argued that the federal emergency care law at issue is meant to prevent “patient dumping” — hospitals turning away sick patients who could not pay for care — and not to allow the federal government to dictate state law.

That argument had backing from more than 100 Republicans in Congress who filed a brief arguing the federal statute was never meant to mandate abortions. Led by Idaho’s Republican congressional delegation, the group said the law should not be read to go as far as abortion.

“Congress enacted EMTALA to address the systemic problem of patient dumping, and particularly safeguard women in ‘active labor’ (hence the title) as well as their unborn children,” the brief stated. “The Department of Justice is attempting to rewrite EMTALA to devise federal protections for abortion.”

But the Biden administration has said that view of the law would have doctors wait for their pregnant patients to deteriorate, despite knowing that deterioration was inevitable, to satisfy the state’s mandate for life-or-death decisions.

“Delaying care until the woman’s condition deteriorates and the doctor can say that termination is necessary to prevent her death, as Idaho law requires, stacks tragedy upon tragedy with little additional likelihood of fetal survival,” the Biden administration argued.

More than 200 Democrats from both chambers asked the court to side with the Biden administration. The brief argued that Idaho could not mandate that doctors allow their patients to come to harm before they act.

“Federal law does not allow Idaho to endanger the lives of its residents in this way,” the brief said.

The case is one of two concerning abortion this term. The other concerns the availability of mifepristone, the most prescribed medication abortion drug.

Levenson said the Dobbs decision in 2022 was a “momentous” case that “opened the door” to cases like the dispute over Idaho’s law and mifepristone.

Recent Stories

Republicans look to reverse rule based on gun law they backed

Eight questions for elections in five states on Tuesday

Paul Pelosi attacker sentenced to 30 years in prison

House Over-slight Committee — Congressional Hits and Misses

Biden kicks off outreach to Black voters as protest threat looms at Morehouse

Editor’s Note: Stock market no panacea for Biden, Democrats