Trump’s Supreme Court shrinks from controversy


When President Donald Trump was selecting Supreme Court nominees, his advisers spoke in exceptionally vague terms about what he was looking for in a justice, but again and again offered up the same word: “courage.”

As the court delivered its final decisions of the term in recent weeks, some conservatives complained they were not seeing as much of that trait as they would like.

Although the court continued to move in a conservative direction and split along the usual ideological lines as it handed down major 6-3 decisions on voting rights and dark money disclosure, divides on the right were also vividly on display in a series of high-profile cases this term, including the latest challenge to Obamacare and a case over Catholic social services group’s obligation to deal with same-sex couples seeking to become foster parents.

In the Affordable Care Act case, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett sided with the court’s liberals and other justices to reject the challenge 7-2 on standing grounds, over strenuous objections from Justice Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

And in the foster-care case, while the court ruled unanimously in favor of the Catholic organization, Barrett and Kavanaugh demurred on overturning a longstanding precedent limiting the right to defy laws for religious reasons.

That maneuver prompted Alito, Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas to rip into their colleagues for signing onto “a wisp of a decision” that “might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops.”

The fusillade of criticism continued in other cases, with Alito complaining that Barrett, Kavanaugh and other justices took an “easy out” by sending back to an appeals court a case over the death of a suspect who was held face down on the floor in a St. Louis holding cell for 15 minutes.

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