As the U.S. heads into a presidential election year amid sharpening political divisions, the Supreme Court is set to decide a number of ideologically charged cases in 2016 on topics such as abortion, contraceptives, immigration and union membership.
The sharply divided Court is likely to produce a series of 5-4 decisions that will remind voters the next president’s appointees could tip the balance either right or left.
The justices will hear their first abortion case in nearly a decade – deciding whether Texas can enforce two regulations that would force about 75 percent of the state’s abortion clinics to shut down.
One measure requires clinics to use only doctors with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. A second requires abortion facilities to match the standards of an outpatient surgical center.
Both sides have been gathering vivid personal accounts from women to supplement the legal arguments, believing the effort could appeal particularly to swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy.
The case will be argued March 2.
The Court will also decide its fourth case on U.S. President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
This one is a challenge brought by Christian colleges and religious non-profits who contend the law’s requirement that their health plans provide birth control violates their religious beliefs.
The justices combined seven similar cases from groups that include the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns that runs nursing homes.
On January 11, the Court will hear oral arguments on whether public employees can be required to join a union or pay it a fee for collective-bargaining services.
The California case challenges pro-union laws in more than 20 states that require all public employees pay a “fair share fee” to their union, even if they are opposed to the union and refuse to join.
If the lawsuit is upheld, public-employee unions say they could be dealt crippling blows in about half the overwhelmingly Democratic states that allow such agency clauses.