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Shorthanded Supreme Court returns amid new drama

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The U.S. Supreme Court returned to work on Monday for the first time since liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, her seat on the bench still draped in black, and with Senate Republicans racing to replace her with a conservative before the November 3rd election.

With eight justices rather than the usual nine, the court heard arguments via teleconference, but it was a case they refused to hear – an appeal by former Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis - that grabbed the most headlines.

Davis is a devout Christian who gained national attention in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

She had been seeking to toss out a lower court ruling that she could be sued by two same-sex couples.

Although the high court on Monday turned away her appeal, two conservative justices who voted against legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015 used the opportunity to renew their objections to it.

In an opinion released Monday, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas said that the 2015 landmark same-sex marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, continues to have (quote) "ruinous consequences" for religious liberty.

The stance taken by Thomas and Alito comes as the Senate is moving forward quickly with the confirmation process for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite of Christian conservatives. If confirmed, she would cement a 6-3 conservative majority.

But the timetable of her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is now unclear with at least 3 Republican senators testing positive for the coronavirus - two of them members of the committee and both of whom were present at the White House event in which Trump announced Barrett as his pick. Several attendees of that event, including Trump, have since tested positive.

Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham, however, has said that Barrett’s hearing will go forward as planned on October 12, with committee members given the option to attend in person or virtually.

Video Transcript

- The US Supreme Court returned to work on Monday for the first time since liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. Her seat on the bench, still draped in black, and with Senate Republicans racing to replace her with a conservative before the November 3 election. With eight justices rather than the usual nine, the court heard arguments via teleconference, but it was a case they refused to hear, an appeal by former Kentucky County clerk, Kim Davis, that grabbed the most headlines.

Davis is a devout Christian who gained national attention in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples after the court legalized gay marriage nationwide. She had been seeking to toss out a lower court ruling that she could be sued by two same sex couples. Although the high court on Monday turned away her appeal, two conservative justices who voted against legalizing same sex marriage in 2015, used the opportunity to renew their objections to it.

In an opinion released Monday, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas said that the 2015 landmark same sex marriage case Obergefell versus Hodges, continues to have quote, "ruinous consequences for religious liberty." The stance taken by Thomas and Alito comes as the Senate is moving forward quickly with the confirmation process for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite of Christian conservatives.

If confirmed, she would cement a 6 to 3 conservative majority. But the timetable of her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is now unclear, with at least three Republican senators testing positive for the coronavirus. Two of them, members of the committee, and both of whom were present at the White House event in which Trump announced Barrett as his pick. Several attendees of that event, including Trump, have since tested positive. Judiciary committee chair Lindsey Graham however, has said that Barrett's hearing will go forward as planned on October 12, with committee members given the option to attend in person or virtually.