Trump's win locks conservative US Supreme Court majority

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WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Republican Donald Trump's presidential election victory all but dooms major Obama administration initiatives that are already tied up in legal challenges and gives him the chance to appoint a pivotal fifth conservative justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democratic President Barack Obama's signature 2010 healthcare law, his plan to combat climate change, his executive action on immigration, his transgender rights policy and other issues were challenged in court by Republicans and industry groups.

A Trump administration could decide no longer to defend the policies in court after he takes office on Jan. 20. In addition, Trump and the incoming Republican-led Congress could simply repeal or rescind Obama's policies, as they have promised.

​​​RELATED: Donald Trump wins election, becomes president-elect of the United States

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Donald Trump supporters cheer as U.S. presidential election results are announced during a Republican watch party in Phoenix, Arizona, November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec)

Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Republican presidential elect Donald Trump (L) arrives to speak during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

President-elect Donald Trump, shakes hands with Vice-President-elect Mike Pence during his election night rally, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York.

(AP Photo/John Locher)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway greet supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar/TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cheer as they watch election returns during an election night rally, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in New York.

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. look on as Republican presidential elect Donald Trump speaks during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

US President-elect Donald Trump arrives at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 8, 2016. Trump stunned America and the world Wednesday, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump greets supporters at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Vice president-elect Mike Pence speaks to supporters at Republican president-elect Donald Trump's election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Republican president-elect Donald Trump walks on stage with his son Barron Trump, wife Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A supporter celebrates as returns come in for Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump during an election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) Reince Priebus hugs Republican presidential elect Donald Trump during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016.

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Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani arrives on stage with his wife Judith Nathan as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump addressed supporters at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

US President-elect Donald Trump greets son Eric after speaking at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 8, 2016. Trump stunned America and the world Wednesday, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Vice president-elect Mike Pence walks on stage with his wife Karen Pence at Republican president-elect Donald Trump election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Americans went to the polls yesterday to choose between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as they go to the polls to vote for the next president of the United States.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

US President-elect Donald Trump arrives with his son Baron and wife Melania at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 8, 2016. Trump stunned America and the world Wednesday, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, speaks an election night party at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States in a repudiation of the political establishment that jolted financial markets and likely will reorder the nation's priorities and fundamentally alter America's relationship with the world.

(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump look on as Republican presidential elect Donald Trump speaks during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak during an election night party at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Trump racked up victory after victory in key states Tuesday to put himself in position to threaten Hillary Clinton for the White House, with the results in three Rust-Belt states likely to determine the next U.S. president.

(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President-elect Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech during his election night rally, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York.

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Attendees cheer during an election night party for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States in a repudiation of the political establishment that jolted financial markets and likely will reorder the nation's priorities and fundamentally alter America's relationship with the world.

(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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Trump's Supreme Court appointment, possibly the first of multiple picks, would allow him to restore the decades-long conservative majority on the bench, which looked under threat when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in February. The shorthanded court currently is split with four conservatives and four liberals.

Conservative activists may be emboldened to bring cases urging the court to support gun rights, uphold abortion restrictions and rule for religious rights.

"If you have a conservative court, you are going to have more conservative decisions," said Kerri Kupec, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group involved in religious rights cases.

Liberal hopes of gaining a majority on the Supreme Court for the first time in decades lasted almost nine months, from Scalia's death on Feb. 13 to Tuesday night.

In a vindication of Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell's decision, with little precedent in U.S. history, to take no action on Obama's nominee to replace Scalia, appeals court judge Merrick Garland, Trump is now poised to nominate a new justice as soon as he takes office.

His nominee would be considered for confirmation by a Republican-controlled Senate under McConnell.

Trump may also be able to make further appointments to the court, with three justices 78 or older, including 83-year-old liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who Trump called on to resign in July after she called him a "faker" and speculated about the possibility of moving to New Zealand if he won the White House.

Fellow liberal Stephen Breyer is 78, while conservative Anthony Kennedy is 80.

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University of California, Davis students protest in Davis, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
Police detain a protester marching against president-elect Donald Trump in Oakland, California, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Noah Berger
Protesters against president-elect Donald Trump march peacefully through Oakland, California, U.S., November 9, 2016. A separate group earlier in the night set fire to garbage bins and smashed multiple windows. REUTERS/Noah Berger
University of California, Davis students protest on campus in Davis, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
University of California, Davis students protest on campus in Davis, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
Oakland police officers chase a group of about 50 protesters against president-elect Donald Trump in Oakland, California, U.S., November 9, 2016. Members of the group set fire to garbage bins and broke multiple windows. REUTERS/Noah Berger
Protesters against president-elect Donald Trump march through Oakland, California, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Noah Berger
University of California, Davis students sit in an intersection during a protest in Davis, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
A woman passes burning garbage during a demonstration in Oakland, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Noah Berger
Students gather in Malcom X Plaza at San Francisco State University in San Francisco, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Students embrace each other during a demonstration at San Francisco State University in San Francisco, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Students chant as they demonstrate at San Francisco State University in San Francisco, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
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If Trump is able to replace Ginsburg or another liberal justice during his presidency, the court's conservative wing would be further strengthened.

Such a majority "could be a threat to important rights that have been protected in the past by the Supreme Court," said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal legal group. She cited abortion rights and efforts at ensuring racial equality as examples.

A conservative court, as it was with Scalia on the bench, likely would be favorable toward gun rights, skeptical of abortion and supportive of the death penalty. If Democrat Hillary Clinton had won Tuesday's election, liberals may have been emboldened to challenge the constitutionality of the death penalty and seek gun restrictions and limits on campaign spending, among other things.

TRUMP'S LIST

Trump has already issued a list of 21 judges, mainly federal judges appointed by President George W. Bush and state court judges, who he said he would consider to fill Scalia's vacancy. All have conservative credentials on such issues as abortion, birth control and gun rights.

The case that could be affected by Trump's win soonest involves transgender rights. The court on Oct. 28 took up a case concerning a female-born transgender high school student named Gavin Grimm, who identifies as male and sued in 2015 to win the right to use the school's boys' bathroom. Grimm is backed by the Obama administration.

RELATED: Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan wins re-election

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Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan wins re-election
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Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan wins re-election

U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) crosses his fingers during a speech to the crowd at an "Election Night event" in Janesville, Wisconsin, U.S. November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Ben Brewer)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) greets supporters at an election-night rally on November 8, 2016 in Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan said recently that he would like to remain in his current position as speaker.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) meets with an attendee during an "Election Night event" in Janesville, Wisconsin, U.S. November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Ben Brewer)

U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks to the crowd during an "Election Night event" in Janesville, Wisconsin, U.S. November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Ben Brewer)

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. poses for photos with supporters at a campaign rally in Janesville, Wis., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. speaks to supporters at a campaign rally in Janesville, Wis., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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No date has yet been set for the argument in the case. The court could potentially delay acting until it has nine justices.

A ruling could resolve similar litigation around the country over an Obama administration directive saying schools should allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choosing.

Trump has said he would rescind the Obama directive. He also has said he would rescind Obama's executive action to protect millions of immigrants in the country illegally from deportation and give them work permits, which was put on hold by the courts while the administration continues to fight to revive it.

Trump would be expected to overturn major regulations put in place under Obama, including the Clean Power Plan to curb greenhouse emissions mainly from coal-fired power plants. That process takes time, meaning that the Supreme Court could potentially rule on a legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan before Trump can dump it. The case is pending before an appeals court in Washington.

The Republican Congress under Trump could now seek to repeal Obama's signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, but even if it does not, a Republican legal challenge that could cripple the law is pending before a federal appeals court in Washington.

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