Kavanaugh likely to be pivotal US high court vote on divisive social issues

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the likely event that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed by the U.S. Senate this weekend he will soon be wading into some of the nation's most contentious issues.

Disputes involving abortion, immigration, gay rights, voting rights and transgender troops all could be heading towards the nine justices soon.

There are no blockbusters among the 38 cases already on the docket for the current Supreme Court term, which began on Monday, but justices often add disputes on controversial issues as they are appealed from lower courts.

The Republican-controlled Senate is set for a final vote on Kavanaugh's nomination on Saturday, which could put Kavanaugh on the court as early as next week.

RELATED: Protests against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

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Activists hold a protest and rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh outside the court in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Activists rally inside the Senate Hart Office Building during a protest in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and in support for Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 1982, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Activists hold a protest and rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A woman thrusts her fist in support of activists rallying inside the Senate Hart Office Building during a protest in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and in support of Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 1982, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS//Mary F. Calvert
Activists protest and rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh outside the court in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Protesters demonstrate against Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Activists hold a protest and rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and in support for Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 1982, in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A demonstrator sits on the ground during a protest and rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Workers and onlookers watch as activists rally inside the Senate Hart Office Building during a protest in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and in support for Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 1982, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Activists rally inside the Senate Hart Office Building during a protest in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Activists hold a protest and rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Activists rally inside the Senate Hart Office Building during a protest in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and in support for Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 1982, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Activists hold a protest and rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Activists hold a protest march and rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Activists protest and rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh outside the court in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Activists march during a rally in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 04: Demonstrators wait in-line to enter Hart Senate Office Building for a protest against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh October 4, 2018 at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Senators had an opportunity to review a new FBI background investigation into accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh and Republican leaders are moving to have a vote on his confirmation this weekend. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Protesters occupy the Senate Hart building during a rally against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 4, 2018. - Top Republicans voiced confidence Thursday that Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the US Supreme Court this weekend, as they asserted that an FBI probe had found nothing to support sex assault allegations against Donald Trump's nominee.'Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed on Saturday,' Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester holds up a sign in the Senate Hart building during a rally against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 4, 2018. - Top Republicans voiced confidence Thursday that Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the US Supreme Court this weekend, as they asserted that an FBI probe had found nothing to support sex assault allegations against Donald Trump's nominee.'Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed on Saturday,' Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 04: Protesters chant their support for fellow demonstrators who are being arrested by U.S. Capitol Police for protesting against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building October 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. Senators had an opportunity to review a new FBI background investigation into accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh and Republican leaders are moving to have a vote on his confirmation this weekend. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 04: (L to R) Bob Bland, Co-President, Women's March; model and actress Emily Ratajkowski and actress and comedian Amy Schumer attend the Brett Kavanaugh U.S. Supreme Court Confirmation Protest in front of the Supreme Court on October 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
A protester opposed to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Senate Republicans pushed toward a make-or-break test vote on Kavanaugh as key GOP holdouts Jeff Flake and Susan Collins said an FBI investigation prompted by sexual misconduct allegations against him appeared to be thorough. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators protest US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court on October 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. - A new FBI investigation into Kavanaugh found nothing to corroborate sexual assault allegations against US President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, US Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Thursday. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh near the US Capitol on October 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. - A new FBI investigation into Kavanaugh found nothing to corroborate sexual assault allegations against US President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, US Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Thursday. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court on October 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. - A new FBI investigation into Kavanaugh found nothing to corroborate sexual assault allegations against US President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, US Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Thursday. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court on October 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. - A new FBI investigation into Kavanaugh found nothing to corroborate sexual assault allegations against US President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, US Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Thursday. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court on October 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. - A new FBI investigation into Kavanaugh found nothing to corroborate sexual assault allegations against US President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, US Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Thursday. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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Several legal battles are currently being fought over state laws restricting abortion, including one in Arkansas that effectively bans medication-induced abortions. The justices in May opted not to intervene in a case challenging that law, waiting instead for lower courts to rule, but it could return to them when that happens.

Other abortion-related cases in progress include challenges to laws banning abortions at early stages of pregnancies, including Iowa's prohibition after a fetal heartbeat is detected. There is litigation arising from plans by some states to stop reimbursements under the Medicaid insurance programme to Planned Parenthood because of the national healthcare provider's abortion rights stance.

There also are challenges to state laws imposing difficult-to-meet regulations on abortion providers, such as requiring formal ties with a local hospital.

Kavanaugh's judicial record on abortion is thin, although last year he was on a panel of judges that issued an order preventing a 17-year-old illegal immigrant detained in Texas by U.S. authorities from immediately obtaining an abortion. Liberals are concerned, however, that he could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn the 1973 abortion ruling, Roe v. Wade.

In testimony before the Senate during the confirmation process, Kavanaugh called Roe "an important precedent of the Supreme Court that has been reaffirmed many times."

Another issue expected to return to the court is whether certain types of businesses can refuse service to gay couples because of religious objections to same-sex marriage.

The high court in June sided, on narrow legal grounds, with a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for two men because of his Christian beliefs, but justices sidestepped the larger question of whether to allow broad religious-based exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.

When asked about his views on gay rights during his confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh quoted Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling in that case, in which Kennedy reaffirmed his long-standing support for gay rights. Kavanaugh declined to discuss his own views on the subject, and he has not been involved in any gay rights cases during his 12 years as a judge.

The issue of refusing services to gay people could be back before the justices this term, in a case involving a Washington state Christian florist who similarly refused to serve a gay couple.

Trump's bid to restrict the military service of transgender people has been challenged in lower courts and is another issue that could make its way to the Supreme Court.

After lower courts blocked Trump's ban last year, he announced in March he would endorse Defense Secretary James Mattis' plan to restrict the military service of transgender people who have a condition called gender dysphoria. Trump's administration has asked courts to allow that policy to go into effect, but so far to no avail.

On immigration, litigation is continuing over Trump's plan to rescind a programme created under Democratic former President Barack Obama that protected from deportation hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

Lower courts blocked Trump's plan to scrap the programme, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Congress has failed to agree on a plan to replace it.

Kavanaugh could also have to deal with cases involving a practice called partisan gerrymandering in which state legislators redraw electoral maps to try to cement their own party in power. In June, the justices avoided a broad ruling on whether the practice violates the constitutional rights of voters and whether federal judges can intervene to rectify it.

Democrats have said Republican gerrymandering has helped Trump's party keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives and various state legislatures.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Sue Horton and Diane Craft)

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