It is tempting to think of the Supreme Court as a cult: nine black-robed people who meet secretly, have arcane rituals and make us question whether they lead normal lives.
But what is unquestionable is the stupendous power they hold over our daily lives.
This is a partial look at how they changed the country is just the past two terms.
Muslims from several countries (not one of which sent terrorists to America resulting in such tragedies as 9/11) are banned from entering the U.S. because the court ruled that Trump has broad authority to ban foreign visitors and immigrants.
A Colorado baker legally could refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on religious grounds, said the court. The next court may broaden the decision, applying it to many types of businesses.
Public employee unions may no longer force members to pay a “fair share fee” to cover the cost of collective bargaining, a tremendous blow to unions.
All states and thousands of municipalities may now require both large and small merchants to collect taxes on internet purchases even if they have no physical presence or stores there.
Employees may no longer join to sue an employer accused of violating federal wage laws. Employers now can require workers to resolve complaints in one-on-one arbitration, making it harder for 60 million workers to make claims against unfair employers.
The court said California may not require faith-based pregnancy centers to tell women that the state provides free or low cost prenatal care and abortion for eligible women. California claimed that many such centers used deception to persuade women not to have abortions.
The court upheld an Ohio law that removes registered voters from the rolls if they did not vote in a federal election and did not respond to notices or cast a ballot for the next four years. Critics said the ruling permits Ohio to push thousands of legally registered voters off the rolls.
A federal law that prevented states from prohibiting sport betting was struck down.
Immigrants may be held indefinitely in jail while fighting deportation, meaning they do not have a right to a bond hearing by six months.
The court refused to decide the legality of either party redrawing political maps to win elections based on cases in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
States may no longer refuse to spend money to improve church-sponsored schools to provide more money for public schools.
Trademarks that disparage certain people or groups may not be prohibited by law.
People whose convictions are overturned are now entitled to a refund of fees and fines.
Neil Gorsuch, the conservative justice confirmed by only 54 Senate votes out of 100, has kept the court on a decisive path rightward. President Donald Trump’s next pick will certainly move it much further to the right.
This is what that will mean:
Conservatives long have argued that Roe v. Wade, which guarantees women a legal right to an abortion, was wrongly decided. While many state courts have whittled away that protection, it is now probable the decision will be overturned or modified dramatically.
The birth rate among unwed teenage girls, which has dropped precipitously, could increase. So-called back-alley abortions by unqualified people in unsanitary conditions without medical equipment or knowledge in an emergency will increase. Families without the financial means to care for more children will be forced to bear them. Meanwhile, funds for and access to family planning are decreasing. States may prosecute women who have abortions and doctors who perform them.
Voting will become much more difficult nationwide, guaranteeing the number of voters will decrease.
The tights of gays, lesbians and transgender Americans may be curtailed.
A major assault on affirmative action is all but certain, meaning that fewer minorities will be granted admission to prestigious colleges and universities.
Tough state gun control laws will be overturned. The death penalty will be sanctioned. Methods now banned may be reinstated.
Dozens of regulations that control food safety, environmental protection and product safety will be overturned on grounds that they violate free speech.
Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has pointed out that while the Constitution on paper gives every citizen many freedoms and rights, it is the Supreme Court that actually decides what rights and protections we have. And that may change from generation to generation.
The definite trend — which will be cemented for decades sometime this year with confirmation of Trump’s second justice — is to restrict those rights, support business over consumers and workers and make this country a less kind, less merciful, less open place to live.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.