An understaffed U.S. Supreme Court left justices with a boring docket this year, but legal analysts said the addition of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch promises to make the next term, beginning in October, a blockbuster.
Already on tap for the court are President Trump’s travel limits for some countries — a case that could reset the limits of presidential powers — as well as another round in the battle between gay rights groups and devout Christians.
The justices also have agreed to hear a challenge to Wisconsin’s gerrymandered legislative districts, a case that could fundamentally change the balance of power on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the country.
It’s a much heftier caseload than the just-concluded term, in which the biggest cases involved trademark law and a limited question on churches’ access to government funds.
Reviewing the just-finished session, legal scholars said the court shied away from big cases.
“For three-quarters of the term, it was a justice short, so that makes it lame,” said Robert Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington University. “It did hold off on taking a number of cases.”
Perhaps because of the smaller court, the justices took fewer cases this term, considering just 71. They heard 82 cases in the 2015-2016 term, which could have impacted the lower number of high-profile cases heard this year.
Mr. Tuttle said he expects the next term to have more “flashy” rulings.
Amid a lack of headlining cases, Justice Gorsuch’s confirmation to the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia was the biggest news out of the high court. In his two months on the bench, Justice Gorsuch made a splash with his eagerness to get involved, writing forceful opinions on several decisions.
Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said business interests also are doing well in the high court when judged by cases in which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took a stance.
“We have found over all that [Chief Justice John G.] Roberts’ court is the most pro-corporate in the modern era, but this term the Chamber had a whopping 80 percent success rate in the Supreme Court,” said Ms. Wydra. “So, that I think is a remarkable consolidation of power for the business lobby in the Supreme Court this term.”
With an eight-member court, the justices managed to find more unanimity. Some 59 percent of their cases were decided without dissent, compared with 48 percent unanimity during the previous term, when Scalia was on the bench.
Thomas Goldstein, a partner at Goldstein & Russell and co-founder of SCOTUSblog, said he expects less unanimity now that the court has returned to nine justices and because of its caseload.
“It’s extremely likely over the next few terms you will get historically high, ideologically fractured 5-4 decisions,” said Mr. Goldstein.
He said Justice Gorsuch could be a big factor.
“With Justice Gorsuch, I think we’re going to see a down-the-line doctrinaire conservative, to the right of Justice [Samuel A.] Alito even,” said Mr. Goldstein. “Justice Gorsuch brings a renewed, a strong,…