Lewis Morris / October 8, 2019

What’s on the Docket for the Supreme Court?

Several high-profile cases will dominate the High Court’s agenda this year.

The Supreme Court began its 2019-2020 term yesterday, and this year’s docket holds some politically charged cases sure to stir intense debate inside and outside the courtroom.

First up to be heard today are three consolidated cases related to worker protections for homosexuals and “transgender” individuals. At issue is whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects individuals with various manifestations of gender disorientation from employment discrimination. As written, the law prohibits discriminating against someone on the basis of sex, but it was never clear on the issue of sexual orientation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has read into the law that homosexuals and transgenders are protected under Title VII, but the Trump administration believes that Congress needs to define the reach of the law.

On Nov. 12, the High Court will hear arguments about whether President Donald Trump has the authority to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has allowed 800,000 illegal aliens under 30 to remain in the United States. Several lower courts in states that support open borders have argued that he does not have the authority to end the program in the way he proposed. However, the administration argues that it was the Obama administration that did not have the authority to start the program in the first place (an argument Barack Obama made himself before changing his mind), and that the executive branch has the constitutional authority to terminate an executive branch program at any time.

The Supreme Court will hear its first abortion case since Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation in 2018. June Medical Services v. Gee, which is not yet scheduled for oral arguments, involves a Louisiana law that requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at area hospitals. This provision is designed to protect women’s health in case something goes wrong during the procedure (more wrong than one of the two patients not making it out alive), but abortion supporters are more concerned with access on demand. They argue the law will severely limit the number of doctors who can perform an abortion in Louisiana. A similar law in Texas was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. In that case, then-Justice Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote allowed the Court’s left wing to rule the law unconstitutional.

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue focuses on a Montana rule that excludes income-eligible children at private religious schools from receiving aid from a tax-credit scholarship program. Since the scholarships are awarded based on merit across the state, families of children in religious schools argue that the state of Montana violated their religious freedom under the First Amendment and their right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

No Supreme Court term seems complete these days without an ObamaCare case. Up for review this term are three consolidated cases brought by a group of insurers claiming that the government reneged on its promise to reimburse them to cover financial losses they incurred for providing insurance through government-operated health exchanges. Congressional Democrats originally promised to aid insurance companies in an effort to get their support for ObamaCare, but after the law passed, Congress limited funds available to the Department of Health and Human Services to make the payments. Insurers argue that the government “lured private parties into expensive undertakings with clear promises, only to renege after private parties have relied to their detriment and incurred actual losses.” The federal government maintains that the insurers do not have standing to sue Congress under a breach-of-contract claim since Congress makes legislation, not contracts.

Other cases on the docket will review whether states have the right to abolish the insanity defense in criminal cases, if non-unanimous juries are constitutional, and a particularly sticky gun case aimed at New York City. The city government severely restricted transportation rights for handgun owners, but have changed the law to make it more Second Amendment friendly since the Supreme Court accepted the case. The Court may drop the case as it is no longer relevant, though the justices don’t take kindly to a party trying to end a case after it has been accepted for review. If accepted for review, it will be the first gun-rights case before the Supreme Court in a decade.

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