The docket includes the controversial political topics of gun rights, abortion and gay rights.
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is back in session, having met for the first time since June 2019, and their docket for the next term has been announced. Topics included in the docket are gay rights, gun rights, separation of church and state, abortion, and protection for “dreamers,” non-citizen immigrants brought to the U.S. at a very young age.
The SCOTUS decides whether or not to hear a case based on a writ of certiorari (from the Latin certiorare, meaning “to inform”). If a lower court circuit makes an appeal for the case to be heard by the Supreme Court and at least four justices grant writs of certiorari, the case will be heard.
“Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia” asks whether it is legal to terminate employment based on sexual orientation. Gerald Bostock was an employee of Clayton County, Ga., whose employment was terminated seemingly because of his sexual orientation. He has sued the county on the grounds that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was violated. The aforementioned act states that employment cannot be terminated on the basis of sex, so the question is whether or not sexual orientation is legally considered to be protected under this act.
Another, similar incident produced the case of “Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda,” where Donald Zarda believed his employment was ended because of sexual orientation; that case was consolidated with “Bostock v. Clayton County.”
“New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, New York” is the first firearm case since 2010. New York City has imposed legislation which prohibits licensed firearm carriers from leaving city limits with a handgun. Some residents oppose this, saying that this legislation violates not only the Second Amendment, but also the Commerce Clause and the fundamental right to travel.
“Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue” seeks to visit separation of church and state. The state of Montana created a tax credit system for people who donate to scholarship funds to help people get into private school. In order to ensure that this was constitutional, however, the Montana Department of Revenue created a rule which prevented any of this from applying to schools with religious affiliations. Kendra Espinzona argues that this rule violates the First Amendment by punishing students who seek to attend schools with religious affiliations.
“Department of Homeland Security v. regents of the University of California” is a case which addresses the legality of the 2017 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Passed under the Obama administration, DACA is a policy which protects “dreamers” from deportation. Regents of the University of California (UC) sued, claiming that this decision violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which is a general code of conduct for all federal agencies.
“June Medical Services LLC v. Gee” deals with accessibility of abortions. June Medical Services has challenged a law in Louisiana which requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles, meaning that they must be part of a hospital’s medical staff, and must have permission to admit people to said hospital. In 2016, a similar Texas law, which also required abortion clinics to have hospital-grade equipment, was determined unconstitutional because it made it too difficult for abortion clinics to legally operate.
“Ramos v. Louisiana” will determine if state court cases need to have a unanimous jury verdict. Currently, Louisiana and Oregon do not require unanimous jury verdicts for criminal cases. In 2016, Evangelisto Ramos was found guilty of murder by a vote of ten-to-two, and sentenced to life in prison. The Fourteenth Amendment states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens,” and the Sixth Amendment states, “the accused shall enjoy the right to … an impartial jury.” This case will decide whether the Fourteenth Amendment applies to the Sixth Amendment.
“Kahler v. Kansas” asks if a state is allowed to abolish the insanity defense, as Kansas has done. James Kahler was sentenced to death for the murder of his ex-wife, her mother and two of their children, and his lawyers are arguing that he was denied a fair trial because he was not allowed to plead insane. Kahler brought his severe depression and personality disorders to light at trial, but under Kansas law the closest thing to the insanity plea is arguing that there was no criminal intent because of a mental disorder. Since the disorders Kahler listed didn’t change the fact that he knew he was killing other people, he was treated as a lucid criminal. He is arguing that his Eighth Amendment right to no cruel or unusual punishment and his Fourteenth Amendment rights are being violated.
“Kansas v. Glover” involves what Charles Glover believed was an unlawful traffic stop. He had not committed any traffic violations, but the officer ran his plates and discovered that the registered owner of the vehicle had an expired license. Even though he did not know for certain that the car’s driver was the licensed owner, the officer stopped him and charged him as a habitual violator. This case will determine if it is a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures to stop a vehicle in this manner without any concrete evidence that the driver is doing so illegally.
This is not a comprehensive list of all bills on the docket, only the most noteworthy issues being addressed. Although Chief Justice John Roberts has made it clear that he wishes for the Supreme Court to remain strictly apolitical, some of the most controversial political topics of the past century will be addressed by some of the most controversial SCOTUS members of the past century. None of these cases are nearly as groundbreaking as some others that have been seen in recent years, but both major 2016 political candidates openly advocated for partisanship in the Supreme Court, meaning that attitudes in Federal government as a whole may be shifting that way.