Court Battles

Three cases to watch as Supreme Court readies for final oral arguments of term

The Supreme Court this month will hear its last oral arguments in a term that has been overshadowed by disputes over abortion and the Second Amendment and the confirmation of the nation’s first Black female justice.

As the country awaits decisions in those potentially landmark cases, three cases stand out as highlights among the remaining disputes to be argued before the justices. 

They involve a Trump-era immigration policy, a dispute over a high school football coach’s religious practice on school grounds and the Miranda warning that suspects are given by law enforcement. 

It’s the last set of arguments that will include Justice Stephen Breyer, who will retire this summer. He will be replaced by the newly confirmed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Trump-era ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

One of the most high-profile fights on the court’s docket is a dispute over the Biden administration’s effort to end a controversial Trump-era immigration measure that requires asylum-seekers at the southern border to stay in Mexico while their applications are processed.

Arguments will center on whether the Biden administration must continue the policy despite the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) conclusion that the measure is not in the United States’ national interest. 

Former President Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy, implemented in 2019, blocked migrants at the Mexican border from entering the U.S. to apply for asylum, leaving tens of thousands of people awaiting their fates in Mexico and subjecting them to potential persecution and abuse.

More than 60,000 asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico under the policy, formally called the Migrant Protection Protocols, a departure from a previous practice of allowing those fleeing violence to cross the border and apply for asylum within the U.S.

The Biden administration’s two efforts to rescind the program were blocked after a lawsuit by the attorneys general of Texas and Missouri. Lower courts found the legal basis for ending the policy lacking, prompting the administration’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

“DHS has thus been forced to reinstate and continue implementing indefinitely a controversial policy that the Secretary has twice determined is not in the interests of the United States,” the administration told the justices in court papers.

The court will hear arguments in the case in the second week of the two-week period during which it is hearing new arguments.

Miranda rights

The justices this week will hear a procedural dispute that stems from a police officer’s failure to issue a Miranda warning in a case with potentially weighty criminal justice implications.

The case arose after Terence Tekoh, a Los Angeles hospital worker, was accused of sexually assaulting a patient. In the course of investigating, Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Carlos Vega brought Tekoh to a private room to talk but did not advise Tekoh of his Miranda rights, which include a notice of the right against self-incrimination while in police custody.

At the conclusion of their meeting, Tekoh had produced a written confession. The party’s claims about what transpired in their meeting are at stark odds, with Tekoh claiming Vega coerced him into confessing by threatening to deport Tekoh and his family to their native Cameroon. Vega, by contrast, depicted Tekoh as contrite and remorseful and having confessed voluntarily.

Prosecutors used Tekoh’s confession as evidence in his criminal trial, but the jury found Tekoh not guilty. Following his acquittal, Tekoh filed a civil lawsuit against Vega for violating his constitutional rights. 

Tekoh asked the court to instruct the jury that the prosecution’s use of Tekoh’s confession — which arose after he was provided no Miranda warning — amounted to an automatic violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The trial court denied Tekoh’s request, and the jury sided with Vega. 

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit sided with Tekoh. The appeals court determined that a Miranda violation alone can be the basis for finding an officer liable if the confession is later used at a criminal trial. Vega appealed to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in the case on April 20. The Biden administration has asked the justices to side with the officer.

Prayer in school athletics

A third upcoming case pits a high school football coach against school administrators who reprimanded the coach over his practice of holding a brief prayer on the field’s 50-yard line following games.

A devout Christian, coach Joseph Kennedy’s custom of kneeling on field and conducting prayer while surrounded by many of his players drew reproach from officials at his Seattle-area public school. Administrators told Kennedy his conduct violated a school policy that prohibited staff from encouraging students to engage in prayer or other devotional activity.

Amid widespread publicity, Kennedy sued the school district, alleging that his First Amendment speech and religious rights were violated. A federal district court in Washington ruled against him, reasoning that Kennedy’s conduct was not constitutionally protected because it was done in his capacity as a public employee.

Kennedy appealed, but a unanimous three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based federal appeals court last year affirmed the lower court’s decision. The panel concluded that Bremerton School District (BSD) would have violated the Constitution’s prohibition on government endorsement of religion “by allowing Kennedy to pray at the conclusion of football games, in the center of the field, with students who felt pressured to join him.”

“Kennedy’s attempts to draw nationwide attention to his challenge to BSD compels the conclusion that he was not engaging in private prayer, but was instead engaging in public speech of an overtly religious nature while performing his job duties,” the appeals court wrote.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Kennedy’s appeal on April 25.

Tags Biden border security Immigration Joe Biden Ketanji Brown Jackson Ketanji Brown Jackson Miranda rights Remain in Mexico Stephen Breyer Stephen Breyer Supreme Court

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