Top Supreme Court cases to watch in 2019

The Supreme Court's 2018-2019 term got off to a sleepy start, but there are a number of potential blockbusters on the docket for the new year.

The justices are scheduled to wade into a dispute over a WWI memorial in Maryland that ignited the age-old debate over the separation of church and state, and they’ll hear a case involving a controversial citizenship question in the 2020 Census.

Other major cases could also find their way to the Supreme Court before the term ends in late June.

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The Trump administration has made a flurry of requests in recent weeks, asking the justices to leapfrog the appeals courts and hear its challenges to district court rulings against the administration’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and its ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Here's a look at the top five cases to watch.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals 

The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to decide whether its decision to phase out the Obama-era DACA program is lawful.

Federal district courts in California and New York have issued preliminary injunctions that force the administration to keep the program in place nationwide.

The administration went around the 2nd, 9th and D.C. circuits when it asked the court to hear its appeal of district court rulings that found the administration's decision to end DACA was either unlawful or likely unlawful.

In February, the Supreme Court denied a similar request by the administration to bypass the 9th Circuit, saying it expected the court of appeals to proceed expeditiously to decide this case.

The 9th Circuit issued its ruling last month and upheld the nationwide injunction that keeps the program intact, and in doing so protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of young people who came to the country illegally as children.

Transgender military ban 

The government is asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal of three district court orders that have kept the administration from enforcing its ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Government attorneys bypassed normal judicial order in asking the Supreme Court to review the rulings together this term before rulings in the 9th and D.C. circuit courts.

Without the court’s intervention, the government argues it will be forced to maintain a policy which the military says poses a threat to "readiness, good order and discipline, sound leadership, and unit cohesion," components that the Pentagon says are "are essential to military effectiveness and lethality.”

The government has also asked the court to issue an emergency order that blocks the lower court rulings. The opposing parties’ response to that request is due by Dec. 28.

Partisan gerrymandering 

The justices will have an opportunity to determine when the use of politics in redistricting is so extreme that it’s unconstitutional. The court punted similar cases last term from Maryland and Wisconsin.

The Maryland case, which has been before the court twice already, will be back for a third time. State Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) is appealing a district court ruling that requires the state to redraw its 2011 congressional redistricting plan before the 2020 election. The district court found that state officials specifically intended to flip control of the 6th Congressional District, which Rep.-elect David TroneDavid John TroneBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Dem bill would let essential workers collect unemployment during shutdown New Jersey governor calls for redistricting reform MORE (D) won in November, from Republicans to Democrats.

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A separate challenge out of North Carolina is also back before court. Republican lawmakers are appealing a second ruling from a three-judge district court panel striking down the state’s 2016 congressional maps. Common Cause and the League of Women Voters challenged the maps in two cases that were consolidated in the lower court.

The groups argue the maps were drawn to give Republicans a partisan advantage. The justices are scheduled to consider both the Maryland and North Carolina cases at their first court conference of the new year, on Jan. 4.

2020 census 

The justices will hear arguments on Feb. 19 in a dispute over whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTrump officials ask Supreme Court to rule on discrimination claims in citizenship question decision Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question Apple in front lines of Trump trade war MORE can be ordered to answer questions under oath in a lawsuit challenging his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The administration argued it would be “highly unusual” for a court to allow the questioning of Ross’s mental processes leading up to the Commerce Department's decision. The agency oversees the Census Bureau.

In March, Ross said he was adding the question to help the Department of Justice better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But New York state officials note the district court found Ross was personally involved "to an extraordinary degree" in the decision.

“Significant gaps in the record remain that only the Secretary’s testimony will fill,” state officials argued in a court filing.

The challengers, which include 18 blue-leaning states led by New York, argue the question was added to scare immigrants away from responding to the census. States with large immigrant communities fear they will lose federal funding and fair representation in Congress if their populations are undercounted.

Federal agency powers

The justices have agreed to hear arguments in a dispute over how much courts should defer to federal agencies in deciding legal challenges to ambiguous regulations.

James Kisor, a Vietnam War veteran, is asking the court to overturn precedent that directs courts to generally rely on the agency’s own interpretation of its own regulation. The lawsuit against the Department of Veteran Affairs stems from a dispute over disability benefits.

Kisor argues the court’s precedent incentivizes agencies to promulgate vague and broad regulations, which they can later clarify through interpretive rules without having to go through public notice-and-comment procedures.

The Trump administration, however, argues this is a poor case for the court to reconsider its precedent.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Peter Wallison, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said ruling in favor of Kisor could significantly limit the powers of the federal administrative state.

The date of oral arguments has not yet been set.