Court Battles

Supreme Court set to issue most high-profile decisions of term

The Supreme Court has held its most high-profile cases until the end of its term, leaving court watchers hanging for what could be the most consequential decisions of the year.

The justices have yet to issue opinions in five different cases, and are expected to release their final opinions on Thursday.

Here are the opinions left on the court’s docket before they wrap up for the summer recess:

Census citizenship question

The Supreme Court will weigh in on whether the Trump administration is allowed to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census — but there’s a chance the question could still be blocked by a lower court.

{mosads}The administration has argued that the citizenship question is needed to collect data for the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. But opponents cite studies — some issued by the Census Bureau itself — that find that the question will lead to immigrants or noncitizens skipping the question or the census altogether, and ultimately create an inaccurate count of the population.

And those critics also point to recently unearthed documents that suggest that the late GOP redistricting strategist Thomas Hofeller played a previously undisclosed role in creating the citizenship question.

They argue that the documents undermine the Trump administration’s argument that the data is needed solely for enforcing the voting rights law, and that the materials suggest a political intent behind the query.

While the Supreme Court is set to rule on certain aspects of the question, a ruling from a federal appeals court this week means that the question could still be in jeopardy.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said that a district judge could rule on claims there was a discriminatory intent behind the question — a different legal question than the one presented to the Supreme Court.

If District Judge George Hazel finds that including the question on the 2020 census violates equal protection claims, he could issue a preliminary injunction blocking the question. And with the Census Bureau saying they need to finalize materials by June 30 — Sunday — it could stop the question altogether.

The Trump administration urged the Supreme Court in a letter Tuesday to address the equal protection claims in its ruling.

The justices on Wednesday also indicated that they will consider a request for the case to be sent back down to a lower court to consider new evidence over Hofeller’s alleged involvement on the question. That conference is set to be held after opinions are released on Thursday.

Partisan gerrymandering in Maryland

The justices will also rule on whether Democrats deliberately moved to eliminate a Republican congressional seat in their redrawing of the Maryland district map.

Maryland Republicans claim that when the state’s districts were redrawn after the 2010 census, it was done in such a way that removed one GOP seat in Congress. 

Republicans in the state claim that violates their First Amendment rights to political association and representation, an argument a lower court ruled in favor of in 2018.

The decision also presents the justices with an opportunity to set a test for what constitutes a partisan gerrymander, an issue the court has struggled to resolve in the past. 

The justices have repeatedly ducked ruling on such cases in the past, including in 2018, when they sent three of the gerrymandering cases back down to lower courts for reconsideration.

The Supreme Court appeared to be divided along ideological lines on the case when they heard oral arguments earlier this year.

North Carolina gerrymandering

The Supreme Court will also rule on whether Republicans in North Carolina unconstitutionally crafted congressional districts to benefit GOP candidates.

The state was ordered in 2016 to redraw its congressional map after some of the districts were found to constitute a racial gerrymander. 

But state lawmakers used political factors — alongside other criteria — to redraw the districts. That left the state with 10 GOP districts and three Democratic ones.

It’s that state map that’s being challenged before the Supreme Court. A lower court had ruled against the GOP legislature, but those lawmakers appealed the case to the justices.

Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the North Carolina Democratic Party are all behind the legal challenge.

Both of the partisan gerrymandering opinions will come one week after the Supreme Court ruled that the Virginia House of Delegates didn’t have the authority to challenge a lower court order that found that the new district maps — already in place — must remain ahead of statewide elections later this year.

Carpenter v. Murphy death penalty case

Observers are also awaiting a ruling in a death penalty case that could have implications for Native American territory in Oklahoma.

Patrick Dwayne Murphy, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, was convicted in 2000 for the murder of fellow tribe member George Jacobs.

Murphy challenged the conviction on whether the state court had jurisdiction to charge him in the first place because of his Native American heritage and because the murder took place on tribal territory.

A state court said it could not determine that the land in question still belonged to the Creek tribe, and a federal court also ruled against Murphy. But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Murphy’s favor, saying that the land was on a reservation that Congress had never formally dismantled.

If the Supreme Court rules in Murphy’s favor, it could mark a victory for Native American territory rights.

But others argue that ruling for Murphy would also invalidate other crimes committed by Native Americans on tribal land in Oklahoma.

After hearing oral arguments in the case in December, the justices requested briefings on whether there are any federal laws that gives Oklahoma state courts the power to prosecute crimes on the reservation, and if the court could rule that the reservation is still in place but doesn’t qualify as “Indian country.”

Federal law goes into effect for “Indian country,” indicating that the justices wanted to see if Murphy and others charged with similar crimes in state court could still be prosecuted under federal law if they do rule for Murphy in the case.

Mitchell v. Wisconsin blood-drawing case

The justices will also weigh in on whether police officers in Wisconsin were allowed to draw blood from an unconscious man.

In May 2013, officers found Gerald Mitchell — who appeared to be intoxicated — by his car. They conducted a breathalyzer test, and brought him to a hospital to have his blood drawn.

Mitchell was unconscious by the time he arrived at the hospital, but an officer read him a statement required under state law and Mitchell’s blood was drawn at the officer’s direction.

Mitchell’s test showed he had a blood alcohol content of .222, and as a result he was later charged and convicted of driving while intoxicated.

He is now arguing that the conviction should not stand, as the officers should have obtained a warrant for the blood test or proved that they did not need a warrant, as required by the Fourth Amendment.

However, Wisconsin law states that any individual driving on a public road has implicitly consented to a blood test, and that being unconscious doesn’t mean that consent has been withdrawn.

The justices will now have to rule on the disparity between the state law and the protections offered under the Fourth Amendment.

Tags 2020 census; Census Bureau; citizenship question Gerrymandering Wilbur Ross

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