Court Battles

The five biggest cases awaiting Supreme Court decisions

The Supreme Court has a few more big decisions to hand down.

The court has already decided some of the biggest cases on its docket — including abortion, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and LGBT rights — but several thorny legal questions need to be resolved before the term is over.

When the next batch of rulings is issued on Monday, it will be the first time in 24 years that the Supreme Court has released decisions in July, a delay that can be attributed to the coronavirus that upended normal operations for the justices this year.

As the court winds down one of its most politically charged terms in recent years, one that revealed a new ideological dynamic with Chief Justice John Roberts anchoring the center, it will address disputes over presidential power, health care and the Electoral College.

Here are the five most-anticipated decisions pending before the court.

Trump’s financial records

This landmark case involves efforts by congressional Democrats and New York state prosecutors to subpoena a trove of Trump’s financial records and tax returns.

The justices seemed divided along ideological lines during arguments over the validity of congressional subpoenas issued by a trio of Democratic-led House committees to Trump’s bankers and accountants.

The court’s conservative wing aired concerns about giving Congress too much power, fearing the potential for presidential harassment. By contrast, the court’s liberal bloc seemed troubled by the prospect of placing undue restraints on lawmakers’ ability to gather materials they need to carry out their oversight and legislative functions.

There appeared to be more consensus among the justices in the dispute over subpoenas stemming from a New York criminal probe. That case, Trump v. Vance, concerns a grand jury subpoena for access to eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax documents. The ruling could determine if Trump’s tax returns are ultimately seen by the public.

The justices did not seem persuaded by the argument advanced by Trump’s lawyer that presidents possess blanket immunity from any criminal process, particularly in light of past Supreme Court rulings that handed defeats to former Presidents Nixon and Clinton while they were in office.

ObamaCare contraception mandate

This fight stems from a highly litigated question that first arose in the early days of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA): Do employers who oppose birth control have to pay for workers’ contraception?

The ACA requires most insurance plans and employers to cover preventive care without cost sharing, including contraception.

In the Obama era, religious nonprofits could claim an exemption from contraceptive coverage. Under the Trump administration, eligibility was extended to companies that voiced religious or moral objections.

During oral arguments in May, the justices seemed split over the expanded carve-outs.

The more liberal justices seemed inclined to view the administration’s far-reaching exemptions as clashing with Congress’s intent to cover birth control costs under the ACA. The court’s conservative wing appeared more open to giving federal agencies wide latitude to balance women’s health against religious liberty.

Faithless electors

Just months before the presidential election, the court could decide just how much power the states’ Electoral College representatives have in picking the winner.

Some of those representatives, in Colorado and Washington state, are challenging state laws that restrict electors’ autonomy. The states both retaliated against “faithless electors,” individuals who cast their Electoral College votes for people other than the candidates who won the popular vote in their state.

During oral arguments in May, some of the justices appeared unnerved at the idea of unleashing electors to disregard the will of voters. Justice Samuel Alito worried about the “chaos” that would ensue from such a decision.

“Where the popular vote is close and changing just a few votes would alter the outcome or throw it into the House of Representatives — the rational response of the losing political party or elements within the losing political party would be to launch a massive campaign to try to influence electors and there would be a long period of uncertainty about who the next president was going to be,” Alito said.

Representing the group of electors is the well-known Harvard Law professor and activist Lawrence Lessig, an outspoken critic of the Electoral College, which has nullified the nationwide popular vote in two presidential elections in the past 20 years. Lessig has been open about how the lawsuit is intended to make the current electoral process unpalatable to Americans compared to a popular election.

Religious exemptions from discrimination suits

The justices will revisit the scope of religious protections in the workplace when they resolve a fight that centers on parochial schools accused of employment discrimination.

A pair of Los Angeles-area Catholic schools asked the justices to deem them immune from discrimination suits brought by two former teachers in a case that pits First Amendment safeguards for religious employers against workers’ rights.

The former teachers are Agnes Morrissey-Berru, who claims she suffered age discrimination, and now-deceased Kristen Biel, whose widower said Biel’s school fired her in violation of disability laws while she battled and ultimately succumbed to breast cancer.

The dispute asks the justices to bring clarity to a murky area of law known as the “ministerial exception,” a First Amendment doctrine that bars lawsuits by employees who are considered “ministers” due to the religious nature of their work.

A lawyer for the former employees told the Supreme Court that while there were some religious aspects to his clients’ teaching jobs, those limited duties were not enough to trigger a religious exemption for the schools.

The justices appeared divided during arguments over what kind of religious features must be present to strip grade school teachers of their right to sue for job discrimination.

Native sovereignty in Oklahoma

The court is wading into a territorial dispute between Oklahoma and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The tribe is challenging the state’s authority to prosecute a crime that was committed on what may be part of a reservation and by an enrolled member of another tribe.

Oklahoma officials contend that the area around Tulsa did not belong to the reservation and if it did, it was disestablished long ago.

But the Creek maintains that the reservation was never dissolved and Congress never transferred authority over its land.

The case could determine who has authority over about half the state and lead to other legal challenges from tribes around the country if the Creek prevail.

The Creek Nation was displaced to Oklahoma from territory in the southeast during the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.

The case was brought by a man named Jimcy McGirt, who’s serving life plus two 500-year prison terms for raping a 4-year-old girl in the disputed territory.

The court heard a similar case last year but never reached a decision, possibly because Justice Neil Gorsuch recused himself and was unable to resolve a 4-4 tie.

Tags Contraception DACA LGBTQ Native American Neil Gorsuch ObamaCare Oklahoma Samuel Alito Supreme Court trump tax returns

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