theSkimm's Guide to

Supreme Court Decisions 2017

Supreme court decisions 2017 header 02 PUBLISHED JUN 13, 2017

The Story

The Supreme Court’s going on summer vacation at the end of the month. And the justices are in finals cramming mode.

What are you talking about?

Every year, the Supremes start their term in October and typically wrap up at the end of June. And there are still a lot of cases that need decisions.  

Isn’t there a new member of the group?

Yes. Early last year, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died. Former President Obama tapped Judge Merrick Garland to take his seat. But the GOP-led Senate argued that the next president should get to pick a replacement instead. President Trump won. And nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch. Now the court is full and leans right once again. At 49, Gorsuch is also the youngest Supreme in decades.

How long will he be in the job?

Justices serve life terms, but often trade the bench for that Boca life once a president whose views they align with is in office. There are rumors that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is 80 and swings between voting left and right on issues, could hang up his robes while Trump’s in office. If this happens, Trump would have another chance to fill the bench with another conservative justice.

So what has the group been up to?

The Justices have already decided on some VIP issues. North Carolina’s gerrymandering – when lawmakers redraw congressional maps so their party has the advantage – is unconstitutional because it disenfranchised minority voters. Meanwhile, federal law says immigrants can be deported if they’re convicted of sexual abuse of a minor. The Supremes say that’s only the case if the victim is younger than 16. And the court put a transgender bathroom case in the ‘not happening’ pile. Now, it’s going back to lower courts.

What else is on the agenda?

Separation of church and state...a case about a church playground is bringing all the Supremes to the religious yard. Like a lot of states, Missouri law says state dollars can’t go toward religious institutions. Meanwhile, Missouri has a grant program to help schools upgrade playgrounds. Back in 2012, a local church that runs a preschool applied for the grant. They were denied. The church sued, saying the state law is religious discrimination and puts public safety at risk. Missouri says giving the church the money would be unconstitutional. Now the Supremes get the final say. If they side with the church (psst: it looks like they might), their decision could impact other church-state issues like school voucher programs.

 

Free speech…this case is about a band called The Slants, which is made up of a group of Asian American men. They say the name is an effort to turn a slur against the Asian community into a “badge of pride.” But in 2011, after they applied to trademark the band name, they were told ‘nope sorry’ because the name violates a law that says trademarks can’t “disparage” people. A lower court disagreed and sided with The Slants, saying that the law violates free speech. The gov appealed. But the Supremes agreed with the band, ruling that the trademark law violates the First Amendment. The decision could affect other big-name groups – hellooo, Washington Redskins – that’ve dealt with similar legal backlash.

 

Same-sex marriage...the Supremes gave it a thumbs up back in 2015, but there are still a lot of legal issues to be sorted out. This case started back in 2012, when a gay couple in Colorado asked a local bakery to make them a wedding cake. The owner refused, saying same-sex marriage goes against his religious views. The couple said ‘that’s discrimination.’ A lower court agreed. And ever since, the bakery owner’s been trying to get the Supreme Court to take up the case. For months, they’ve been putting off a decision on whether to do it. But they could be weighing in with a final answer any day now.  

Anything else?

Trump’s asking the Supremes to green light his travel ban. The one that aims to temporarily block travelers from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. Earlier this year, Trump issued Version 1.0 of this ban. He says it’s necessary for national security and to protect the US from terrorism. Critics say ‘religious discrimination much?’ After the ban was blocked in court, Trump went back to the drawing board and issued Version 2.0. The changes he made were meant to help the ban stand up in court.

Did it work?

No. Multiple groups sued. After a lot of legal back and forth (again), an appeals court kept the ban lifted. Now the case is headed to the Supreme Court. But they probably won’t hear arguments on it until they rendezvous again in the fall.

theSkimm

With the band back to nine justices, things are full steam ahead. And everyone and their lawyer friends are watching and waiting to see whether Gorsuch will tip the scales when it comes to BFD cases like the travel ban.