Posted by 12 November 2019
The Supreme Court is hearing the fate of children known as “Dreamers” today.
The Dreamers are children who were brought to the U.S. illegally. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issued by President Obama in 2012, these individuals would be able to avoid deportation under certain circumstances, such as serving in the military or attending college.
In 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would phase out DACA within 6 months. The president said that President Obama did not have the legal authority to issue DACA, and that his administration had no choice but to end it. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would deal with the fate of Dreamers.
States and individuals affected by the ending of DACA sued the federal government. Federal judges have stopped the government from rescinding DACA until the Supreme Court can make a decision. Today the justices heard arguments from both sides on this question.
The Trump Administration argues that President Obama issued DACA via executive action even though he previously said that such a move must come through legislation. They note that many legal scholars think that this was, in effect, a change in law by the president, not Congress. That is illegal.
Those arguing that the Trump Administration acted illegally are not disputing that one president has the power to revoke a previous executive action of another president. Instead, they are saying that the Trump Administration did not give a legally-justifiable reason to rescind DACA. If these arguments prevail, President Trump would be free to phase out DACA in the future, but would have to go through a more careful legal process.
There have been bipartisan attempts to pass legislation that would settle the fate of Dreamers. The president has indicated his support of such legislation, but there has yet to be an agreement on final details.
Do you think President Trump was right to rescind President Obama’s legal protection of Dreamers?
Posted by 08 October 2019
Today the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could have far-reaching consequences for the scope of federal anti-discrimination laws.
Gay and transgender individuals are suing over what they deem as illegal firings, arguing that a 1964 federal law protects them from discrimination. Opponents counter that they are stretching the wording of this law beyond what the authors intended.
At question is the wording of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that banned workplace discrimination “because of sex.” Traditionally this law has been held to mean that men and women could not be treated differently in the workplace. However, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and some federal judges have held that this law does indeed cover gay and transgender Americans.
The rationale behind this new way of viewing the law is that it is discriminatory to treat men who are attracted to men differently than men who are attracted to women. Under this way of viewing the law, if an employer would not discriminate against a woman who is attracted to a man, then the employer should not discriminate against a man who is attracted to a man.
Those who oppose this line of reasoning counter that the law is clear – it was designed to prohibit employers from treating men and women differently. They note that there has been legislation introduced to amend the 1964 law to include sexual orientation, but Congress has not acted upon it. Some states also have anti-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity.
The high court will likely issue a decision on this case in June 2020.
Do you think that federal anti-discrimination law should cover sexual orientation or gender identity?
Posted by 27 June 2019
The Supreme Court refused to wade into the fight over partisan gerrymandering. By a 5-4 decision, the high court held that drawing congressional district lines to gain a political advantage is something that should be solved the political process, not court cases.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, rejecting pleas to intervene in cases where politicians had drawn congressional district lines to maximize seats for their party’s candidates. In his decision, Chief Justice Roberts wrote:
We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.
The justices were deliberating on cases involving gerrymandering in both Maryland and North Carolina. In each state, legislators had devised congressional districts that were drawn in ways that gave maximum advantage to candidates from one party and made it difficult for candidates of the other party to win. Voters in each state sued, saying that this type of partisan gerrymandering deprived them of their right to fair representation.
A majority of justices did not necessarily disagree that these maps were unfair. Instead, they held that the solution to this problem is through the elections, not going to court. The four dissenting justices disagreed, saying that there was indeed a constitutional violation in these cases. They argued that such gerrymandering threatens free and fair elections.
In most states, elected officials (usually legislators) draw the lines of congressional and legislative districts. However, some states have empowered independent commissions to devise these lines, which supporters claim lessens partisan meddling in the process.
Do you think that partisan gerrymandering should be unconstitutional? Should legislators or independent commissions draw congressional and legislative district lines?
Posted by 17 June 2019
The Supreme Court once again delved into the conflict between religious liberty and anti-discrimination laws today. The justices issued an order overturning an Oregon court’s decision against two bakery owners whom the state fined because they refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The order said the state court should re-examine its decision in light of a Supreme Court decision last year that overturned a similar fine for a bakery in Colorado.
The case involves a bakery in a city outside of Portland, Oregon, whose owners refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple’s ceremony. They cited their religious faith as their reason for refusing. Oregon has a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The state used that law to fine the bakery’s owners $135,000. In 2017, the state Supreme Court upheld this fine, deciding that the bakers could not use their religion as a reason to refuse to comply with the state’s law.
Last year, the Supreme Court threw out a fine against a Colorado bakery under very similar circumstances. In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the high court held that hostility to religion animated the decision made by the Colorado agency in charge of administering its anti-discrimination law.
The order in the Oregon case said that the state court must reconsider its decision against the baker using the reasoning in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. This is not a full victory for the baker, however. Oregon Court of Appeals could decide that its original decision was correct and that the reasoning of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case does not apply. If that happens, the Supreme Court will likely be faced with this case again.
Do you think that business owners should be able to refuse service for situations they believe violate their religious beliefs? Or should anti-discrimination laws apply to everyone, regardless of someone’s religious beliefs?
Posted by 11 June 2019
It’s been 18 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Some enemy combatants from the early days of this conflict are still being held in Guantanamo Bay without being charged with a crime. The Supreme Court recently declined to hear a case that would challenge such detentions, meaning that there is no release in sight for these individuals.
As part of the war against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the U.S. government had detained some individuals at the military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, even though they have not been charged with crimes. These are labeled as enemy combatants, and the U.S. government says they are too dangerous to be released.
One of those detainees, a Yemeni named Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, has been in Guantanamo since 2002. The Supreme Court recently declined to hear a legal challenge of his indefinite detention, leaving him locked up. In a 2004 case, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the high court ruled that the government could indefinitely detain enemy combatants as long as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force for action in Afghanistan was still in effect.
Critics of this indefinite detention argue that the current military action in Afghanistan bears little relation to what Congress initially authorized in 2001. They say that the government should not have the power to detain someone for an indefinite period of time, potentially for the person’s entire life, without bringing charges against him or her. Supporters counter that the U.S. is still engaged in a war on terror and that these enemy combatants would be dangerous if released.
Do you think that the U.S. should be able to hold enemy combatants without bringing charges? Should there be a time limit on these indefinite detentions?
Posted by 23 April 2019
How far should the 1964 Civil Rights Act go to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity? That is a question that has split the Obama and Trump Administrations, and now the Supreme Court is taking up the issue.
Earlier this month, the court agreed to hear three cases that involve the interpretation of this fifty-five year old law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. The cases involve two individuals who were fired from jobs because they were gay and one individual who was fired from a job because she is transgender.
The Obama Administration and some courts have held that discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation or because of their gender identity, that is a violation of the law. The Obama Administration embraced that view, reversing what the Justice Department’s traditional interpretation of the law. The Trump Administration contends that when the 1964 law bars discrimination based on sex, it means discrimination based on one’s biological sex.
Some states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There is a federal law that would enact the same protections nationally, but it has yet to pass Congress.
Do you think that federal law should be interpreted to prohibit discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity?
Posted by 23 April 2019
The Trump Administration wants to ask whether or not someone is a citizen during the 2020 census. New York and other states do not want the federal government to do this. The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in an attempt to determine who will prevail.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has ordered that the 2020 census include a question about respondents’ citizenship status. While census forms used to ask this question, they have not done so for decades. Secretary Ross justified this change as a way to help the federal government enforce the Voting Rights Act.
New York and other states have sued to stop this question from being included. They argue that Secretary Ross violated various federal laws in ordering the question put on census forms. They also say that this question will lead to an undercount of non-citizen residents, something that would negatively affect their states.
During Supreme Court arguments, some justices appeared sympathetic to the states’ arguments against the Trump Administration. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for instance, noted that the Constitution requires the census to count residents, not citizens. She also agreed that a citizenship question would indeed lead to an undercount of these residents.
Other justices, however, said that the law gives the Commerce Secretary power to determine what questions are included on census forms. They also pointed out that historically the census has asked this question, so there seems to be little reason why it could not ask it again.
The census is set to begin soon, so this case was handled under an expedited review. Lower courts had ruled against the Trump Administration on this issue. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine if the census forms that are set to go out within months will contain this citizenship question or not.
Do you think that a question about citizenship status should be included in the 2020 census?