Supreme Court

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High Court Rules Partisan Gerrymandering is Political, not Legal, Issue

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?

High Court Orders Oregon to Reconsider Fine in Gay Wedding Cake Case

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?

High Court Continues Allowing Indefinite Detention at Guantanamo

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?

Supreme Court to Decide Transgender Discrimination Case

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?

High Court Takes up Census Citizenship Question

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?

 

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