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Supreme Court Takes up Faithless Electors Case

With the U.S. facing another spirited presidential election contest, the Supreme Court is considering whether states can punish “faithless electors.”

 

Under the U.S. system, voters do not vote directly for the person they want as president. Instead, they vote for electors who then cast votes for president. In every state, these electors are part of a slate that are pledged to candidates of each political party. However, some electors vote for different candidates than the ones they are pledged to vote for. Most states have laws that seek to punish these “faithless electors,” and these laws are at issue before the Supreme Court.

 

In 2016, there were more faithless electors than in any previous election, with ten electors in five states. Two more electors tried to vote for someone other than their pledged candidate, but were replaced.

 

The Supreme Court is hearing the case of three of these electors from Washington and one in Colorado. After they cast their votes for someone other than Hillary Clinton, who won their states’ popular vote, the Washington electors were fined and the Colorado elector was replaced. A federal appeals court ruled that the state could not punish them, while the Washington Supreme Court upheld their fines.

 

The question before the court is whether states have the power to control what electors do. States say they should be able to punish faithless electors to ensure that the voters’ will is respected. Others argue that the Founding Fathers set up a system where people choose electors who then are free to choose the best person for president, and states should not intrude upon this.

 

Do you think that states should be able to punish faithless electors?

High Court Considers Birth Control Mandate

The legal fight over the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate continues at the Supreme Court today.

 

When enacted, the ACA included a mandate that insurance companies offer no-cost birth control. Some employers objected to this mandate, arguing that they had religious objections to some forms of birth control. They said that they should not have to pay for insurance that then provides a service they find morally objectionable.

 

There were various legal cases filed about this mandate, culminating in a 2014 Supreme Court decision affirming that some companies did not have to provide such insurance. In 2017, the Trump Administration went further, expanding this exception to include more companies. This administrative change is what is at issue in today’s Supreme Court arguments.

 

Pennsylvania is suing the Trump Administration, alleging that it exceeded its authority in granting more businesses an exception to the law. The state also alleges that the administration did not follow federal law in promulgating the rule.

 

At the heart of the argument is the idea, embodied in the ACA, that birth control should be widely available to individuals at no cost. Supporters say this is a good way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and it an essential part of women’s health care. Opponents to this idea have a variety of arguments. Some people point to their religious objection to providing birth control to others, especially types of birth control that they see as being no different than abortion. Others argue that if people want to use birth control, they should pay for it themselves, especially since it is widely available and not very expensive.

 

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments and ask questions remotely over video conference.

 

Do you think that the government should mandate that businesses provide no-cost birth control to their employees through insurance?

Supreme Court Hearing Broadcast for First Time

The coronavirus has changed many things about the way Americans are living their daily lives. Those changes have also affected the Supreme Court. Today, the high court heard arguments remotely, allowing media outlets to broadcast their hearing for the first time in history.

 

The case involved a patent dispute that will not be one of the major cases the justices decide this term. But with each justice working in a separate location via a video conference, this case will make history. If one wanted to watch the arguments made by lawyers and the questions asked by justices, usually it is necessary to obtain a ticket to appear in the Supreme Court chambers. Today, these arguments and questions were broadcast on a variety of news channels.

 

The Supreme Court members have long resisted calls to place cameras in their courtroom. They argue that it will lead to justices playing to the cameras instead of focusing on legal arguments, and that their arguments will be taken out of context. With the changes necessitated by the coronavirus, however, the justices were forced to alter their procedures.

 

There has long been a push to televise the proceedings of the high court. At least during the time when the coronavirus restrictions are in place, it looks like such broadcasts will be available. However, once the court returns to its normal practices, these are likely to end.

 

Do you think that the Supreme Court’s arguments should be televised?

High Court Avoids Taking Stand in Gun Case

The Supreme Court today avoided making a decision that could have had a big impact on gun control laws across the country.

 

The case involved a New York city laws that prohibited licensed gun owners from transporting their guns to most places. Gun owners challenged this law, saying it restricted their rights to keep and bear arms. The city eventually changed the law, but the challengers continued to press their case in court.

 

The Supreme Court decided that since the law was no longer in effect, they did not need to make a decision about it. Some gun rights supporters viewed this case as a prime opportunity for the court to define the extent of Second Amendment protections for transporting firearms.

 

The case centered on an ordinance that restricted licensed gun owners from taking their firearms to any places except specified shooting ranges within the city and to designated hunting areas in New York state. The plaintiffs in the case were barred from participating in a shooting competition in New Jersey and were also told they could not take their guns to another home in New York state. They are arguing that these restrictions are an infringement upon their constitutional rights.

 

Since New York city has since amended the law to allow wider transport of firearms, the justices decided that the case is moot and dismissed it. Three justices dissented, however, indicating that they would have used this case as a way to recognize a wider individual right to carry a firearm.

 

This is the first major gun control case considered by the high court since 2010. There have been a handful of cases in the years prior to that which established an individual right to own a gun and said that neither the federal nor state governments could pass laws that prohibited gun ownership. However, the Supreme Court has yet to settle many legal issues over the numerous gun control laws that exist at the federal, state, and local level.

 

Do you think the Supreme Court should have decided that the Constitution protects the carrying of a gun outside the home?

Supreme Court Allows Immigrant Wealth Test Rule to Take Effect

A new rule affecting immigrants who are on public assistance or who may use public assistance in the future will go into effect under a Supreme Court ruling yesterday. In a 5-4 decision, the high court said that the Trump Administration can begin implementing this rule while legal challenges continue.

 

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security issued regulations that change the “public charge” definition used to judge immigrants’ applications for citizenship or Green Cards. This new rule tightened that definition, making it more difficult for immigrants who are on public benefits or who may use public benefits in the future to obtain permanent legal status in the U.S.

 

Issuing the rule, the Trump Administration noted that it was long-standing U.S. policy to admit only those immigrants who would not be a burden on taxpayers. They said that their new definition is a long-overdue update to the law. Opponents, however, said this was a backdoor way to limit immigration, especially from nations with large Latino populations. They argued that it was unfair to discriminate against immigrants who were not wealthy, since these individuals may have the most need to enter the U.S.

 

Critics of the rule went to court to fight it. Last year, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction stopping the regulations from going into effect. This week, the Supreme Court lifted that injunction and allowed the implementation of the new standard.

 

Court fights over the rule continue. The Supreme Court’s decision did not touch on the ultimate legality of this change to immigration law.

 

Do you think that the federal government should take into consideration’s someone’s use of public benefits while determining if that person can remain in the U.S.?

High Court Paves Way for Homeless to Sleep on Sidewalks

In the face of a rising number of homeless people camping out on city sidewalks, Boise city leaders wanted to take action. They passed a law banning the activity. But a federal appeals court overruled the city, saying that such a ban was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has refused to take up this case, allowing the lower court ruling to stand. That means that the homeless in Boise and other western cities will not be prosecuted for sleeping outside.

 

At question is a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from earlier this year that laws banning outdoor sleeping were a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” The judges said that since sleep was necessary to live, the city could not prohibit people from sleeping in public if there was not sufficient housing for them. City officials say that this eliminates their ability to take steps to curb homeless camps that may cause public health issues and be a nuisance.

 

Boise appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn it and allow the city law to take effect. The high court refused to hear the city’s appeal this week. That allows the Ninth Circuit’s decision to stand. This court has jurisdiction over western states, so not all of the U.S. is affected by the ruling.

 

Other cities are also grappling with this issue. Some, such as Austin, recently rescinded laws that criminalize public sleeping. Officials there said that individuals cited under the law would not show up to court, which led to criminal charges that made it even more difficult for that person to find housing and a job.

 

Loosening restrictions on homeless sleeping is often unpopular with the public. Business owners complain about homeless people deterring customers in downtown locations and city residents worry about the spread of diseases. This spring, voters in Denver overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would allow people to camp or sleep in their cars in public. Some politicians are seizing on this issue, promising to take steps that would remove the homeless from the streets by incarcerating them for minor crimes.

 

Do you think that cities should be able to ban sleeping on city streets? 

States Ask Supreme Court to Resume Federal Executions

A federal court order has put federal executions on hold. Now, fourteen states and the Trump Administration are urging the Supreme Court to lift this court order and allow four executions to proceed.

 

Last month, a federal judge temporarily stopped federal executions from occurring in order to let a legal challenge to lethal injection procedures be resolved. There has been ongoing controversy over the types of drugs used for lethal injections. Some states have had to switch their procedures in response to court cases.

 

Attorney General William Barr recently announced that the federal government would use a new drug for its executions. Inmates who had been sentenced to death said this violated the law. A federal judge has stopped executions in order to let the court battle over this legal question play out. This week, another federal court affirmed that order.

 

The Trump Administration wants to proceed with four executions. However, lawyers are arguing that federal law does not allow the Attorney General to mandate a uniform execution procedure. Instead, they say, the law requires that federal executions must follow the rules of the states in which they occur.

 

The states that filed the Supreme Court brief want the high court to intervene and allow executions to resume. They note that some of the states in which these executions were to occur follow the federal protocol. They also argue that they have an interest in seeing capital punishment sentences carried out.

 

The states who filed the brief are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

 

It is unclear if the Supreme Court will take up this case and issue a definitive answer.

 

Do you support resuming federal executions?

Supreme Court Hears Challenge to NY Gun Law

For 18 years, New York City prohibited licensed gun owners from transporting their guns to most places. Today, the Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to that law which claims it is an unconstitutional infringement upon the rights of gun owners.

 

Under question is the city ordinance that restricts licensed gun owners from taking their firearms to any places except specified shooting ranges within the city and to designated hunting areas in New York state. The plaintiffs in the case were barred from participating in a shooting competition in New Jersey and were also told they could not take their guns to another home in New York state. They are arguing that these restrictions are an infringement upon their constitutional rights.

 

New York city has since amended the law to allow wider transport of firearms. The Supreme Court justices could decide that since city legislators have acted, the case is moot. Or they could use this case as a way to recognize a wider individual right to carry a firearm.

 

This is the first major gun control case considered by the high court since 2010. There have been a handful of cases in the years prior to that which established an individual right to own a gun and said that neither the federal nor state governments could pass laws that prohibited gun ownership. However, the Supreme Court has yet to settle many legal issues over the numerous gun control laws that exist at the federal, state, and local level.

 

Supporters of this challenge would like to see the court create a clear rule that defines how people may travel with their guns. Opponents fear that the court could undo gun control laws that they contend are necessary for safety.

 

A ruling in this case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York, is expected in June 2020.

 

Do you think the Second Amendment protects the carrying of a gun outside the home?

DACA Showdown at the Supreme Court

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?

Supreme Court Considers if Anti-Discrimination Law Protects Gay & Transgender Rights

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?

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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