Supreme Court

Commentary & Community

High Court Doesn’t Exempt Churches from Coronavirus Shutdown

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to Nevada’s coronavirus shutdown that affects in-person church services.

 

In Nevada, the governor has ordered that churches must limit in-person attendance at services to 50 people. This differs from the standard the governor set for other businesses, such as casinos, which can allow people inside their premises at 50% capacity. Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley wanted to hold services with 90 attendees while observing social distancing rules. When the state refused permission, the church sued.

 

In its suit, the church alleged that Nevada was infringing up its First Amendment rights by denying it the ability to hold in-person services. It noted that since the state held other businesses to different standards, it should give more accommodation to churches that wished to allow more people inside. The state, however, argued that its rules are necessary in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

 

The church had asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, but five justices declined to do so. They did not offer an opinion, which is customary in cases where the only issue is whether or not the high court will consider arguments in the case. But Justice Gorsuch did write a dissent, where he noted the inconsistency of allowing entertainment facilities to have looser standards than churches.

 

Do you think that states should give more leeway to churches that want to hold in-person services?

Trump Administration Urges Court to Uphold Medicaid Work Requirement

This week, the Trump Administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court urging it to support an Arkansas program requiring some able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work.

 

Under the Arkansas Works program, individuals newly eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, must meet certain work requirements. These include engaging in work or work-related activities for 80 hours a month. Only those in the Medicaid expansion population – able-bodied adults without children who are between 18 and 62 – face this requirement. There are also exceptions for people who are unable to work.

 

While the Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama had not approved Arkansas’s work requirement (or similar requirements in other states), the Trump Administration did. However, federal judges have blocked many of these requirements from going into effect. The Trump Administration’s legal filing urges the Supreme Court to overturn these rulings.

 

The legal issues center on whether federal law permits states to add a work requirement to Medicaid recipients. Medicaid is funded in part by the federal government, but states opt into it and have some leeway to design their programs. The Trump Administration and states say that states have the authority to require work for some able-bodied recipients, but courts have ruled that Congress must amend the program to allow this.

 

Supporters of work requirements argue that they are helping Medicaid recipients by giving them an incentive to go to work, where they may be able to obtain private health insurance eventually. They also argue that childless, able-bodied adults -- the group covered by the work requirement -- should be working. Opponents, however, see these requirements as a way to limit participating in Medicaid, noting that 18,000 people lost eligibility once Arkansas put its requirement in place. They also contend that the work verification rules under Arkansas Works are too difficult for many to comply with.

 

Do you support requiring able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work or seek work?

Supreme Court Rejects Trump’s Claim of Immunity on Tax Records

President Trump has claimed that he has absolute immunity from criminal investigation while in office. Today, the Supreme Court said that was not the case.

 

In a 7-2 decision, the high court ruled that the president could not block subpoenas for his financial information. New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance is seeking his tax records to look into whether Trump violated New York law when paying money to two women who claim he had sex with them. Vance wants to present this evidence to a grand jury to consider criminal charges against Trump.

 

The president and his lawyers argued that these records should not turned over to the district attorney while Trump is in office. Their claim was that the president has a broad grant of immunity to criminal investigations, and violating this would open him up to politically-motivated prosecution.

 

Seven Supreme Court justices disagreed, however. They pointed out that no one is above the law, including the president, and shielding him from investigation would go against centuries of precedent. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

 

President Trump said that this decision was political and that he was being unfairly targeted. District Attorney Vance called it a victory for justice.

 

Do you think the president should be immune from criminal investigations?

Supreme Court Allows States to Punish Faithless Electors

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that states have the power to punish or remove electors who break their pledges to support specific candidates.

 

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for 7 fellow justices, saying that the Constitution’s text and the history of the Electoral College demonstrate that states have latitude to punish or replace faithless electors. Justice Clarence Thomas came to the same conclusion, although he said that the Tenth Amendment protects states’ power to set limits on electors.

 

When voters cast their ballot for president, they vote for electors who then make the binding vote for president. Electors take a pledge to support a certain candidate for office. Occasionally, electors vote for different candidates than the ones they are pledged to support. 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 concerned 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. The justices ruled in the case concerning the Colorado elector, but the reasoning applies to the Washington case, too.

 

While not directly affecting other efforts to change the way the Electoral College works, this ruling does appear to confirm that states can reform how they assign electoral votes. Some states want to require electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, for instance.

 

What do you think about the Electoral College?

Supreme Court Rules States Can’t Discriminate Against Religious Schools

On a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that if states pay private school tuition, they cannot refuse to pay tuition at religious private schools.

 

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a Montana parent who was using a state-funded scholarship program to pay for tuition at a private religious school. However, this arrangement ended when the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the program violated a constitutional ban on state money going to religious schools. The parent sued, saying that this ruling violated the First Amendment by singling out religious schools for discrimination.

 

The Supreme Court agreed that Montana’s prohibition on state aid to private schools did indeed amount to religious discrimination. Many states have similar prohibitions, known as “Blaine Amendments.” They originated in the late 1900s, when there was growing concern about Catholic private schools. The high court held that Montana is not obligated to pay for private school tuition, but if it does it cannot allow funding to go to some private schools but not religious schools.

 

The four dissenting justices pointed out that the Montana Supreme Court had ended that state’s program, so it was treating all schools equally. Some also said that the court’s majority was overturning hundreds of years of precedent by allowing state money to go to religious education.

 

Thirty-seven states had constitutional prohibitions on government money going towards religious education that could potentially be affected by this decision.


Do you think it is constitutional for states to fund secular private schools but not religious private schools?

Supreme Court Protects "Dreamers"

Today the Supreme Court has ended the Trump Administration's efforts to strip legal protection from "Dreamers" -- children who were brought to the U.S. illegally.
 
In a 5-4 ruling, the high court said that the Trump Administration did not follow the proper procedures to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This program gave legal protection to some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Those in this program had to meet certain qualifications, such as having a clean criminal record.
 
President Trump had said that Congress should enact a law to protect these individuals, but that President Obama did not have the authority to protect them by executive action. He ordered the program to be phased out, which set up a legal fight that eventually ended up before the Supreme Court.
 
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts said that this case was not about the merits of the president's actions. Instead, he said it concerned the procedure the Trump Administration followed to undo DACA. His opinion leaves open the possibility that the Trump Administration could once again try to end DACA.
 
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the dissenting minority, arguing that the president's actions were indeed legal. He said that it is up to Congress, not the courts, to settle this issue.
 
Do you think the Trump Administration should continue trying to end legal protection for Dreamers?

Supreme Court Rules Anti-Gay Discrimination Illegal

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that federal anti-discrimination laws cover gay and transgender individuals.

 

The high court ruled that when the law uses the word “sex,” it also protects people from being fired for being gay or transgender. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch concluded that the plain reading of the text leads to the conclusion that sex discrimination is not limited to ensuring that men and women are treated equally in the workplace. Instead, he noted that if an employer fired a man for being in a relationship with a man, but did not fire a woman for being in a relationship with a man, then that is a clear case of an employer discriminating against someone based on sex.

 

In his decision, Gorsuch wrote, “an employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision…”

 

The three dissenting justices disagreed. Justice Samuel Alito pointed out that in the decades following the enactment of the federal anti-discrimination law, no one thought it covered gay or transgender individuals. He said that the majority was re-writing the law, not interpreting it. In his dissent, he wrote, “If every single living American had been surveyed in 1964, it would have been hard to find any who thought that discrimination because of sex meant discrimination because of sexual orientation — not to mention gender identity, a concept that was essentially unknown at the time.”

 

The case concerned three individuals who were fired for being either gay or transgender.

 

The justices joining Gorsuch in the majority were Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Ginsburg.

 

Do you support the Supreme Court ruling that federal law protects gay and transgender individuals from discrimination?

Supreme Court Upholds California’s Coronavirus Restrictions on Churches

A California church has lost its appeal to be exempt from California Governor Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus shutdown order.

 

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court denied a Chula Vista church’s request to issue an injunction stopping the enforcement of an order that forbids it from opening. The church argued that the California governor was infringing upon the First Amendment by keeping the church shut down.

 

A majority of the high court disagreed, however. Writing for that majority, Chief Justice Roberts said that the state’s orders treated the church the same as similar secular businesses. His opinion said that it is not an infringement on the First Amendment if the government regulates churches in the same manner as other businesses with similar safety concerns, like concerts or sporting events.

 

Four justices dissented, however, arguing that the California governor is allowing some places to re-open with social distancing restrictions. The Chula Vista church has said it could abide by these same restrictions, so it should not be prohibited from opening. The dissenting justices agreed, and argued it is unconstitutional to treat churches differently than these other businesses.

 

This is the first case the Supreme Court has decided that deals with coronavirus restrictions.

 

Do you think that states should allow churches to open as governors relax coronavirus restrictions? Or should states continue to restrict church gathering because they pose too much risk of spreading the virus?

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?

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