DemDaily: SCOTUS: Decisions From The Docket
June 21, 2021
In the last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) announced three major decisions in a series of rulings expected to roll out in the coming weeks as the High Court enters the final phase of its 2020-2021 term.
The Supreme Court's term begins, by statute, on the first Monday in October and usually goes through late June or early July before recessing for the summer. The Term is divided between "sittings," when the Justices hear cases and deliver opinions, and intervening "recesses," when they consider the business before the Court and write opinions. SCOTUS normally sits in May and June only to announce orders and opinions.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) survived its third challenge before the Supreme Court, essentially putting an end to Republicans' decade-long effort to kill President Barack Obama's landmark 2010 legislation.
The question in California v. Texas, argued on November 10, 2020, was whether the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate was unconstitutional and therefore invalidated the entire legislation.
SCOTUS held in a 7 to 2 opinion that the states and individuals that brought the lawsuit challenging the ACA's individual mandate do not have standing to challenge the law.
The ruling did not address the merits of the challenge -- whether the bulk of the law could stand without a provision that initially required most Americans to obtain insurance or pay a penalty. Rather, the justices ruled procedurally that Texas, 17 other Republican-led states and two individuals who brought the case, had not suffered the sort of direct, "traceable" injury that gave them standing to sue.Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, therefore, that the plaintiff "failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act's minimum essential coverage provision." Conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented.
Had the ACA been struck down, up to 31 million Americans could have lost their medical insurance and an estimated 133 million Americans living with preexisting conditions would have lost their protections.
Religious Rights v Protection from Discrimination
In a decision hailed by conservatives as a win for religious freedom over LGBTQ rights, SCOTUS ruled that the city of Philadelphia violated the First Amendment free-exercise-of-religion rights of a Catholic social services (CSS) agency by refusing to refer children for foster care placements due to the agency's refusal to screen same-sex couples.
The Court's unanimous decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, originally argued on November 4, 2020, was a technical one focused more on the interpretation of the text of the city's ordinances rather than the constitutionality of the actions at hand.The Court ruled the city's ordinance forbidding interference with the "public accommodations opportunities" of an individual or otherwise discriminating against that individual, including because of "sexual orientation," did not apply to foster care.
Similarly, while the city's foster care contract provides that no one may be rejected as a potential foster parent because of their sexual orientation, the provision stating "unless an exception is granted by the Commissioner [of Human Services] or the Commissioner's designee" provides CSS with heightened protections that it would not have if the contract simply banned discrimination outright.
Given the nature of the ruling, it is unclear what larger implications the decision will have on future sexual orientation discrimination cases.
The Court is comprised of six conservatives and three liberals.
The conservatives include Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, all appointed by Donald Trump; Samuel Alito and John Roberts, both appointed by George W. Bush; and Clarence Thomas, appointed by George H.W. Bush.
The liberals include Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, appointed by Barack Obama, and Stephen Breyer, appointed by President Bill Clinton.
SCOTUS Backs Student Athletes
This morning, SCOTUS released its unanimous decision in National Collegiate Athletic Assn. v. Alston, ruling in favor of student athletes and their ability to accept education-related payments and benefits, while also shining a light on the association's monopoly of college sports.
The NCAA had argued that the payments were a threat to amateurism and that barring them did not violate the antitrust laws.
Although the decision by the justices did not address the larger issue of whether the amateur athletes may earn additional money from their names, images and likenesses, it opens the door for future legal challenges on the embattled issue.
Shawne Alston, a former West Virginia University running back and the lead plaintiff in the case, claims that he and other athletes had been exploited by the NCAA, which bans paying athletes for their participation in sports that bring billions of dollars in revenue to American colleges and universities.
In the last two years, 19 states have passed legislation that will allow athletes to start making money from third-party endorsements, and members of Congress are currently debating at least a half-dozen bills aimed at reforming the NCAA.Next Up
Over the course of a full term, the Court hears more than 60 cases, and announces a majority of its decisions in June. The court has yet to issue opinions on 12 remaining cases, including:
Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta, concerning whether California's donor disclosure requirements for charitable organizations violate the 1st Amendment.
Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, which concerns whether Arizona's election laws -restricting out-of-precinct ballots and ballot collection - violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, in which the Court must decide whether organizers from the United Farm Workers union illegally entered Cedar Point Nursery premises by failing to provide notice.
Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., whether the First Amendment prohibits public school officials from regulating off-campus student speech.
PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey, which concerns whether the natural gas company PennEast Pipeline Co. has the right to claim land in New Jersey via eminent domain despite the state's objections.
DemList will keep you informed.
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Sources: supremecourt.gov, SCOTUSblog, National Law Review, CNN, New York Times, Education Week, ESPN, Ozey, Ballotpedia