The Supreme Court’s term has now come to a close. The Court decided its last seven cases this week, capturing headlines and filling margins across the country. It handed President Trump an 0-1-1 record on his tax returns, ruling against him on the New York subpoena and sending the Congressional subpoena back to the lower court. It ruled that, for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act, the vast majority of eastern Oklahoma is Creek “Indian country” (yes, you read that right). It ruled against “faithless electors.” It rejected a procedural challenge to the Trump administration’s new religious exemptions to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. And it struck down an exception to the federal ban on robocalls. At the center of it all was Chief Justice John Roberts, now the Court’s anchor and swing Justice, who voted with the majority in 58 of the term’s 60 cases (a 97% clip). Here is your final weekly brief for O.T. 2019.
Fides et ratio, or “faith and reason,” was the penultimate encyclical of Pope John Paul II. He argued that faith and reason do—and must—go hand in hand. Doubtless, among those who would agree with this principle are the Montana parents who sued in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue to send their children to parochial schools after winning tax-credit-funded scholarships. At first, the parents lost; the Montana Supreme Court invalidated the entire scholarship program. Last week, however, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision by a 5:4 vote, concluding that it violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to strike down the program under a version of the Blaine Amendment in the Montana state constitution. Here’s my analysis.
At the outset, this week looked as if it’d be a quiet one; no opinions were expected, and oral arguments wrapped up a few weeks ago. Even this week’s orders list turned out as unremarkable as any. But a series of emergency, coronavirus-related petitions wound up in the Court’s hands. All told, the Court issued rulings on four such petitions, culminating in a 1:00am, Saturday morning decision to reject a California church’s assertion that the state’s stay-at-home orders discriminate against houses of worship (a decision made on a 5:4 vote). So while Court-watchers expected this to be the last “dead-week” before the Court’s term concludes in July, it turned out to be anything but.
President Trump’s tax returns? Check. “Faithless” members of the Electoral College? Yep. Whether half of Oklahoma is actually Native American land? Check that one too. And the Establishment Clause’s “ministerial” exception? You got it. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week on all of these issues, rounding out what was perhaps the biggest argument week of the term (and also the Court’s last). Given the stature of these cases, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice the Court also released one decision this week (it was pretty innocuous). Here’s a recap of the action at our nation’s highest court this past week.
The Court concluded its January sitting this week. It heard arguments in three cases, ranging from the Armed Career Criminal Act to contract and arbitration law to the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. The Court issued no decisions, although Justice Breyer did pen a short statement relating to Monday’s orders list. Finally, the Court declined to expedite consideration of the twin “Obamacare” cases out of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Here’s your brief for the week of January 20.
Only a few blocks from downtown Bladensburg, Maryland, towers a 32-foot-tall Latin cross. The “Peace Cross,” as it is called, has stood there since 1918, when residents of Prince George’s County sought to build a memorial commemorating the soldiers from that area who died in World War I. From 1925–1961, the local American Legion owned the cross, emblazoning its emblem on the cross’ center and placing a plaque at its base with the words “Valor,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” and “Devotion,” as well as the names of 49 fallen soldiers and a quote from President Woodrow Wilson. Since 1961, the Peace Cross has been under the ownership of the State of Maryland, who has used public funds for maintenance and upkeep when necessary. But in 2014, the American Humanist Association (among others) challenged the constitutionality of the Peace Cross, arguing it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The question must then be asked: Are they right?