This week, the U.S. Supreme Court commenced the 2019-2020 term. For this term, the court has granted review to a number of high-profile and potentially controversial cases dealing with LGBTQ employment discrimination, gun rights under the Second Amendment, state laws restricting access to abortion, canceling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and more. The addition of Trump appointees Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh shifts the balance of the court in a more conservative direction on several closely watched issues.
Professor Leslie Jacobs from McGeorge School of Law joins Insight with a preview of major constitutional and legal issues on the docket for the new U.S. Supreme Court term. Here are the basics on the cases she will discuss:
The U.S. Supreme Court granted review to two cases in April 2019 dealing with employers discriminating against LGBTQ employees. The Court will consider whether a major federal employment statute (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) applies to discrimination based on a worker’s sexual orientation “because of … sex.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favor of the LGBTQ employee, while the Eleventh Circuit ruled in favor of the employer. The U.S. Supreme Court granted review to resolve the split decision between the two federal circuit courts.
Read and hear Nina Totenberg's story on the LGBTQ employment rights case here.
The Trump administration decided to wind down the Obama era immigration program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Under Obama, the Department of Homeland Security created the program to grant work permits and two-year-long periods of deferred action from deportation to some eligible undocumented immigrants who arrived as children. President Trump announced plans to phase out DACA in September 2017, but several groups challenged the cancellation. The Court will consider (1) whether DHS's decision to end the DACA program can be reviewed by a court and (2) if the cancellation was lawful.
This challenge to a New York City gun restriction is notable for several reasons. This is the first time since 2008 that the court granted review to a case about the individual right to possess a handgun under the Second Amendment. President Trump’s two appointees — Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh — are expected to side with an expansion of the individual right to possess a handgun. This case also presents a strange procedural quirk: New York City asked the Court to drop the case as moot (no longer an active legal dispute) because the rules in New York City and laws of New York State have changed since the case started. Instead, the Court declined to drop the case and asked the parties to brief the mootness question as well as the constitutional merits of the case.
Free Exercise of Religion — Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue
This case signals a potential shift in how the U.S. Supreme Court looks at religious challenges under the First Amendment. UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky argues that the addition of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh could result in a continuation of how the court treats Establishment Clause issues but major changes to Free Exercise Clause issues. In the Espinoza case, the court will consider whether a state can exclude religious groups from participating in government programs that benefit secular private groups. Chief Justice John Roberts might side with Justices Samuel Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas in holding that the state must provide government benefits to both religious and secular groups.
Abortion — June Medical Services LLC v. Gee
This case sets up a major showdown, and it will serve as a bellwether for how the U.S. Supreme Court will approach abortion cases now that Justice Anthony Kennedy has been replaced by Justice Kavanaugh. The law at issue closely resembles a 2016 case where Justice Kennedy provided the fifth vote to strike down an “admitting privileges” law in Texas. Here, Louisiana also has a law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have the right to admit patients at a local hospital. If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Louisiana law, it could kick off a new wave of state laws restricting healthcare providers who perform abortion services.
The court will consider two constitutional challenges that could alter how states prosecute criminals. In the Kahler case, the State of Kansas abolished the insanity defense, but Kahler is challenging his conviction on the theory that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantees his right to present an insanity defense.
In the Ramos case, the court must decide whether the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous jury verdict applies in state criminal prosecutions through the Fourteenth Amendment. In federal court, the U.S. Constitution requires prosecutors to win a unanimous jury verdict to convict. But in Louisiana, only ten out of twelve jurors are required to obtain a conviction.