5 Supreme Court cases to watch: From LGBTQ+ rights to police accountability
Will the SCOTUS's new composition have an impact on its verdict on some of the key issues that will go on to influence the lives of millions? Curious minds are waiting
Ever since the death of the iconic liberal judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg and rushed efforts by President Donald Trump and his Republican Party to appoint her successor in Amy Coney Barrett who was sworn in late last month, the Supreme Court has become a cynosure of all eyes. The balance of the court is now heavily tilted in favor of the conservatives (6-3), leaving the Democratic Party worried. Though it is still not clear which way Justice Barrett will go as she is known for her conservative viewpoints, minds curious about legal affairs will be closely watching five critical cases that the SCOTUS is weighing in on and their possible outcomes.
Here are the cases:
The Affordable Care Act, which is popularly called Obamacare, has been a highly debated issue in the years of President Trump. The act that made health insurance accessible to millions for the first time could find itself in jeopardy in the pending California v. Texas case. If the top court strikes down the law, it would leave a devastating impact on the civil liberties of millions. Especially, striking down the law will hit the Black, Latinx and other disabled people who are already facing a systemic disparity in accessing health care, particularly in times of the coronavirus pandemic. Several rights groups are trying to protect Obamacare which many Republican states have challenged. They argue that Trump’s 2017 tax cuts made a key provision of Obamacare unconstitutional and hence there is a valid reason to strike it down. The only thing that could go in favor of the healthcare act is the devastating pandemic as the Democrats say scrapping the act could make the ongoing healthcare crisis worse.
This is another care of great importance. Just a day before the election, the SCOTUS heard a case that would prove detrimental for civil rights laws and LGBTQ families for a long time (in the Fulton v. The City of Philadelphia case). This case sees religious rights pitted against non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. The lawsuit came up after the city of Philadelphia decided to end its foster-care partnership with Catholic Social Services -- a foster-care agency funded by tax-payers’ money. The city took the extreme step after coming to know that the Catholic group declined to place foster kids in homes meant for gay couples which violates Philadelphia’s non-discrimination ordinance. The Catholic body, which is represented by the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, brought the suit and alleged that the city targeted religious contractors unjustly even if their objection to gay marriage is protected under the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause. The ruling of the SCOTUS in this case could influence the lives of more than 400,000 kids in America’s foster-care system and set an example for other taxpayer-funded agencies.
This all-important case is also awaiting the SCOTUS’s verdict and in a time when the country is deeply divided over the action of the security personnel in uniform, the verdict is something that millions are looking forward to. The question before the court in this issue (Torres v. Madrid) is whether the cops are not bound by the Constitution when it comes to using force against people who either resist them or run away. The case is like this: In July 2014, New Mexico State Police officers Richard Willianson and Janice Madrid tried to serve an arrest warrant on a person at an apartment complex in Albuquerque. The woman, Roxanne Torres, was in the parking lot of the apartment complex and when the officers approached her car, she entered it thinking the officers to be carjackers and drove from the scene. The officers then shot at her twice, leaving Torres injured. She was later arrested but filed a complaint against the police officers in the federal district court claiming excessive use of force. But when the court refused to hold the officers responsible and the Tenth Circuit affirmed its ruling, she filed an appeal with the top court.
In March this year, the SCOTUS announced that it would have a review of another case that involves a college student named James King who was badly beaten up by a police officer and FBI agent in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2014. He was given the treatment after being misidentified as a fugitive. While the government tried to shield the officers, it now all depends on the SCOTUS to decide whether government agents can be shielded from accountability.
At a time when the US has seen serious riots over the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis in May, raising serious demands for defunding the police forces and dismantling their departments across cities, the verdict in this case becomes even more important. If the justice goes in favor of the government agents, it could entirely scrap certain cases involving excessive force from the Fourth Amendment’s purview.
‘Return to Mexico’ policy:
The apex court has agreed to review a Ninth Circuit decision in the Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf case that held President Trump’s immigration policy of forcing individuals and families seeking asylum to return to Mexico even as the officials process their requests. The asylum-seekers are often stuck in refugee camps in Mexico and are vulnerable to all sorts of suffering for an indefinite period. A group of asylum-seekers and immigration non-profit bodies sued the homeland security department after it implemented the policy (called Migration Protection Protocols). A district court issued an injunction to block the ruling, saying it likely violated federal immigration laws and treaties and the homeland security department should have looked into the notice-and-comment rule-making to come up with the policy. After the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s injunction, the SCOTUS granted the homeland security department’s requests for a stay. That allowed the department to implement the policy while those challenging it continued with their legal proceedings.
More than 60,000 asylum seekers were returned under the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program. In February this year, the justice department gave an estimate that 25,000 people were still waiting in the southern neighbor for hearings in US court. Those hearings were suspended because of the pandemic. International rights bodies have also condemned the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy as a “disgrace” and human rights groups have registered cases of rapes, assaults and kidnappings.
Judy Rabinovitz, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which has kept a close watch on all the key cases in the Supreme Court, called the Trump administration’s policy “illegal and depraved”, the Guardian reported. Will the top court scrap the policy to give relief to several thousands of distressed souls.
One of Trump’s most controversial policy intentions has been to exclude unregistered immigrants from being counted in the census for apportioning seats in the House of Representatives and votes in the Electoral College. Trump issued a memorandum to the secretary of commerce regarding the congressional apportionment after the 2020 census. As the memorandum backed the policy to exclude people living unlawfully in the US from the census apportionment base, a coalition of state and local governments and NGOs (including ACLU) sued the government in the US district court saying the policy was against the Constitution and laws that governed the census and apportionment. The government counter-argued saying the court did not have any jurisdiction to review the claims and after that court gave its verdict in favor of the coalition, the Trump administration moved the SCOTUS, which then decided to hear the Trump administration’s appeal in Trump v. State of New York case.
The issues that need to be addressed in this case are: whether the coalition of state and local governments and NGOs have any standing to challenge the memorandum and whether Trump has any authority to exclude people staying unlawfully in the US from the apportionment base.