Friday, February 26, 2021

Supreme Court to tackle immigration, voting rights, unions: A look at major cases on justices’ agenda


It’s decision time for the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a full plate of issues before it: immigration, religious freedom and voter rights.

The justices already issued a ruling striking down a law that barred sports gambling in most states, handed down a narrow ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple and upheld a state’s law that purged voters who didn’t cast a ballot or respond to warnings in several years.

Read on for a look at some of the bigger cases justices are expected to decide or have already ruled on.

Free speech

Baker Jack Phillips poses in his Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado U.S. September 21, 2017. Picture taken September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking - RC1E6FC20C40

Jack Phillips, a Christian baker, was sued after he declined to create a cake for a same-sex wedding.  (Reuters/Rick Wilking)In a test of free speech and religious freedom, the Supreme Court took up a case focused on whether a business owner has to create a product that is against his or her deeply-held religious beliefs regarding marriage.

The case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission centered around Jack Phillips, who declined to create a cake for the wedding celebration of two gay men in 2012. Phillips maintained that he would sell anything in his store to the couple, but could not create a new cake to celebrate same-sex marriage due to his religious beliefs and convictions about male-female matrimony.

In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment. However, in its limited ruling, the Supreme Court did not decide on the big issue: whether a business can refuse to serve gay and lesbian people.

“The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression,” the order read. “While it is unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”

Religious freedom

Another test of religious freedom before the Supreme Court comes with National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. In that case, NIFLA, a nonprofit representing pro-life and religious pregnancy centers, is suing California over a law that requires pregnancy centers to inform patients about family planning options available in the state, including abortion.

NIFLA President Thomas Glessner has argued that the law requires anti-abortion centers to be “advertising for abortion.”

“Can the government impose and compel a faith-based ministry to proclaim a message that they are fundamentally opposed to with the risk of being fined or shut down? That’s the issue here,” Glessner previously told Fox News.

“Can the government impose and compel a faith-based ministry to proclaim a message that they are fundamentally opposed to with the risk of being fined or shut down?”

– NIFLA President Thomas Glessner

However, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra defended the law as a way for patients to get “accurate information” about healthcare options.

“Information is power, and all women should have access to the information they need when making personal health care decisions,” he said.


Protesters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court, while the court justices consider case regarding presidential powers as it weighs the legality of President Donald Trump's latest travel ban targeting people from Muslim-majority countries, in Washington, DC, U.S., April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas - RC11BDE4C3E0

Protesters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court, while the court justices consider case regarding presidential powers as it weighs the legality of President Trump’s latest travel ban.  (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments pertaining to the Trump administration’s controversial ban on travel by residents of a handful of Muslim-majority countries. The court is set to determine if the ban — which affects people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — discriminates on the basis of nationality and religion in the issuing of immigrant visas.

A decision in Trump v. Hawaii is expected in June and could become a precedent-setting ruling on the limits of executive power, especially in the context of immigration.

Union dues

Mark Janus is cheered by supporters outside of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., February 26, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis - RC141D6C4090

Mark Janus sued because he didn’t want a certain fee deducted from his paycheck to go toward a union just because he worked for the state.  (Reuters/Leah Millis)

The Supreme Court could upend a decades-old precedent that allowed unions to collect fees from public employees, including ones who were not part of the union. The case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 31 forces the justices to decide if so-called “agency-shop” arrangements are allowed.

Mark Janus,  employed at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, set the ball in motion when he sued because he didn’t want a certain fee deducted from his paycheck to go toward a union just because he worked for the state. His lawyers argued that the payment could violate First Amendment rights if someone is forced to pay a fee to an organization with different views than he or she holds.

The court has to decide if it will overrule its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In that case, it held that schoolteachers should pay unions as long as the money goes toward collective bargaining and other such issues — not ideological causes.

Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME, has argued that strong labor unions are needed because they give “the strength in numbers [workers] need to fight for the freedoms they deserve,” including retirement plans and health care.

The high court heard a similar case in 2016, but the death of Justice Antonin Scalia meant the case ended in a 4-4 decision, Reuters reported.

Voter eligibility

Activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of arguments in a key voting rights case involving a challenge to the OhioÕs policy of purging infrequent voters from voter registration rolls, in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Lawrence Hurley - RC1A0EBC60B0

Activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of arguments in a key voting rights case involving a challenge to the Ohio’s policy of purging infrequent voters from voter registration rolls.  (Reuters/Lawrence Hurley)

In what’s considered a pivotal case regarding voting rights, the Supreme Court decided to allow Ohio to clean up its voting rolls by targeting people who have not cast ballots in a certain amount of time.

In a 5-4 decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court rejected arguments that the practice violates a federal law intended to increase the ranks of registered voters. A handful of other states also use voters’ inactivity to trigger a process that could lead to their removal from the voting rolls.

Under Ohio rules, registered voters who fail to vote in a two-year period are targeted for eventual removal from registration rolls, even if they haven’t moved and otherwise remain eligible. The state said it only uses the disputed process after first comparing its voter lists with a U.S. postal service list of people who have reported a change of address. But not everyone who moves notifies the post office, the state said.

So the state asks people who haven’t voted in two years to confirm their eligibility. If they do, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters.

The case is titled Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Voter rights

The Supreme Court decided what voters could wear when they head to the polls, ruling on June 14 that a broad state ban on wearing “political apparel” such as a Tea Party-linked shirt or a “Please I.D. Me” button at the polls violated the free speech rights of voters.

The case of Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky began in 2010, when Minnesotan Andrew Cilek wore such apparel when he went to vote. One of the items voters were to decide on then, the Star Tribune reported, was whether Minnesota voters should have to show photo identification when voting. At first, Cilek was prevented from voting after he refused to cover up his shirt. He was later able to vote, but had to leave his information with poll workers.

The ruling said despite any “good intentions” by the state, regulation of such individual expression cannot be reasonably applied because of overly sweeping prohibitions.


Should courts step in when lawmakers draw up new district maps that favor their party? With Gill v. Whitford, the Supreme Court faced such a pivotal question — but the nation’s highest court declined to issue a definitive ruling.

On June 18, the nation’s highest court said the plaintiffs, Wisconsin Democrats, did not have standing and dismissed the case back to lower courts.

The court was asked to determine whether Republican legislators in Wisconsin, who drew a new election map that skewed in favor of their party after they took control in 2010, went too far with gerrymandering. The court was also being asked to endorse a standard for redistricting that would then apply nationwide.

Redistricting is a major issue in many states, and this case isn’t the only one the nation’s highest court has heard. The Supreme Court could decide soon to take up a new gerrymandering case from North Carolina.

Sales tax

FILE PICTURE - The logo of the web service Amazon is pictured in this June 8, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/Illustration/File Photo - RC1847D215A0

In South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., the Supreme Court is tasked with deciding whether online shoppers should be charged a sales tax.  (Reuters/Carlos Jasso)

Attention, online shoppers: Costs may rise after the Supreme Court overturned decades-old rule limiting the ability of states to collect sales tax on certain out-of-state internet purchases.

The 5-4 ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. is a victory for states that argued they were losing out on billions of dollars each year.

Under the previous rule, if a business shipped a product to a state where it doesn’t have an office, warehouse or other physical presence, it didn’t have to collect the state’s sales tax.

Customers are generally required to pay the tax to the state themselves if they don’t get charged, but the vast majority do not do so.

The current regulation “allows remote sellers to escape an obligation to remit a lawful state tax is unfair and unjust,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said. “It is unfair and unjust to those competitors, both local and out of state, who must remit the tax; to the consumers who pay the tax; and to the states that seek fair enforcement of the sales tax.”


All bets are off after the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that barred sports gambling in most states. The decision was a clear defeat for the federal government and major professional and college sports leagues that fought to uphold the ban.

Such betting is already legal in Nevada, and New Jersey voters and lawmakers passed a law to legalize sports wagering several years ago. But that state law was opposed by the NCAA, the NFL, MLB, the NBA and the NHL.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own.”

– Supreme Court ruling

Those on the leagues’ side pointed to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, a federal law that prohibited sports betting in all states except the four grandfathered in: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. Nevada is the only state out of the four that has full-scale sports wagering, according to The Associated Press.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not,” the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling said.

More than a dozen states supported New Jersey in the case.

New Jersey could see an uptick in annual revenue to the tune of about $9 billion with sports gambling legalized, the New York Post reported.


In Carpenter v. United States, the Supreme Court had to decide whether the Fourth Amendment allows police to be able to use cell phone records that show the location and movements of the user without a search warrant.

In a 5-4 narrow ruling, the Supreme Court said on June 22 that a warrant is generally needed to track a suspect’s movements by collecting information about where they’ve used their cell phones — seen as a victory for privacy in the digital age.

“Given the unique nature of cell phone location records, the fact that the information is held by a third party does not by itself overcome the user’s claim to Fourth Amendment protection,” the opinion read.

The case involves Timothy Carpenter, who was arrested for being part of a sting of Radio Shack robberies in Michigan and Ohio. He was convicted, in part, after police obtained archived cellphone records showing him near the scene of the crimes.

“Because cellphone location records can reveal countless private details of our lives, police should only be able to access them by getting a warrant based on probable cause,” Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Carpenter, said in a statement last year. “The time has come for the Supreme Court to make clear that the longstanding protections of the Fourth Amendment apply with undiminished force to these kinds of sensitive digital records.”

The government argued it did not need “probable cause” to obtain these records, kept by phone companies, because of a 1986 congressional law known as the Stored Communications Act.

Fox News’ Madeline Farber, Steve Kurtz, Bill Mears and The Associated Press contributed to this report.