SCOTUS’ Extraordinary Term

Contributed by Deb Kline.

In a typical year, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) would go into recess at the end of June after handing down decisions on several cases. It’s definitely not a typical year as the term ended with several significant rulings handed down well into July. 

While the general consensus was that the court had tilted in favor of conservatives, this recent term yielded some surprises – and perhaps the political lines are not quite as hard and fast as feared. 

In fact, Justices Roberts, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch ruled against Trump in the case argued with Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, that sought the financial records from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazar, and from his lender, Deutsche Bank. (Note: while Kavanaugh and Gorsuch joined the majority opinion, they declined to agree with the reasoning). In addition, the court unanimously agreed that NO president has absolute immunity. Yay for that! 

Interestingly, the same judges who ruled for the Vance case – Roberts, Ginsberg, Kagan, Sotomayer, Breyer, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch – also rejected similar efforts by the House to subpoena Trump’s financial records. Both cases were sent to the lower courts for review.

Chief Justice Roberts also sided with liberals on the bench in three significant cases in June. In fact, Justice Neil Gorsuch, the first Trump appointee to the court, joined Roberts in the ruling that Federal civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender workers

Roberts also sided with liberals as the deciding vote in blocking a controversial Louisiana abortion law that would have closed every clinic in the state. The court had previously struck down a similar case from Texas when Justice Anthony Kennedy was still on the bench. Remember that Justice Kennedy was replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, who as expected, sided against abortion rights. 

Roberts, Sotomayer, Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan also preserved the DACA program, giving a boost to immigration rights and further angering conservatives and especially, the Trump administration. 

On the downside, last week SCOTUS cut back the Obamacare requirement that provided free birth control as part of employers’ health insurance plans in a 7-2 decision, with Justices Kagan and Breyer in concurrence with the majority. As a result, the current administration can move forward with rules allowing virtually any employer to claim a religious or moral exemption to providing free birth control coverage, potentially eliminating coverage for between 70,000 and 126,000 women. 


Civics 101: The Supreme Court

The Term of the Court begins, by law, on the first Monday in October and lasts until the first Monday in October of the next year. Each Term, approximately 7,000-8,000 new cases are filed in the Supreme Court. This is a substantially larger volume of cases than was presented to the Court in the last century. In the 1950 Term, for example, the Court received only 1,195 new cases, and even as recently as the 1975 Term it received only 3,940. Plenary review, with oral arguments by attorneys, is currently granted in about 80 of those cases each Term, and the Court typically disposes of about 100 or more cases without plenary review. The publication of each Term’s written opinions, including concurring opinions, dissenting opinions, and orders, can take up thousands of pages. During the drafting process, some opinions may be revised a dozen or more times before they are announced.

Learn more about the cases before SCOTUS during this current term October 2019- October 2020 here

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