- The Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on some of the nation's thorniest political questions in the coming weeks, in the midst of the presidential contest between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
- While the White House and Congress are focused on the next coronavirus stimulus package, decisions from the court over the next few weeks could shape the political landscape for years.
- Some of the questions facing the justices go to the heart of key Trump administration priorities and could inflame the battle between Trump and Biden.
When Gerald Bostock went to Washington last fall to ask the Supreme Court to rule that it was unlawful for him to be fired because he's gay, there was no global pandemic.
Since then, the world — and his new job as a mental health counselor — have been flipped upside down by Covid-19. But Bostock is still waiting on the justices to say whether he and millions of other LGBTQ workers are protected by federal anti-discrimination laws.
"This crisis is going to end. But I sincerely hope that moving forward from this, everyone realizes this is a reality for the LGBT community every day we go to work," Bostock said in a recent interview. "Are we going to lose our jobs because of who we are, who we love, how we identify?"
Bostock's is just one of several Supreme Court cases expected to be resolved in the coming weeks with major implications for U.S. politics and the economy. The decisions are key to the future of not just LGBTQ workers but also hundreds of thousands of young migrants and their family members, women seeking abortions, and the president himself, who has fought vigorously to keep his financial records private.
The outcomes, coming in an election year, could have an impact on the race between President Donald Trump, who has championed the confirmation of nearly 200 of his conservative judicial picks, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who has pledged to nominate judges of a different mold.
The decisions are also likely to bring to the fore the high stakes of November's elections for the president and Senate — the body that confirms federal judicial appointments, including justices. With just six months before Election Day, the GOP hold on the Senate has recently shown signs of weakness, suggesting that Democrats may have a chance at seizing control of the chamber.
While the White House and Congress are focused on the next coronavirus stimulus package, decisions from the court over the next few weeks could also shape the political landscape for years to come.
Some of the questions facing the justices go to the heart of key Trump administration priorities and could inflame the battle between Trump and Biden.
Read more about the cases:
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The Supreme Court just set up an election year fight over abortion
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For instance, in one case before the court, Trump's Justice Department has asked the justices to allow him to end the Obama-era immigration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program shields hundreds of thousands of young migrants known as "Dreamers" from deportation and allows them to receive work permits.
Lower courts in California, New York and the District of Columbia have blocked Trump from terminating the program. He has claimed that President Barack Obama never had the authority to implement it in the first place.
In a twist, the challenge to the Trump administration came from Janet Napolitano, Obama's Department of Homeland Security secretary — whom Biden once said should be on the Supreme Court herself. (He has since said he will nominate a black woman.)
Another major case could provide signals about the future of reproductive rights, an election year time bomb.
Trump's two appointees will rule in their first abortion case as Supreme Court justices in a dispute over a Louisiana measure that critics have said could leave the state with just one abortion provider.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's second appointee, could be a key vote in the case, which resembles a dispute the court heard four years ago over an identical Texas law. In that case, the court said the law was unconstitutional. If the justices now go the other way and uphold the Louisiana measure, many will see it as a direct result of Trump's impact.
Then there are the high-profile cases over Trump's own personal financial records, which the justices heard in a special virtual format developed as a health precaution against the virus. Trump has asked the court to let him keep a variety of tax records, including his tax returns, shielded from Congress and an investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.
While the cases aren't about whether those records should be available to the public, they could shed light on whether voters are ever likely to see the documents, which Trump has guarded fiercely. Trump is the only major party nominee in more than four decades not to make his tax returns public.
A note on timing
Decisions are generally handed down on Mondays (except Memorial Day), and are typically completed by the end of June, though the schedule may be delayed by coronavirus. When the court adds decision days to its calendar, they are posted on the Supreme Court website. It does not say in advance which cases have been decided.
The cases are something of a once-in-a-generation event, with the most similar examples coming in cases brought against President Richard Nixon in 1974, over the Watergate tapes, and President Bill Clinton in 1997, in which the court ruled that presidents generally aren't immune to civil suits while in office.
Both Nixon and Clinton lost those fights unanimously, but Trump is pressing for a different result.
Several other cases could also have broad impacts:
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could be eliminated in a suit brought against it by a California law firm. Based on the questions raised at oral argument, however, it looks like the justices will leave the regulatory agency standing but weaken the power of its independent director. The CFPB was established under Obama and has been severely curtailed under Trump.
- The court will decide whether appointments made to Puerto Rico's financial oversight board are constitutional in a case that threatens to disrupt more than $100 billion in debt restructuring. The oversight board was created in 2016 to address Puerto Rico's financial crisis, but its authority has been challenged by a hedge fund that owns Puerto Rico bonds and a local labor union.
- In another dispute heard virtually, the justices are considering the rights of Electoral College voters. Several 2016 electors have argued that state laws penalizing them for voting against their state's popular vote are unconstitutional. While so-called faithless electors have never affected the outcome of a presidential race in the past, attorneys argued that they could do so, including possibly in November.