People For the American Way

PFAW: “Explosive” SCOTUS Term to Open Amid Political Whirlwind

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 3, 2019

Contact: Laurie Kinney at People For the American Way

Email: [email protected]

Phone Number: 202-467-2307

Court will hear key cases on LGBTQ+ rights, gun violence, immigration, racial discrimination, and more 

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The United States Supreme Court will begin a new term on Monday in a climate politically charged by impeachment and with a number of cases with far-reaching implications on its docket. Three of the most significant of these will address the applicability of Title VII protections to LGBTQ+ workers, and will be heard on the second day of the Court’s term on October 8. People For the American Way addresses this and other key SCOTUS cases on the docket this term in its newly released annual SCOTUS preview report, “Our Rights Are On the Line,” here.

“It’s hard to imagine a more heated environment than the one in which the Supreme Court will take up key cases this term,” said Paul Gordon, PFAW senior legislative counsel and the author of the report. “These are cases in which rights are on the line for LGBTQ+ Americans, for immigrants, for people of color, and for consumers. Issues of gun violence and environmental safety are also on the docket. This is going to be an explosive Supreme Court term at an explosive time in American history.”

Gordon also notes that all eyes will be on Trump-appointed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh in many of these cases.  He writes that former Justice Anthony Kennedy authored all of the Court’s major rulings recognizing LGBTQ+ equality, but Kennedy has been replaced by Kavanaugh, who may not rule in a similar way. The late Justice Antonin Scalia took the view that the Second Amendment did not preclude all manner of gun safety legislation; his successor, Gorsuch, may take a different view.

PFAW’s nonpartisan affiliate, PFAW Foundation, has joined or will join friend of the court briefs in some of these cases, as noted.

The PFAW report summarizes the following cases:

  • Bostock v. Clayton CountyAltitude Express v. ZardaR.G. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. On October 8, the second day of the term, the Court will hear oral arguments in three cases having an enormous impact on workplace discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. The cases  present a clear test of whether the ultra-conservative justices will ignore a statute’s plain text and unambiguous Supreme Court precedent, just to avoid recognizing LGBQ+ equality. The PFAW report states that the Court should “affirm that Title VII’s existing prohibition against discrimination ‘because of … sex’ includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity.” PFAW’s nonpartisan affiliate, PFAW Foundation, has joined a friend of the court brief on the side of the employees.
  • Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of CaliforniaTrump v. NAACPMcAleenan v. Vidal. The Trump administration has numerous policies targeting immigrant communities, one of which is the termination of the highly successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides protection against deportation for many immigrants who were brought into the country as children. These three cases (consolidated under DHS v. Regents of the University of California) pose the question of whether the administration acted lawfully when it terminated the program. Lower courts have generally agreed that the administration acted unlawfully, and there is currently a nationwide injunction keeping DACA in place. PFAW’s nonpartisan affiliate, PFAW Foundation, has joined an amicus brief against the repeal of DACA.
  • Hernández v. Mesa. The Court will address whether the parents of Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca can sue border patrol officer Jesus Mesa for killing their 15-year-old son. Sergio and his friends, all Mexican citizens, were playing a game near the border that involved running from the Mexican side of the border, touching the border barbed-wire fence (which is within U.S. territory), then running back across the border into Mexico. At one point, Agent Mesa detained one of the friends, and Sergio returned to the Mexican side and watched the agent and his friend. Mesa, still on the U.S. side of the fence, then pointed his gun toward Sergio and fired twice, fatally injuring him.
  • Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Conservatives are hoping that Justice Kennedy’s replacement by Justice Kavanaugh will create a Supreme Court majority willing to vastly expand 2017’s Trinity Lutheran case and use it to decimate federal and state constitutional restrictions on government funding of religion. Under challenge is a Montana program that gives a 100 percent tax credit for donations to an entity that gives scholarships for qualifying private schools. PFAW’s nonpartisan affiliate, PFAW Foundation, is working with others on an amicus brief in the case.
  • Comcast v. NAAAOM. A company owned by an African American businessman sought a deal with Comcast to carry his network’s cable channels, but no agreement was ever reached. Comcast claims it declined a deal strictly for legitimate business reasons. But the National Association of African American-Owned Media believed that racism at least played a role, and they sued Comcast for damages.
  • County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund. This case involves a county-owned wastewater treatment plant that discharges three to five million gallons of treated sewage per day into the groundwater beneath the facility. Many of the pollutants find their way to the nearby Pacific Ocean.  The Hawai’i Wildlife Fund and several other environmental organizations went to court, arguing that the county was violating the Clean Water Act.
  • Rotkiske v. Klemm. The Supreme Court will determine whether a victim of illegal debt-collection practices can sue the alleged perpetrator if he doesn’t learn what was done to him until after the relevant law’s statute of limitations runs out.
  • Intel v. Sulyma. Congress enacted the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to protect the retirement assets of working people. ERISA establishes numerous requirements for retirement funds and those who make the funds’ investment decisions. This case involves allegations that those in charge of Intel’s retirement plan violated their fiduciary duty to the employees by making overly risky investments that cost plan participants hundreds of millions of dollars. The specific issue is when the statute of limitations for challenging those violations begins.
  • New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. New York. The Court is being asked by an NRA affiliate to require heightened judicial scrutiny of laws regulating the type of firearms most often involved in gun violence. New York Rifle and Pistol Association is challenging a New York City regulation prohibiting gun owners with a particular type of license from transporting their guns outside the city. The Second Circuit upheld the law, and the Supreme Court announced in January that it would hear the appeal.  However, in the intervening months, New York has eliminated the law that was challenged. The Court’s apparent decision to hear the case anyway has drawn fire from critics who say Court conservatives are just looking for an opportunity to expand on the 2008 Heller decision, which for the first time interpreted the Second Amendment to apply outside the context of state militias.

The report also looks at cases that the Court has not yet accepted, but that may come before it this term. These includes cases that could destroy the Affordable Care Act, gut access to reproductive health services, and permit businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ+ customers on “religious liberty” grounds, among others.

The full report can be found here.

About People For the American Way

People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and build a democratic society that implements the ideals of freedom, equality, opportunity and justice for all. We encourage civic participation, defend fundamental rights, and fight to dismantle systemic barriers to equitable opportunity Learn more: http://www.pfaw.org.

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