The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) (TNS)
Unlike previous years, the U.S. Supreme Court is not ending its term with landmark rulings, but instead, setting the stage for what will surely be a new term marked by life-changing decisions. At the end of June, all eyes are focused on the first Monday in October, when that term begins.
The most significant court announcements centered on two cases it will hear in the fall: one on religious liberty, as it applies to same-sex marriage, and the second on President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban.
While two federal appeals courts have ruled against the implementation of the ban, which would prevent foreign nationals from six Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — from entering the United States for 90 days and suspend the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, the high court lifted parts of that stay pending its hearing arguments in the new term.
The exception is foreign nationals who can prove a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” They would not be barred from entry.
It is unclear exactly how “bona fide” relationships would be defined, a concern raised by the three dissenting justices, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. The three would have lifted the ban completely.
The practical impact of the court’s decision will be widely felt by anyone trying to obtain a visa from the six named countries. The Trump administration has contended it needs time to develop better vetting procedures.
The limited lift on the ban until arguments are made in the next court term will give the administration more than the 90 days it has said it needs to make that assessment.
But the case is as much about executive power as it relates to immigration as it is about the executive order itself. So how the court rules will have a lasting impact on the power wielded by a U.S. president for years to come.
The religious liberty case comes from Colorado, where a baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, claiming that it would violate his First Amendment protections to free expression and religious freedom. A ruling for the baker would embolden states that have already tried to enact so-called “religious liberty” laws that would give for-profit businesses such as bakers, florists and photographers an exemption based on religious beliefs.
A baker should not be able to discriminate whom he makes cakes for, any more than the owner of a lunch counter can decide whom to serve and not serve based on skin color.
Yet the high court has already allowed a for-profit business, Hobby Lobby, to withhold providing contraceptive coverage to employees under the Affordable Care Act based on the owner’s religious beliefs. So it is possible, given the addition of Gorsuch to the bench, that same-sex couples may face new hurdles.
It is that last point that will be telling — where Gorsuch goes. If Monday is an indication, he may align closely with the most conservative justices on the court. And with speculation that Justice Anthony Kennedy may retire soon, the conservative shift of the court may become solid for years to come.
Supreme Court justices are notorious for often going their own way the longer they sit on the bench. All eyes will be on that bench and those nine justices on the first Monday in October.
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