The Supreme Court began its 2013 session by declining several cases. Two such cases garnered much national interest; a ruling that states could forbid guns in churches, and a 2009 Executive Order allowing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
In the first declined case, a minister in Georgia had argued that a State law that forbade bringing guns into churches, among other places like schools and courts, violated his congregants' First Amendment freedom of religion rights by restricting the conditions under which they could worship. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the restriction on guns in church was not a restriction on worship. By declining to hear the case, the Court left the 11th Circuit ruling in place... no guns in churches in Georgia.
In the second declined case, President Obama issued early in his first term an executive order that permitted federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, on the presumption that there was no legal ethical issue in using fetal tissue that was scheduled for disposal. Congress passed a law in the late '90s that forbids creation or destruction of embryos for the sole purpose of such research, which this executive order did not address. Two stem cell researchers quickly sued, arguing that the Congressional act had forbidden all such research, and obtained a temporary injunction against implementing the executive order. However, every court since then has rejected their arguments, and this Court has declined to review the latest decision.
Several other cases were declined, including one by Dick Armey in which he tried to argue that he should be able to reject Medicare in favor of private insurance. Since only Medicare Part A which covers catastrophic issues was involved (no one is required to accept Part B), and there is no premium for Part A, there seems to be little point to the suit. But a group calling itself "The Fund for Personal Liberty," saying its purpose is to use the courts to remove "burdensome regulations," funded the suit, so perhaps it's a matter of the states administering Medicare, and the federal rules that they must follow to do so.
Other declined cases included a group calling itself "The Truth About Abortion" that wanted to be exempt from disclosing donors, but got nowhere. They also declined to hear a veterans' group's argument that delays by states in dealing with mental health issues contributed to high suicide rates.
The Court agreed to hear several cases in which court procedure appeared to have a significant impact on outcomes. And they took up two issues that have both had much coverage in national news the past few years. Both of them involve more than one case, but in each case, the cases bear on different aspects of the same issue.
The Court will hear two cases that bear on affirmative action. The Roberts Court has been whittling away at all affirmative action (education, housing, workplace, etc.) ever since Roberts became Chief Justice. There is enough meat in the two cases before it, one of which was heard in October of last year, to settle affirmative action questions for education for a very long time... especially college entrance issues. The betting in Washington is that affirmative action in college and school admissions will cease to exist for all practical purposes as a result of the rulings on these two cases.
The Court has also scheduled two days of testimony for next week on the matter of same sex marriage. Again there are two cases, but the question in both is whether an identifiable group of people can be denied something that all other Americans are allowed to have... in this case marriage. Public attitudes have undergone a sea change over the past ten years, and a majority of Americans now support same sex marriage. There seems to be inevitability about this. It would be a great surprise to many if this court did not rule in favor of it.
One case argues that Proposition 8 in California amounts to de jure discrimination, by creating a State constitutional amendment that forbids gay marriage. Many Californians, and people from pretty much every other state, were outraged that the decision in this case was rendered by a gay judge. It was a bit of theater of the absurd, since no matter who rendered the decision, the case was going to wind up in the Supreme Court, either directly or by proxy through another case, as this case will now represent similar situations in all states. The second case deals with the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which has implications for including same sex partners in benefits packages when they are employed by the federal government, and by extension, any level of government. Michigan, for instance, has a Prop 8 sort of amendment, and it is being used in exactly that way. There was, in fact, an attempt to carry it to private business, but the busybodies who tried to do that were told by very expensive lawyers to go pound salt.
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