The U.S. Supreme Court begins the second half of a potentially historic term — with arguments involving abortion, President Donald Trump’s financial records and funds for religious schools, among others — in the shadow of a presidential impeachment trial.
In addition to the Senate trial, over which Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. is expected to preside, the ongoing presidential election campaign and a docket chock full of politically controversial cases have brewed a fraught environment for justices who want the public to believe the high court stands apart from politics.
This term, the justices have heard at least one blockbuster case every month. That pattern is likely to continue in the next four argument sessions this year. Before taking a look forward at the term’s second half, here’s a quick look back at key cases already argued and awaiting the justices’ final decisions. Those decisions could be announced any day now.
During the October session, a trio of cases critical to LGBT workers dominated news out of the high court. The justices will decide whether the federal law’s prohibition against employers discriminating because of a worker’s sex also includes discrimination because of sexual orientation and transgender status.
November brought arguments in the Trump administration’s long-running legal battle to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which has delayed deportation of an estimated 700,000 qualified children of undocumented parents.
In December, the justices took up their first Second Amendment gun rights case in a decade. This case involves a challenge to the now-defunct New York City restrictions on the transport of guns outside of the city. But the justices may not issue the significant Second Amendment ruling that gun rights groups are hoping for because the city changed its gun ordinance — there may be no genuine controversy left for the court to decide.
There were, of course, other difficult and significant cases argued in those three months. The justices may break new ground on race discrimination in contracts– in a case involving telecom giant Comcast. The oversight and management of Puerto Rico’s billion-dollar debt is the backdrop of a major appointments clause challenge. And an important environmental case calls on the justices to decide when Clean Water Act permits are required to control pollution of navigable waters.
Moving forward into 2020, keep an eye on the following cases:
On Jan. 22, the justices will hear arguments in their major religion case of the term, Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue. They will examine a Montana Supreme Court decision striking down a scholarship program because it violated the state constitution’s ban on “direct or indirect” public funding of religiously affiliated educational programs.
Although the argument date is March 4, the court’s abortion case falls on the February argument calendar. In June Medical Services v. Gee, an abortion clinic and physicians challenge Louisiana’s law requiring abortion physicians to have admitting hospital privileges within 30 miles of their clinic. The state law is nearly identical to a Texas law that the justices struck down by a 5-3 vote in 2016. The Trump administration is urging the justices to overrule that 2016 decision. Anti-abortion groups are asking the justices to overrule their landmark abortion decisions, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of S.E. Pennsylvania v. Casey.
The March argument calendar will bring the showdown over subpoenas for Trump’s financial records sought by a state grand jury and U.S. House investigating committees. Trump has lost his fight to keep the records secret in three federal courts. Trump’s lawyers have argued that the congressional committees had no “legislative purpose” in issuing the subpoenas, and they argue he has nearly absolute immunity from the grand jury subpoena. No argument date has been announced yet.
The justices have not announced which cases will be argued in April — the final month of oral arguments. But here is a prediction for a possible final likely blockbuster. Last week the Democratic-controlled U.S. House and 20 Democratic-led states formally asked the Supreme Court for a fast-track review of a federal appellate court decision in December that struck down the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The appellate court sent the case back to the federal district court to determine whether the mandate could be severed from the act, or if the whole law had to fall. That court earlier had ruled the entire law was unconstitutional after Congress eliminated the mandate’s penalty.
The Trump administration has supported the Republican-led state coalition arguing that the entire law is unconstitutional.
“We’re asking the Supreme Court to swiftly resolve this repeal lawsuit for the sake of saving lives and ending uncertainty in our healthcare system,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who leads the states’ legal defense of the health care law, said in a statement.
The high court usually stops adding cases for argument in the term by mid-January. The justices also are reluctant to hear cases that have not completed their trip through the lower courts. But the Supreme Court can do whatever it wants. Keep an eye on this one.