The United States Supreme Court recently decided major cases, including ones on religious freedoms, workers’ rights, abortion and Native American sovereignty.. Below are a few that may have a significant impact on the future of American law.
Employers can’t discriminate against workers’ sexuality or gender identity
The issue: The court considered two sets of cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda — a pair of lawsuits from gay men who claimed they were fired because of their sexuality — and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which concerned protecting gender identity when a woman was fired after announcing she was transgender.
The verdict: The Court ruled 6-3 that an employer that fires an employee for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII prohibits discrimination in the workplace due to “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”’
The impact: Millions of transgender and gay employees across the country are newly-protected against discrimination.
Religious institutions can fire employees more freely without legal consequence
The issue: The Court saw two cases where two teachers in private Catholic schools sued for job discrimination. In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, Agnes Morrissey-Berru sued for age discrimination while Kristen Biel in St. James School v. Darryl Biel sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act when her contract was not renewed after she learned she had breast cancer.
The verdict: A 7-2 decision affirmed the “ministerial exception” clause to the First Amendment. The clause states that employees at religious institutions who carry out religious duties cannot carry out legal claims against church bodies: in this case, teachers who carried out religious education at a Catholic private school.
The impact: This ruling affects teachers and other employees of religious institutions, allowing those institutions more leeway in regard to discrimination in employment practices.
Abortion access is protected across Louisiana
The issue: At the center of the debate in June Medical Services L.L.C. et al. v. Russo was a Louisiana law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting priveleges at local hospitals. The law would have left the state of Louisiana with a single abortion clinic.
The verdict: A 5-4 decision based off precedent ruled that Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act was unconstitutional. The decision is based on a 2016 decision, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, that ruled a similar Texas law unconstitutional. Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted that the Louisiana law was “almost word-for-word identical” to the Texas law that was struck down.
The impact: The Court halted another attempt to curb abortion.
State programs offering scholarships to private education cannot exclude religious schools
The issue: Montana’s constitution restricts government aid to religious groups. A state program provided scholarships to students going to private schools; however, Montana’s Supreme Court struck down the program because it was in violation of the state constitution, ultimately leading Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The verdict: The Court decided, in a 5-4 decision, that states with similar programs must let religious schools participate in those programs. The program and others like it are federally unconstitutional because they discriminate against religious schools and people. Thus, they are in violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause.
The impact: Similar programs to Montana’s are unconstitutional. The possibility of increased public funding for religious private education is now put on the table. People opposed to the ruling argue that there may be a diversion of funding from public schools to private ones, possibly endangering the separation of church and state.
Eastern Oklahoma affirmed as Native American land
The issue: A convicted criminal argued that only the federal government could prosecute him even though he committed the crimes within the Muscogee (Creek) reservation. The case, McGirt v. Oklahoma, also raised the question of whether or not land in the Creek Nation remained a reservation after Oklahoma became a state.
The verdict: In a 5-4 decision, the court decided that much of the land in eastern Oklahoma is Native American territory. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch harked back to treaties made with Native American nations, noting that Congress promised the Creek a reservation and therefore must follow through.
The impact: The landmark decision could upend the Oklahoman legal system. State convictions of Native Americans on the Creek’s land may be in doubt. There may also be additional implications for zoning, taxation and other government functions, although those will be dealt with in negotiations between Native American nations and the state and federal government, if at all. But it also shows that the federal government could lean toward honoring more treaties with Indigenous groups.
Trump has no right to block release of his financial records
The issue: President Donald Trump has fought intensely to prevent the release of his tax returns and other financial records, becoming the first president to not release their tax returns since Gerald Ford in 1976. Prosecutors in New York subpoenaed various financial institutions in an effort to acquire the records.
The verdict: A 7-2 decision by the court ruled that the prosecutors could see the records, however Congress could not, at least for now. After multiple instances of Trump eschewing that he was immune to criminal investigations, the verdict affirms that, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “No citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding.”
The impact: Trump’s standing as president does not exempt him from investigations. While it is not assured that his financial records will be released to the pubic anytime soon, it is a step in that direction.
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