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Major cases before the US Supreme Court this term

Published 05/23/2024, 05:15 PM
Updated 05/23/2024, 05:20 PM
© Reuters. The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., April 23, 2024. REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson/File Photo
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(Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court's current term features major cases involving former President Donald Trump's claim of immunity from prosecution and his ballot disqualification, the abortion pill, gun rights, the power of federal agencies, social media regulation and Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy settlement.

Here is a look at some of the rulings already issued and cases already argued.

TRUMP IMMUNITY CLAIM

The justices on April 25 heard arguments in Trump's claim of immunity from prosecution for trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden. Trump appealed after lower courts rejected his bid to be shielded from a federal criminal case pursued by Special Counsel Jack Smith. Conservative justices voiced concern about presidents lacking any level of immunity including for less obviously egregious acts. Justices raised hypothetical examples of presidential wrongdoing such as selling nuclear secrets, ordering a coup or political assassination or taking a bribe. Trump has argued he is immune because he was president when he took the actions at issue. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

TRUMP BALLOT DISQUALIFICATION

The court on March 4 handed Trump a major victory by barring states from disqualifying candidates for federal office under a constitutional provision involving insurrection and reversing Colorado's exclusion of him from its ballot. The justices unanimously overturned a decision by Colorado's top court to kick the former president off the state's Republican primary ballot after finding that the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment disqualified him from again holding public office. The Colorado court had found that Trump took part in an insurrection for inciting and supporting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

OBSTRUCTION CHARGE

The justices on April 16 heard arguments over whether a man named Joseph Fischer who was involved in the Capitol attack can be charged with obstructing an official proceeding - congressional certification of the 2020 election results. The case has potential implications for Trump because he faces the same charge in the special counsel's federal election subversion case. The conservative justices during the argument signaled skepticism toward the obstruction charge brought against Fischer. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

SOUTH CAROLINA VOTING

The court on May 23 made it harder to prove racial discrimination in electoral maps in a ruling backing South Carolina Republicans who moved out 30,000 Black residents when they redrew a congressional district. The 6-3 decision reversed a lower court's ruling that the map had violated the rights of Black voters under the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. The case centered on the boundaries drawn by the Republican-led state legislature for one of South Carolina's seven U.S. House of Representatives districts. The new map raised the district's share of white voters and reduced its share of Black voters, who tend to support Democratic candidates.

ABORTION PILL ACCESS

The justices on March 26 heard arguments in a case involving possible restrictions in access to the abortion pill. The justices signaled they were unlikely to limit access, appearing skeptical that the anti-abortion groups and doctors challenging the drug, called mifepristone, have the needed legal standing to bring the case. The Biden administration has appealed a lower court's ruling in favor of the plaintiffs that would limit how the medication is prescribed and distributed. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

IDAHO ABORTION LAW

The justices on April 24 heard arguments in a case pitting Idaho's strict Republican-backed abortion ban against a 1986 federal law that ensures that patients can receive emergency care. Biden's administration sued Idaho over the ban, which has a narrow exception permitting an abortion to save the woman's life. Idaho officials appealed a lower court's ruling that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) supersedes the state's abortion law when the two conflict. The justices appeared split. The conservative justices voiced concerns about what protections federal law extends to "unborn children" and whether Congress clearly indicated EMTALA can mandate abortion in certain emergency cases. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

BUMP STOCKS

The court on Feb. 28 heard arguments over the legality of a ban imposed during Trump's presidency on "bump stocks" - devices that enable semiautomatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns. The justices delved into the technical aspects of the devices. The Biden administration has appealed a lower court's ruling in favor of a Texas gun shop owner who challenged the ban implemented after a 2017 mass shooting that killed 58 people in Las Vegas. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE GUN CURBS

The court on Nov. 7 heard arguments over the legality of a federal law that makes it a crime for people under domestic violence restraining orders to have guns. The justices appeared inclined to uphold the law. Biden's administration appealed a lower court's ruling that the law violated the Constitution's Second Amendment's "right to keep and bear arms." The challenge was filed by a Texas man charged with illegal gun possession while subject to a domestic violence restraining order after assaulting his girlfriend. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION FREE SPEECH

The justices on March 18 heard arguments over the National Rifle Association's claim that a New York state official violated its free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment by coercing banks and insurers to cut ties with it. The NRA urged the justices to revive its lawsuit accusing the official, Maria Vullo, of unlawfully retaliating against it following a 2018 mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school. The justices sought to distinguish permissible government advocacy from unlawful coercion. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

CONSUMER WATCHDOG AGENCY'S FUNDING

The justices on May 16 upheld the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's funding mechanism in a challenge brought by the payday loan industry, handing a victory to Biden's administration. The 7-2 decision reversed a lower court's ruling that the CFPB's funding design - drawing money each year from the Federal Reserve instead of from budgets passed by lawmakers - violated a provision of the U.S. Constitution giving Congress the power of the purse. The CFPB was established under a law signed by Democratic former President Barack Obama in 2010 to curb the kind of predatory lending that contributed to the 2007–2009 financial crisis.

FEDERAL AGENCY POWERS

The court heard arguments on Jan. 17 in a bid by fishing companies to further limit the regulatory powers of federal agencies in a dispute involving a government-run program to monitor for overfishing of herring off New England's coast. The justices appeared divided in the case. The companies have asked the court to rein in or overturn a precedent established in 1984 that calls for judges to defer to federal agency interpretation of U.S. laws deemed to be ambiguous, a doctrine called " Chevron (NYSE:CVX) deference." A ruling is expected by the end of June.

SEC IN-HOUSE ENFORCEMENT

The justices on Nov. 29 heard arguments over the legality of proceedings conducted by in-house judges at the Securities and Exchange Commission to enforce investor-protection laws. The conservative justices signaled some sympathy toward the challenge brought by a Texas-based hedge fund manager who the SEC fined and barred from the industry after determining he had committed securities fraud. Biden's administration appealed a lower court decision striking down the SEC enforcement proceedings at issue as unconstitutional for violating the right to a jury trial and infringing on presidential and congressional powers. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

OZONE EMISSIONS

The court on Feb. 21 heard arguments in a bid by three Republican-led states and several energy companies to block a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation aimed at reducing ozone emissions that may worsen air pollution in neighboring states. Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, as well as pipeline operators including Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI), power producers and U.S. Steel, are seeking to avoid complying with the EPA's "Good Neighbor" plan restricting ozone pollution from upwind states, while they contest its legality in a lower court. The conservative justices appeared sympathetic toward the plaintiffs. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

The justices on March 15 decided that government officials can sometimes be sued under the First Amendment for blocking critics on social media. In unanimous rulings in two cases from California and Michigan, the justices set a new standard for determining if public officials acted in a governmental capacity when blocking critics on social media - a test to be applied in lawsuits accusing them of First Amendment violations. First Amendment free speech protections generally constrain government actors, not private individuals.

SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT MODERATION

The court on Feb. 26 heard arguments over the legality of Republican-backed laws in Texas and Florida that constrain the ability of social media companies to curb content on their platforms that these businesses deem objectionable. The justices expressed reservations about the laws but signaled they may not block them in their entirety. The two cases involve technology industry challenges contending that the laws restricting the content-moderation practices of large social media platforms violate First Amendment protections. A decision is expected by the end of June.

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION SOCIAL MEDIA

The justices on March 18 heard arguments in a challenge on First Amendment grounds to how President Joe Biden's administration encouraged social media platforms to remove posts that federal officials deemed misinformation, including about elections and COVID-19. The administration appealed a lower court's preliminary injunction constraining how White House and certain other federal officials communicate with social media platforms. The justices appeared skeptical of the challenge brought by Missouri and Louisiana, along with five individual social media users. The Supreme Court's decision is expected by the end of June.

PURDUE PHARMA BANKRUPTCY SETTLEMENT

The court on Dec. 4 heard arguments over whether to approve pain medication OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy settlement. The justices voiced concern that the deal would shield Purdue's wealthy Sackler family owners from lawsuits over their role in a deadly opioid epidemic while also worrying that scuttling it could harm victims. Purdue's owners under the settlement would receive immunity in exchange for paying up to $6 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits filed by states, hospitals, people who had become addicted and others who have sued the company over misleading marketing of OxyContin. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

HOMELESS ENCAMPMENTS

The court, delving into the U.S. homelessness crisis, on April 22 heard arguments over the legality of local laws used against people who camp on public streets and parks in a case involving a southwest Oregon city's anti-vagrancy policy. The city of Grants Pass appealed a lower court's ruling that found that the ordinances - which make it illegal to camp on sidewalks, streets, parks or other public places - violate the Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment. A decision is expected by the end of June.

STARBUCKS UNIONIZATION

The court on April 23 heard arguments in a challenge by Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) to a judicial order requiring the coffee chain to rehire seven employees at a Memphis cafe who were fired as they pursued unionization. The company appealed a lower court's approval of an injunction sought by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordering reinstatement of the workers. The case could make it harder to quickly halt labor practices challenged as unfair under federal law while the NLRB resolves complaints. A decision is expected by the end of June.

WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION LAWSUITS

The justices on April 17 made it easier to bring certain workplace discrimination lawsuits in a ruling that gave a boost to a St. Louis police officer who claimed she was transferred to an undesirable new role because of her sex. At issue was whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars workplace bias, requires employees to prove that discrimination caused them significant harm such as a pay cut, demotion or job loss. The unanimous ruling disapproved that approach.

© Reuters. The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., April 23, 2024. REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson/File Photo

'TRUMP TOO SMALL' TRADEMARK

The court on Nov. 1 heard arguments over whether a California attorney's trademark for the phrase "Trump Too Small" - a cheeky criticism of the former president - should have been granted by the U.S. Trademark Office. The justices appeared skeptical that the attorney can own a federal trademark covering the phrase. The office, which denied the trademark, appealed a lower court's decision that the attorney's First Amendment protections for his criticism of public figures outweighed the agency's concerns about Trump's rights. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

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