Catholic leaders weigh in on upcoming, charged Supreme Court term
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court begins its new term Oct. 3, jumping right back into the fray with cases involving affirmative action, voting, immigration, the environment and free speech.
This term will include a new member, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, replacing Justice Stephen Breyer, who retired at the end of the last session. It will also be the first time the public will be allowed back inside the court since the start of the pandemic.
As of late September, the court had not announced whether it would continue to provide live audio of the pleadings.
Another change is on the outside. Barriers around the court since May – after protests erupted over a leak of the court’s draft opinion on its Dobbs ruling – have now been removed. The investigation into the leak, ordered by Chief Justice John Roberts, is still ongoing.
So far, the court has agreed to hear 27 cases and has scheduled 18.
In the weeks leading up to the new court session, law schools and think tanks offered previews of big upcoming cases and speculation about how judges might react.
Adam Liptak, Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, who moderated some of those panels, pointed out in a Sept. 15 preview by the American Constitutional Society that the court isn’t taking a break after just ended “a tumultuous mandate”. .”
And this quarter, as in many previous sessions, Catholic leaders have something to say about major matters ahead.
A case that is getting a lot of attention is 303 Creative v. Elenis about a graphic designer from Colorado who doesn’t want to create wedding websites for same-sex couples based on her Christian beliefs about marriage. The case, which does not yet have a date for oral argument, is similar to the 2017 case involving a Colorado baker who refused to make a personalized wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his beliefs. nuns.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined by the Colorado Catholic Conference and other faith groups, are siding with the designer as they did with the baker five years ago.
In an amicus brief, they said this case gave the court the opportunity to clarify free speech issues, he said the court had failed to do so in the previous case, Masterpiece Cakeshop c . Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
In a Sept. 21 court preview by the Federalist Society, a panelist described the website case as a follow-up to the court’s bakery decision and noted that the original case “didn’t actually address the big rhetoric issues at stake” and instead took an “off-ramp narrowly in favor of the baker on very established grounds of religious liberty.
“Here we have a new court,” continued Amanda Shanor, assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
One difference is that in the current case, the entertainer, Lorie Smith, is not fighting a specific incident, much like the baker who denied baking a personalized cake for a same-sex couple. Smith wants the court to intervene before he is even asked to design a website for a same-sex couple.
Although she does not wish to provide a service based on her Christian beliefs about marriage, the case hinges on her claim to free speech.
Shanor said the Supreme Court preview panels in 2017 probably didn’t predict the Baker’s victory, but now she’s already pretty sure the court will likely rule in the artist’s favor and said the he case could have broad implications for who can be considered an artist.
The USCCB brief said it was “urgent for the court to clarify how the compelled speech doctrine applies to marriage salesman cases and other disputes.” He urged judges to do what they have done in the past: “Enforce the freedom of speech clause to protect religious speech, thereby enhancing freedom not only for religious people but for all of society.”
He also said the current case “provides an appropriate and particularly important opportunity to re-invoke free speech protections to resolve the lingering tensions in marriage vendor cases and in the current cultural context in a meaningful way.” wider” and implored the court to “protect individuals from forced speech and provide space in the public square for minority voices.
Another hot topic in court this year is affirmative action with two separate cases – from Harvard University and the University of North Carolina – challenging how higher education institutions use race as a factor. in their admissions process.
The court opted to hear the two challenges separately on Oct. 31 as Judge Jackson withdrew from the Harvard case because she just completed a six-year term on the university’s board of trustees. .
Georgetown University has filed an amicus brief with 56 Catholic colleges and universities urging the court to uphold affirmative action in admissions in these cases that challenge 40-year-old legal precedent.
The brief, joined by the University of Notre Dame, College of the Holy Cross, DePaul University and Villanova University, among others, said the right to consider racial diversity in admissions is essential to their academic and religious missions and is “inextricably linked”. with their religious foundations.
The brief also argued that this right is rooted in the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and free exercise of religion, especially for Catholic institutions of higher learning, whose ability to have power discretion over how they choose students is essential to their religious missions.
The challengers in both cases are urging the judges to reverse their 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, a decision that the University of Michigan could consider race in its undergraduate admissions process as part of its efforts to achieve a diverse student body.
Catholic leaders and immigration groups will also pay attention to United States v. Texas, which does not yet have a hearing date.
The case will once again examine the executive’s authority to set immigration policy, criticized by leaders in Texas and Louisiana as too lenient. He specifically challenges federal policy that prioritizes certain unauthorized immigrant groups for arrest and deportation.
Last term, the court ruled 5-4 in Biden v. Texas that the administration could end the Trump-era “stay in Mexico” policy, or the Migrant Protection Protocols, which required people seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border to stay. in Mexico until their asylum claim can be heard.
Another Texas case, on the death penalty, has long captured the attention of Catholic bishops in Texas, Catholic opponents of capital punishment, as well as celebrities. The case, Reed v. Goertz, debated Oct. 11, will consider when prisoners can pursue post-conviction claims for DNA testing on crime scene evidence.
Rodney Reed, who was sentenced to death more than 23 years ago for the murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites, maintained his innocence and his Innocence Project lawyers presented crime scene evidence, not tested for DNA , which they believe involve someone else.
In 2019, five days before his scheduled execution date, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted an indefinite stay of execution for Reed and said it was sending his case back to the trial court for further consideration. thorough.
Sister Helen Prejean, a sister of St. Joseph de Medaille who is a longtime opponent of the death penalty, has been drawing attention to Reed’s case for several years, citing the lack of evidence of his guilt.
Similarly, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas said in a 2019 statement that if Reed’s execution continues, “there is a great risk that the State of Texas will execute a man innocent of this crime while allowing the culprit to go free”. .”
Other major court cases this quarter involve voting rights, the Clean Water Act and a challenge to a California animal welfare law.
The tribunal begins its new session amid weak public support. A Gallup poll in June found that only 25% of the public trusted the court.
A poll conducted by Marquette University Law School in September found that 40% of adults approve of the work the court does, while 60% disapprove of it. A similar poll conducted by the Jesuit-run University of Milwaukee in July showed that 38% of adults favored the court’s work and 61% disapproved. Both results were down from court approval by the poll found in 2020 and early 2021.