Supreme Court sides with religious institutions in a major church-state decision – Washington Post

By Robert Barnes,

The Supreme Court concluded its work for this session on Monday siding with religious institutions in a major church-state decision and with no indication that pivotal Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is retiring.

The speculation about Kennedy, who has served on the court for nearly three decades and is almost always the deciding vote in divisive cases on the nation’s biggest controversies, dominated the end of a relatively quiet Supreme Court term.

But the court’s announcement of final decisions came and went without any word from Kennedy, whose former clerks had speculated he was considering leaving. The rumors were closely watched at the White House, where a vacancy would give President Trump the chance to solidify a more conservative Supreme Court.

In the church-state case, the court ruled 7-2 that it violates the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion to exclude churches from state programs with a secular intent — in this case, making playgrounds safer.

Missouri’s state constitution, like those in about three dozen states, forbade government from spending any public money on “any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., wanted to participate in a state program that reimburses the cost of rubberizing the surface of playgrounds. But the state said that was not allowed.

The exclusion has raised big questions about how to uphold the Constitution’s prohibition on government support for religion without discriminating against those who are religious.

“The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution … and cannot stand,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The church had ranked high enough in its application for the safety surface that it would have received the grant, but for the denial from the state’s natural resources department.

“The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the church — solely because it is a church — to compete with secular organizations for a grant.

Roberts was joined by the court’s conservatives as well as one of its liberals, Justice Elena Kagan. Another liberal, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, agreed with the outcome of the case.

[Justices express sympathy with Missouri church at Supreme Court hearing]

Roberts made a concession that may have drawn some votes. In a footnote, he said “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

The two dissenting votes came from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

Sotomayor issued a stinging dissent, and made clear her displeasure by summarizing it from the bench after Roberts announced the decision.

She said the ruling “weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”

She concluded: “If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.”

Some states with the same restriction as Missouri already allow churches to participate in programs that are generally applicable to the public and are for secular benefits such as health and safety.

Adding a twist to the case, Missouri now does as well. The state’s new Republican governor, Eric Greitens, announced just before the April oral argument that he was reversing the policy that denied Trinity’s application in 2012 and that churches are now eligible to participate.

The state’s new attorney general agrees, and a private attorney was appointed by the state to defend its old policy.

The case has been pending for a very long time. The court agreed to hear it in January 2016, just before the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The case is Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer.

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Supreme Court allows limited version of Trump’s travel ban to take effect and will consider case in fall – Washington Post

By Robert Barnes,

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to allow a limited version of President Trump’s ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries to take effect and will consider in the fall the president’s broad powers in immigration matters in a case that raises fundamental issues of national security and religious discrimination.

The court made an important exception: It said the ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

In the unsigned opinion, the court said that a foreign national who wants to visit or live with a family member would have such a relationship, and so would students from the designated countries — Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — who were admitted to a U.S. university.

The court said it would hear the case when it reconvenes in October. But it also indicated in the ruling that things may change dramatically by then. It asked the parties to address whether the case would be moot by the time it hears it; the ban is supposed to be a temporary one while the government reviews its vetting procedures.

[Federal appeals court says Trump travel ban violates Constitution]

And the justices said they “fully expect” the government to be able to conduct its review within the 90-day span the executive order proposes.

That affects the ban on travel from the six countries and a 120-day ban on all refugees entering the United States, with the exceptions noted by the court.

Trump said last week the ban would go into effect 72 hours after receiving an approval from the courts.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch would have let the ban take effect as written and objected to what they called the court’s “compromise.”

A partial stay will “burden executive officials with the task of deciding — on peril of contempt — whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” Thomas wrote.

Such a compromise, the justices said, will lead to a “flood of litigation” over what constitutes a “bona fide relationship” before the overall case is resolved after oral argument in the fall.

They added that the court has made an “implicit conclusion” that the administration will prevail.

The proposed travel ban has been a major point of contention between Trump and civil rights groups, which say it was motivated by unconstitutional discrimination against Muslims.

Trump contends the ban is necessary to protect the nation while the administration decides whether tougher vetting procedures and other measures are needed. He has railed against federal judges who have blocked the move.

Because the executive order was stopped by lower courts, travelers from those countries have been entering the United States following normal visa procedures. Trump first moved to implement the restrictions in January in his first week in office.

[Analysis: Trump travel ban wouldn’t have kept out anyone behind deadly terrorist attacks]

His first executive order went into effect immediately and resulted in chaos at airports in the United States and abroad, as travelers from the targeted countries were either stranded or sent back to their countries.

Lawyers for challengers to the order rushed to federal courts, and the order was stayed within days. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit eventually said the order could not be implemented, infuriating the president, who said he would take the case to the Supreme Court.

But instead, his administration regrouped and issued a second order in March. It added a section detailing national security concerns, removed Iraq from the list of countries affected, deleted a section that had targeted Syrian refugees and removed a provision that favored Christian immigrants.

His lawyers told courts that the new order was written to respond to the 9th Circuit’s concerns. But new lawsuits were immediately filed, and federal judges once again stopped the implementation.

A federal district judge in Maryland stopped the portion of the order affecting travelers from the six countries; a judge in Hawaii froze that portion and the part affecting the refu­gee programs.

Appeals courts on both coasts upheld those decisions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond agreed with U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang in Maryland, who sided with opponents in finding that the ban violates the Constitution by intentionally discriminating against Muslims.

In a 10-to-3 decision, the court noted Trump’s remarks before and after his election about implementing a ban on Muslims and said the executive order “in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”

The president’s authority, the court said, “cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation,” Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote.

Meanwhile, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit said Trump had not adhered to federal law in which Congress gives the president broad power in immigration matters.

The 9th Circuit opinion did not dwell on Trump’s public comments, nor did it declare that the president had run afoul of the Constitution because his intent was to discriminate. Instead, the judges ruled that the travel ban lacked a sufficient national security or other justification that would make it legal, and that violated immigration law.

“There is no finding that present vetting standards are inadequate, and no finding that absent the improved vetting procedures there likely will be harm to our national interests,” the judges wrote. “These identified reasons do not support the conclusion that the entry of nationals from the six designated countries would be harmful to our national interests.”

They added that national security is not a “ ‘talismanic incantation’ that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power.”

In both appeals courts, a minority of conservative judges had said their colleagues were making a mistake. Judges should look only to whether the executive orders were proper on their face, they said, without trying to decide if the president had ulterior motives and defer to national security decisions made by the executive branch.

“The Supreme Court surely will shudder at the majority’s adoption of this new rule that has no limits or bounds,” wrote dissenting 4th Circuit Judge Paul V. Niemeyer.

Trump thundered on Twitter after the judicial setbacks that the second executive order was a “watered down version” of the first. And while his lawyers in court described the action as a temporary pause in immigration, and administration officials corrected reporters who called it a travel ban, Trump did not agree.

“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” he wrote.

Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court Turns Down Case on Carrying Guns in Public – New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a Second Amendment challenge to a California law that places strict limits on carrying guns in public.

As is their custom, the justices gave no reasons for deciding not to hear the case. The court has turned away numerous Second Amendment cases in recent years, to the frustration of gun rights groups and some conservative justices.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, dissented. The court’s refusal to hear the case, Justice Thomas wrote, “reflects a distressing trend: the treatment of the Second Amendment as a disfavored right.”

The Run-Up

The podcast that makes sense of the most delirious stretch of the 2016 campaign.

In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep guns at home for self-defense.

Since then, the court has said little else about what other laws may violate the Second Amendment. In the lower courts, very few challenges to gun control laws since the Heller decision have succeeded.

But legal experts say that it is only a matter of time before the court confronts the question of whether and how the Second Amendment applies outside the home.

The question has divided the lower courts. The federal appeals court in Chicago struck down an Illinois law that banned carrying guns in public, while federal appeals courts in New York, Philadelphia and Richmond, Va., upheld laws that placed limits on permits to carry guns outside the home. The Supreme Court turned away appeals in all three cases.

The California case, Peruta v. California, 16-894, concerned a state law that essentially bans carrying guns openly in public and allows carrying concealed weapons only if applicants can demonstrate good cause. The challengers, several individuals and gun rights groups, sued San Diego and Yolo Counties, saying that officials there interpreted good cause so narrowly as to make it impossible to carry guns in public for self-defense.

San Diego, for instance, defined good cause to require proof that the applicant was “in harm’s way,” adding that “simply fearing for one’s personal safety alone is not considered good cause.”

In a 7-to-4 ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said there was no Second Amendment right to carry a concealed weapon.

“Based on the overwhelming consensus of historical sources, we conclude that the protection of the Second Amendment — whatever the scope of that protection may be — simply does not extend to the carrying of concealed firearms in public by members of the general public,” Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the majority.

The court did not decide whether the Second Amendment allows leeway for states to ban carrying guns in public.

“There may or may not be a Second Amendment right for a member of the general public to carry a firearm openly in public,” Judge Fletcher wrote. “The Supreme Court has not answered that question, and we do not answer it here.”

In dissent, Judge Consuelo M. Callahan said the majority had engaged in a kind of shell game.

“In the context of California’s choice to prohibit open carry,” she wrote, “the counties’ policies regarding the licensing of concealed carry are tantamount to complete bans on the Second Amendment right to bear arms outside the home for self-defense, and are therefore unconstitutional.”

In urging the justices to hear their appeal, the challengers said that “this case presents perhaps the single most important unresolved Second Amendment question,” that of whether it “secures an individual right to bear arms for self-defense outside the home.”

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Supreme Court to take case on baker who refused to sell wedding cake to gay couple – Washington Post

By Robert Barnes,

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will consider next term whether a Denver baker unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to sell them a wedding cake.

Lower courts had ruled that Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, had violated Colorado’s public accommodations law, which prohibits refusing service to customers based on factors such as race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation.

There are similar lawsuits from florists, calligraphers and others who say their religious beliefs won’t allow them to provide services for same-sex weddings. But they have found little success in the courts, which have ruled that public businesses must comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

[Colorado court sides against baker who cited religious beliefs, refused same-sex marriage cake order]

The court granted the case after weeks of considering it. In 2014, the justices declined to revisit a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that found that a photographer violated a state civil rights law when she declined to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

Since then, the high court has found that marriage is a fundamental right that states may not prohibit to gay couples.

The justices also reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court and said the state must list same-sex parents on birth certificates in the state. To refuse, the court said, is to deny married same-sex couples the full “constellation of benefits” that government has linked to marriage.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Justice Neil M. Gorsuch’s dissent, which said the law regarding such issues is not yet settled and stable.

The Washington Supreme Court found that Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., violated a state civil rights law that bars discrimination in public businesses on the basis of sexual orientation. The court also ruled that the law does not infringe on her free speech.

The Texas Supreme Court is considering a challenge to Houston’s provision that gives the same benefits to spouses of gay workers as it does to those of straight workers. Gay rights activists say the Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges should have settled the issue.

[Supreme Court rules gay couples nationwide have right to marry]

In the Colorado case, David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012, along with Craig’s mother, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado.

But Phillips refused to discuss the issue, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to have anything to do with same-sex marriage. He said other bakeries would accommodate them.

The couple filed a complaint, and in 2014, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission determined that Phillips’s action violated state law. That ruling was upheld in Colorado state courts.

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Supreme Court could rule on Trump’s proposed travel ban before summer break – MLive.com

WASHINGTON — As the Supreme Court prepares to take an extended summer break, President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban still awaits a decision from the court.

It’s possible the court could issue a ruling this week that would permit a 90-day travel band for visitors from six countries. Those six countries, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are heavily populated with Muslims, leading many to call the ban an attempt to block Muslims from entering the U.S.

The case was argued before an eight-justice court before Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed. If the eight justices that heard the case are unable to come to a majority decision, the case could be reheard in the fall with Gorsuch available to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Trump has attempted to put the immigration ban in place since taking office in January, however, his attempts have been stopped at nearly every level of the court system.

The immigration ban is one of six cases awaiting a decision from the court before it goes on break, however, there is no timetable for when the court must rule on the those cases.

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