Civil and Human Rights

SCOTUS Rejects Hearing Several High-Profile Appeals

By Gaby Galvin

The Supreme Court refused Monday to rehear President Barack Obama’s immigration overhaul proposal, which would have protected more than 4 million immigrants who are in the country illegally and allowed them to work.

The justices voted 4-4 on the proposal last term, essentially killing the initiative. The deadlock held up a lower court’s decision against Obama’s plan, which would spare immigrants who are in the country illegally from deportation and could have qualified them for work permits and benefits.

The court deadlocked four times last term after Justice Antonin Scalia’s February death. It’s rare that justices agree to rehear a case.

The court began its new term Monday, short one justice and without many of the big-ticket cases it’s tackled in recent years, including those dealing with same-sex marriage, abortion and health care.

The action on Obama’s immigration plan was not the only announcement on Monday. The court also refused to take up a number of high profile cases, including one involving the Washington Redskins’ ongoing battle over its trademark of the name. The court announced, however, it will hear a similar case, and its outcome will likely determine the fate of the Redskins. Asian-American musicians are challenging a decision that denied them a trademark for their band, The Slants, on the same basis they cancelled the Redskins’.

The court also announced Monday it was rejecting several other appeals, notably one by convicted murderer James “Whitey” Bulger, and an appeal by opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who believe he illegally coordinated with others while campaigning.

While the court has chozen three dozen cases for this term, more attention is on who’s on the bench rather than facing it. It’s been more than six months since President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the empty seat left after Scalia’s death, with Senate action unlikely until after the November presidential election.

It’s the first time there will be an empty seat on Election Day since Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 victory at the height of the Civil War. Senate Republicans have refused to consider Obama’s nominee, claiming the new president should choose who will fill the seat.

“I really don’t think there can be any doubt that if Chief Judge Garland is in fact the next justice on the Supreme Court, it is going to lead to a sea change in the direction of the court on many of the most consequential issues of the law,” said Kannon Shanmugam, a Washington lawyer and former Scalia clerk.

Even with a more modest docket, the court can’t completely avoid some critical conflicts this term. Racial bias in law, free speech and transgender bathroom rights will face the court in upcoming months, and it will begin hearing oral arguments on Tuesday.

“This term’s cases are not snoozers,” Elizabeth B. Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, told The New York Times. “This term features important cases about racial bias in the criminal justice system, voting rights and redistricting, immigration and detention, and accountability for big banks that engaged in racially discriminatory mortgage lending practices.”

On Monday, the justices decided which of the cases before them to review and which to deny, granting only eight new cases, five fewer than this time last year. The court added cases that involve school benefits for disabled children, a gender discrimination charge and whether Indian tribes’ sovereign immunity bars lawsuits against tribal employees.


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