Decision time at Supreme Court: Rulings expected soon on religion, free speech, immigration

WASHINGTON — It’s decision time at the Supreme Court, as the justices prepare to hand down the final rulings of their current term by the end of this month. They are due to rule in 21 cases, including disputes over religion, free speech and immigration that could have broad significance.

This year’s term has been quieter than normal. It began in the fall when eight justices were waiting for the presidential election to decide who would fill the seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia. New Justice Neil M. Gorsuch arrived in mid-April in time to hear about a dozen cases.

Most of this year’s docket was taken up with cases that asked the justices to clarify the law, not settle a highly contentious issue.

The justices have also spent weeks considering appeals in three cases that could lead to major rulings if they are granted review for the fall. One involves a Colorado baker who turned away a gay couple’s request for a wedding cake. At issue is a clash between religious rights and a state’s anti-discrimination law.

The other two cases test the reach of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.

The court is also expected to take up a major case on partisan gerrymandering from Wisconsin which could yield early next year an important ruling on political power.

Here are notable cases due to be decided this month:


Must a state offer equal funds to church schools if other private groups may qualify? A seemingly small dispute over the playground at a Lutheran day center in Missouri could trigger a major shift in church-state law. Most states’ constitutions forbid sending tax money to a church. Religious rights advocates sued when Missouri refused to pay for rubberizing a church school’s playground, and they argue the court should strike down the limits on state funds going to churches as discriminatory and abridging the First Amendment’s protection for the “free exercise” of religion. The court heard the case in April, a few days after Gorsuch arrived. (Trinity Lutheran vs. Comer)


Does the federal trademark law violate the freedom of speech because it forbids names and phrases that “may disparage” people or groups? Washington, D.C.’s pro football team, the Redskins, are in danger of losing their trademark because of this provision. The justices heard the case of an Asian-American band that calls itself the Slants and seemed divided over whether this was a racial slight or humor. (Lee vs. Tam)


May U.S. authorities arrest and jail for as long as needed immigrants who face deportation, or does the Constitution’s guarantee of “due process of law” accord them a bond hearing within six months and possible release if they pose no danger or flight risk? A class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles challenged the long-term detention of these immigrants, many of whom typically go on to win their cases and are eventually set free. It led to a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals putting limits on the jailing of immigrants. The case was heard in November shortly after President Trump was elected. (Jennings vs. Rodriguez)


Can a U.S. Border Patrol agent be sued for fatally shooting a Mexican teenager who was standing on the other side of the border? Video of the officer killing the 15-year-old boy provoked outrage along the border, but U.S. officials refused to prosecute the agent, and federal judges threw out a lawsuit filed by the boys’ parents on the grounds that the Constitution did not protect the Mexican boy on Mexican soil. In cases about the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, however, the court has said the Constitution’s protection did extend to territory beyond the border that was under the control of U.S. authorities. (Hernandez vs. Mesa)


Is breaking into a garage or empty home a “crime of violence” that requires the deportation of a longtime legal immigrant? The law says noncitizens who are guilty of an “aggravated felony,” including a crime of violence, must be deported. But it is not clear what crimes qualify. A Filipino native who has lived in Northern California since 1992 faces deportation for a 10-year-old burglary conviction involving break-ins of a garage and a house. But the 9th Circuit Court said the law itself was unconstitutionally vague because it did not define a crime of violence. (Sessions vs. Dimaya)US

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