Trump's Deportation Case, Job-Bias Disputes Greet Supreme Court

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has managed to lay low in the three months since Justice Brett Kavanaugh won confirmation. That may change dramatically this month.

The justices will hold a private conference Friday, marking the end of their four-week holiday recess. They are scheduled to consider a stack of appeals seeking review on high-profile issues including political gerrymandering, abortion, deportation of undocumented immigrants, transgender soldiers, job discrimination and gun control.

Trump's Deportation Case, Job-Bias Disputes Greet Supreme Court

Many of the cases test President Donald Trump’s top priorities, and his administration’s aggressive efforts to get those policies before the high court. The president’s team is aiming to take advantage of the new conservative majority created when Kavanaugh took over for the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The 2020 presidential race will be starting in earnest soon, and the court’s decisions in major cases may become campaign issues.

Chief Justice John Roberts has tried to steer the court away from major controversies this term. So far the court has accepted only one clear blockbuster: a case centering on the administration’s plan to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

January represents the last chance to add cases to the court’s spring argument calendar, and get a ruling by June, without having to sharply expedite the briefing schedule. The court could begin adding new cases as early as Friday.

Here are some of the biggest appeals the court is poised to consider:

Partisan Gerrymandering

An appeal by North Carolina Republicans asks the justices to rule that voting maps can’t be challenged in court for being overly partisan. A three-judge panel said the state’s congressional map is so favorable to the GOP that it violates the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has never struck down a map as too partisan, but it also hasn’t explicitly barred challenges, mostly because Kennedy refused to rule them out. With Kavanaugh on board, the court may now have the five votes needed to say that courts lack power to consider partisan gerrymandering cases.

The gerrymandering issue will be hard for the court to duck, even if it wants to. By law, the court must consider the merits of certain types of voting-rights appeals and can’t simply say it doesn’t want to get involved. That makes it likely the court will soon say it will hear arguments in the North Carolina case.

Job Discrimination

Three pending appeals urge the justices to resolve a lower-court disagreement over the main federal job-bias law. Two ask the court to decide whether the measure protects gay workers; a third addresses discrimination against transgender people.

The law, known as Title VII, outlaws job discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as race and other factors, but doesn’t explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lower court disagreement makes high court review likely, though perhaps not all at once. The Trump administration, which says the law doesn’t protect either group, says the court should resolve the sexual-orientation issue before addressing gender identity.

Separately, the court could agree to decide whether a federal pay-discrimination law lets employers pay women less than men because the female workers earned lower wages in their previous jobs.

Deferred Deportation

Trump wants the court to let him end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started by his predecessor, Barack Obama. DACA shields hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation and lets them get work permits.

Lower courts temporarily blocked Trump from abolishing the program, saying the administration needed to give a better justification than its assertion that the program wasn’t legal.

The high court almost always hears appeals pressed by the federal government, but the preliminary nature of the DACA fight could give some justices pause. Even if the court doesn’t intervene, the administration can try again to end DACA by providing a different explanation.

Transgender Soldiers

Trump is seeking to reverse an Obama administration policy and bar transgender people from serving in the military except under limited circumstances. As with DACA, federal trial judges have blocked the administration for the time being.

The administration asked the Supreme Court to take the unusual step of hearing arguments on the proposed ban even though, at the time the requests were filed, no federal appeals court had ruled on the policy. That changed on Friday, when an appellate panel in Washington said a trial judge was wrong to block the ban.

Should the Supreme Court decline to hear the case, the administration has two backup suggestions: it has asked the justices either to let the ban take effect while the legal fight continues, or to limit the trial court orders so they apply only to the people who filed suit.

Guns, Abortion and Whitaker

The court is also set to decide in the coming weeks whether it will:

  • Hear a challenge to New York City’s sharp limits on where licensed handguns may be taken. The court hasn’t heard a Second Amendment case in almost a decade.
  • Consider reviving an Indiana law that would require aborted fetuses to be buried or cremated. The measure also would bar women from having an abortion because of the fetus’s race or gender, or because of a risk of Down syndrome or another genetic disability.
  • Act on a challenge to Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. A pending motion asks the court to take the unusual step of removing Whitaker’s name as a party in a case that seeks high court review.

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