Mar 12, 2017

What you missed from the Supreme Court this week

Photo illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Here is what made headlines this week from the highest court in the land, including indications on how the court will deal with racial bias in the courtroom and LGBTQ rights. Plus, there's news on a Sandra Day O'Connor exercise class that got booted.

  1. Racial bias in the courtroom: The Supreme Court ruled if there's racial bias in jury deliberations, their verdicts can be thrown out. This is a huge deal since jury deliberations have historically been private and free of challenges through state and federal protections. Dissenting judges said the honesty of jurors will now be questioned and threatened. The ruling could also extend to bias in the jury room based on gender, religion, or sexual orientation. This is the second decision in two weeks that overturns a decision based on racial bias.
  2. LGBT: The court won't be ruling on a case about whether a student can use bathrooms that align with his or her gender identity this term. Those advocating for the student in this case say this leaves transgender students without federal protections.The court also took no action on a case involving a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. At stake is freedom of religion, small business rights, and anti-discrimination laws. This doesn't mean the court won't hear this case eventually; it might be waiting for a full bench of nine justices to rule on this case, or it could be waiting to hear another similar case about floral arrangements, according to The New Yorker.
  3. Interactions with the police: In his written analysis agreeing with a decision not to hear a case, Justice Clarence Thomas (one of the most conservative justices sitting), questioned the constitutionality of civil forfeiture (when police legally take people's possessions even if they haven't committed a crime). This matters because it could indicate the court is moving to forbid what critics of the practice call policing for profit and bypassing people's rights to a trial by jury.
  4. Solicitor General pick: Trump announced Tuesday he will nominate acting Solicitor General Noel Francisco for the role, which argues on behalf of the U.S. before the Supreme Court. Francisco has been working on the legalities of Trump's second travel ban executive order, works at Jones Day (where he worked with current White House Counsel Donald McGahn), and had clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
  5. The Gorsuch ratings are in: The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary gave Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch the highest rating it could give him in a unanimous vote. (For more on Gorsuch, check out SCOTUSblog's roundup on his jurisprudence, and check out USAToday's coverage of how the Senate Judiciary committee just got a document dump of 144,000 pages on Gorsuch's experience at the DOJ.) His Columbia University school classmates sent the Senate a letter in support of Gorsuch this week.

1 fun thing: The Supreme Court kicked out a workout class founded by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor that met on the basketball court one floor above where the justices hear cases in an area roped off from the public. O'Connor failed to get other justices to join the class; reportedly Justice Stephen Breyer didn't want to be the only man, so without any justices as members they lost their space.

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