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2019's Supreme Court cases to watch

Gerrymandering activists outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gerrymandering activists outside the U.S. Supreme Court. Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Supreme Court, now with a solid conservative majority after last year's appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, has several cases on its docket this term that could have significant ramifications on American politics and social issues for generations to come.

The big picture: The high court — with 5 conservatives and 4 liberals — has largely kept a relatively low profile so far this term, which ends in June. But it could ultimately hand major wins to Republicans, who are emboldened by Kavanaugh's appointment and sharpening their focus while a slew of hot-button disputes work their way up from lower courts.

Some key cases to watch this term:

2020 citizenship question: The court heard arguments Tuesday and will rule by June on whether the Trump administration's decision to add a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 census is unconstitutional.

  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross defended his decision to add the question, saying he acted solely at the request of the Justice Department to enhance the Voting Rights Act.
  • But 2 federal judges who ruled against Ross said his reasoning lacks a factual basis and would unconstitutionally suppress responses from non-citizens. Critics also argue it would affect heavily Democratic states with large immigrant communities during the 2021 redistricting and cost them billions in federal funding.

Partisan gerrymandering: Also by June, the court will determine whether electoral maps drawn to preserve a political advantage can cross a constitutional line, after hearing 2 cases last month challenging partisan gerrymandering.

  • A ruling against partisan gerrymandering would be a first, and could reshape electoral politics in the states.

Double jeopardy: At a hearing in December, the court appeared unlikely to overrule its long-standing decision that sometimes allows criminal defendants to be prosecuted twice for the same crimes.

  • This case, unrelated to President Trump, would ultimately affect his ability to pardon people like former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was sentenced to 7.5 years in March for crimes uncovered in the Mueller probe.

Apple iPhone app pricing: The court is examining a long-running dispute over whether Apple exercises and abuses monopoly power by being the sole distributor of iPhone apps and taking a 30% cut. The justices heard the case in November.

  • "The ruling could impact a broad range of digital marketplaces, not just Apple's," Axios' Ina Fried explains. "The Supreme Court isn't deciding the merits of the matter, but rather deciding whether those who buy iPhone apps can sue the company over the way it runs the App Store and takes its cut."

LGBTQ workplace discrimination: The court accepted 3 blockbuster cases on Monday that question whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • The law bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin, and the Trump administration told the court last year it does not cover gender identity. The justices will hear the cases when the next term begins this fall.

Puerto Rico financial crisis: The court will decide if the appointments to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico were constitutional. A federal appeals court previously ruled the appointments were not constitutional because the Senate didn't confirm them.

  • The Trump administration is arguing the lower court's ruling “simultaneously imperiled Puerto Rico’s recovery from the worst fiscal crisis in its history and cast substantial doubt on the constitutionality of territorial self-governance.”

Other cases the court could take next term

Abortion: Abortion rights advocates asked the high court last week to strike down a Louisiana law that they said would leave the state with just 1 clinic. The court agreed in February, by a 5-4 vote, to temporarily block the law from going into effect pending a full review of the case.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: The court earlier this year rejected DOJ's request to speed up the legal fight over DACA protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

  • DOJ wanted the justices to bypass the usual appeals court process and review a district court judge’s ruling this term. But the court could weigh in on the case next term after 1 or more appeals courts examine the issue.

Affordable Care Act: Legal challenges by Republicans against the ACA, which the court upheld in 2012 and 2015, are likely to reach the high court again.

Mexico border shooting: The Supreme Court will in the fall decide whether families of Mexican teenagers who were fatally shot by American border agents in Texas and Arizona can sue in U.S. courts for damages, per the AP.

  • SCOTUS heard arguments Hernandez v. Mesa in February 2017, sending it back to a lower court for further proceedings. At the time, the Trump administration argued the teenager's location of death — in Mexico — should result in the dismissal of the case, saying the right to sue “should not be extended to aliens injured abroad.”

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