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What to Expect from the Supreme Court this June

Nick Wyville - 06/14/2019


The Supreme Court will issue its final decisions of this session this month, so we can soon expect to receive rulings on numerous cases that will impact the future of fair representation, immigration, equal protection, and gun safety in America. We can expect the court to issue rulings any Monday morning until June 24 (and possibly beyond, if they schedule additional decision days after that). Here are some of the major cases we’re watching:

Big issues at hand

Census Citizenship Question

One of the most widely anticipated rulings of the Supreme Court’s summer 2019 session will come from Department of Commerce v. New York in deciding whether or not adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census is constitutional. In a recent speech, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hinted that the court is sharply divided along partisan lines in this case, as the oral arguments suggested.

Why does it matter? Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census would result in the severe undercounting of communities of color, diluting their representation and strengthening the political power of white voters at their expense. (Indeed, documents were recently uncovered that show the conservative architect of the citizenship question argued it “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”) Further, the mass-compiling of the legal status of millions of people is worrisome, especially under Trump given the cruel policies he has implemented to terrorize immigrant communities. For more info, see the National Immigrant Law Center.

Racial Gerrymandering

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, a case challenging the use of a racial gerrymander in Virginia that unfairly advantages Virginia Republicans in the state legislature. Without a ruling on the case, primary elections were able to take place on Tuesday, June 10, with new, fair districts that were drawn by a lower court.

Why does it matter? Racial gerrymandering dilutes the political power of Black voters in Virginia. If the new districts are overturned, however, Republican advantages would be cemented and Black political power would be weakened in Virginia and throughout the country. It would be especially problematic for the Supreme Court to overturn a district map for a place that has already held elections (as Virginia did when it had its primary elections on June 12), so we can hope that they will allow the lower court’s decision to stand. For more info, see background from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Partisan Gerrymandering

In addition to hearing a case on racial gerrymandering this session, the Supreme Court is also considering two cases that relate to partisan gerrymandering. Rucho v. Common Cause challenges the partisan gerrymander by Republicans in North Carolina, and Lamone v. Benisek challenges the partisan gerrymander by Democrats in Maryland. In the oral arguments, there seemed to be a wide consensus among justices that partisan gerrymandering is a problem. Even Justices Kavanaugh and Roberts seemed intrigued by the idea of a standard fix to partisan gerrymandering. This case could potentially result innumerous Congressional districts being redrawn before the 2020 elections.

Why does it matter? Republicans used an unprecedented level of partisan gerrymandering to tilt control of the House of Representatives in their favor (though Democrats also used it in a few states, like Maryland). Without a standard fix, politicians will continue to select their constituents, instead of having their constituents select them. This is a key test for a fair, representative democracy in America. For more info, see the Brennan Center for Justice’s page on partisan gerrymandering.

Other important issues at stake

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity-Based Discrimination

Absent the passage of the Equality Act, the Supreme Court could codify discrimination into law in their ruling on R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Court will determine whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. See the Human Rights Campaign for more information.

Gun Safety

In New York State Pistol & Rifle Association Inc. v. The Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust, the Supreme Court will determine if New York City’s law banning the transportation of firearms outside city limits violates the Second Amendment. This hearing will test cities’ and states’ ability to implement common-sense gun reforms. See Everytown for Gun Safety’s statement here.