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Next Supreme Court Term Stacked With Major Cases

Immigration, religion, redistricting on high court’s agenda

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court are pictured earlier in 2017. (Rex Features via AP Images)
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court are pictured earlier in 2017. (Rex Features via AP Images)

The Supreme Court ended its current term this week without deciding the kinds of blockbuster issues that usually draw demonstrators to its plaza at the end of June, but the justices have seeded their next term with high-profile cases.

The addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch in April brought the court back to full strength for the first time in more than a year, and the justices are poised to jump into more contentious and headline-grabbing cases starting in October.

These include oral arguments on President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban that likely will feature a heavy dose of the president’s statements on the campaign trail and on Twitter.

In another immigration case, the court announced Monday that it would reconsider next term a case about whether immigrants detained for months or years during removal proceedings are entitled to a hearing to ask a judge for release. The decision could have a wide effect on the nation’s immigration courts and Trump’s ability to get tough on immigration enforcement.

Also Monday, the court agreed to decide whether a Colorado cake shop owner can decline to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding because of his religious beliefs, or whether that violates the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The justices already had decided to hear arguments about the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, or maps that benefit one political party to the detriment of another. The case takes on a longstanding question that could change the way states draw congressional and legislative districts.

And the Supreme Court will also hear a major privacy rights case about whether police must get a warrant to obtain historical cellphone records to track someone’s location and movements.

In issues ordered Tuesday, meanwhile, the court said it would decide whether Congress can make it unlawful for states to pass laws allowing sports gambling, as New Jersey challenges a federal law that officials say unconstitutionally commands how the state regulates gambling within its borders.

The court will also decide whether American victims of terrorism can enforce a $72 million judgment against Iran via artifacts that the country owns — and the University of Chicago possesses — under a 2008 law.

The subdued end of the 2016-2017 term had its roots in a Supreme Court that appeared to dodge contentious political cases that might evenly divide a shorthanded, eight-member court.

The justices waited for the last day to issue several 5-4 divided opinions on relatively technical legal issues, but none carried the social interest of past end-of-term decisions on gay rights or abortion.

In a sharply divided 7-2 opinion in a closely watched First Amendment case, the court did rule Monday that Missouri can’t exclude religious groups from secular public grant programs only because of their religious status.

The decision won praise from Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and other Republican lawmakers on religious liberty grounds, but it included a sharp dissent from Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg that said the ruling weakens the country’s longstanding commitment to separation of church and state.

“The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church,” Sotomayor wrote in the dissent that she delivered from the bench.

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