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Thursday round-up

At Bloomberg, Greg Stohr reports that the court “will end its term Thursday morning with historic rulings that will probably determine whether the public sees President Donald Trump’s long-hidden financial records before the November election.” For The New York Times, Adam Liptak looks at the two cases involving the president’s records, “one concerning subpoenas from House committees, the other a subpoena from the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat.”

Yesterday the court handed victories to religious employers in two cases. In Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, the justices voted 7-2 to reject a challenge to the expansion of an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate to employers with religious or moral objections. Amy Howe analyzes the opinion for this blog, in a post that first appeared at Howe on the Court. Kevin Daley reports at The Washington Free Beacon that Justice Clarence Thomas’ majority opinion “said the ACA gives the executive branch broad discretion to decide what kinds of preventive services, like birth control, employers must cover[:] If the government has a lot of latitude to set coverage requirements, it follows that it has similarly wide authority to dictate exemptions, the Court said.” Additional coverage comes from Tyler Olson and others at Fox News, Tucker Higgins and Dan Mangan at CNBC, and Steven Mazie at The Economist’s Espresso blog.

At National Review’s Bench Memos blog, Ed Whelan notes that “[t]his victory for the Little Sisters does not bring an end to the litigation.” The editorial board of the Chicago Tribune writes that “under the rules Congress itself created when it passed the ACA, the justices’ ruling was the right call.” The New York Times editorial board observes that the decision “reminded Americans once again that [the Roberts Court] is no friend to reproductive rights, or to the vast majority of women who will use some form of birth control in their lifetime.” Additional commentary comes from Alexandra DeSanctis at National Review, Jim Daly in an op-ed at Fox News, and Ian Millhiser at Vox.

In another 7-2 decision, the court held in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru that employment discrimination suits by teachers fired by Catholic elementary schools are barred by the “ministerial exception.” This blog’s opinion analysis, which first appeared at Howe on the Court, comes from Amy Howe. At Education Week’s School Law Blog, Mark Walsh reports that the court held that “the First Amendment’s religion clauses foreclose federal courts from hearing employment-discrimination claims from teachers at religious schools who have at least some role in teaching the faith.” Ronn Blitzer reports at Fox News that “[t]he decision expanded on a previous ruling from 2012 which said that religious organizations have a ‘ministerial exception’ from employment discrimination lawsuits, but [left] unclear exactly who qualifies as a ‘minister.’” For The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Jess Bravin and Brent Kendall report that yesterday’s cases “extend[] a line of decisions that have elevated the rights of religious exercise and the role of sectarian institutions in American society.” Additional coverage comes from Tucker Higgins at CNBC.

At the Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Ruthann Robson writes that the decision extends the ministerial exception “seemingly to all teachers employed by religiously-affiliated schools.” James Phillips at PrawfsBlawg explores the “warring views” on the religion clauses revealed by Justice Elena Kagan’s approach to the two cases. At Take Care, Ira Lupu and Robert Tuttle maintain that, “[d]espite legitimate controversy over the application of the ministerial exception, Morrissey-Berru is a reassuring nod toward the continuity of a principle long rooted in the American tradition of church-state separation.” The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal suggests that religious Americans can “take heart” in yesterday’s two rulings. Additional commentary comes from Scott Cosenza at Liberty Nation and Caroline Mala Corbin at Take Care.


  • At The Texas Tribune, Jolie McCullough reports that “Texas executed Billy Joe Wardlow on Wednesday night for a 1993 East Texas robbery and murder”; “[n]euroscientists and a group of Texas lawmakers [had] raised concerns with sentencing people who had committed crimes under 21 to death because of brain immaturity,” but “[a]ll of Wardlow’s appeals were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
  • At The Daily Signal, Elyssa Koren asserts that the court’s decision in USAID v. Alliance for Open Society, which held that the enforcement against overseas groups of a requirement that recipients of federal funds to fight HIV/AIDS abroad have a policy opposing prostitution and sex trafficking does not violate the First Amendment, “affirms a vital principle of U.S. foreign involvement, one dear to the heart of the American taxpayer—U.S. money spent abroad must support U.S. interests and priorities.”
  • At the NCSL Blog, Lisa Soronen discusses Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, in which the court held on Monday that an exception for government-debt-collection calls to a federal ban on robocalls to cellphones violated the First Amendment, but left the ban in place without the exception.
  • Also at the NCSL Blog, Soronen writes that “[w]ithout explanation, without referring the matter to the entire U.S. Supreme Court, and without calling for a response, Justice Brett Kavanaugh [recently] denied a request for an emergency injunction to strike down Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s executive order limiting gatherings to 50 people while exempting religious gatherings.”
  • At Justia’s Verdict blog, Leslie Griffin argues that yesterday’s two rulings, as well as the recent decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, Montana’s exclusion of religious schools from a state-funded scholarship program for private schools violates the First Amendment, combine to undermine women’s rights.
  • In an op-ed at CNN, Lisa Tucker considers the prospect that Justice Clarence Thomas, “the longest-serving current justice, and already in the Top 20 for longest-tenured justices ever,” might retire from the Supreme Court.

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Recommended Citation: Edith Roberts, Thursday round-up, SCOTUSblog (Jul. 9, 2020, 6:53 AM),