Here are the 8 Supreme Court cases the justices have yet to rule on

Jul 5, 2020, 4:48 PM
Supreme Court...
The Supreme Court is taking an unusually long time to complete its term this year, with decisions in eight cases still under wraps days after the justices would have typically cleared out its docket for the season. (Photo-Illustration:CNN/Getty Inages)
(Photo-Illustration:CNN/Getty Inages)

(CNN) — The Supreme Court is taking an unusually long time to complete its term this year, with decisions in eight cases still under wraps days after the justices would have typically cleared out its docket for the season.

The coronavirus pandemic can be partly blamed for the delay. Already, the justices broke tradition in May by holding oral arguments over the phone and broadcasting them live as much of the country was under lockdown.

While the court has so far issued opinions in dozens of cases, including several major ones last month dealing with LGBTQ rights, abortion and immigration, where Chief Justice John Roberts notably sided with the four liberals, some closely watched ones have yet to be released.

And there’s always the early summer retirement rumors, this time of two justices that could let President Donald Trump install a younger conservative on the bench.

Here are the eight remaining cases on the Supreme Court docket:

Trump’s financial documents

For over three hours in early May over the telephone, the court delved into two momentous cases that will determine whether the House of Representatives and a New York prosecutor can subpoena Trump’s accounting firm and banks for his financial documents.

The justices focused on Trump’s effort to shield his documents but they also prodded the lawyers to look into the future and gauge how an eventual decision will impact the separation of powers and the White House’s broad claims of immunity.

Trump’s attorneys argued that the House subpoenas were “unprecedented in every sense” and asked for “temporary presidential immunity” against the subpoena from a New York prosecutor for the President’s tax records.

The release of any Trump financial documents before the election could be another bombshell for the President in an already dramatic year.

Electoral college disputes

At issue in two disputes before the court is whether states can bind presidential electors to vote for a state’s popular vote winner — a potentially thorny issue if the race is a close one.

In 2016, 10 of the 538 presidential electors went rogue, attempting to vote for someone other than their pledged candidate. Several of the rogue electors in Washington were fined $1,000, while one in Colorado was removed and replaced with a substitute who voted for Hillary Clinton. That former elector sued, and ultimately won when an appeals court held that while the state does have the power to appoint electors, that does not extend to the power to remove them.

In all, 32 states and the District of Columbia have laws that are meant to discourage so-called faithless electors. But until 2016, no state had ever actually punished or removed an elector because of his or her vote.

Obamacare contraceptive mandate

The dispute — the latest concerning the Affordable Care Act to come before the justices — pits supporters of the law’s contraceptive provision, which requires birth control be covered with no co-pay as a preventative service, against those who said it violated their religious and moral beliefs.

The law allows for some exemptions for churches and other religious entities, but after Trump took office, the government moved in 2017 to allow exemptions for more employers. Under the religious exception rule, any private employer, including publicly traded corporations, could receive exemptions based on a “sincerely held religious belief.”

A second rule extended the same provision to organizations and small businesses that have objections “on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief.”

The Trump administration and the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic religious order for women, asked the justices to reverse a lower court order that blocked the rules nationwide.

Religious employment disputes

Seven years ago, the court recognized a “ministerial exception” for the first time, holding that under the First Amendment the government could not interfere with a church’s hiring decisions. The justices held that the teacher in that case could be considered a “minister” under the law, triggering the exception.

The justices addressed the scope of that decision in May and whether it bars teachers — who say they have limited religious duties — from bringing suit.

The case highlights the tension between advocates for religious freedom and church autonomy, and those who argue that employees should be protected by federal anti-discrimination laws and employers who might retaliate against employees for reporting misconduct.

Robocalls and the limits of tribal sovereignty

A case concerning a federal ban on robocalls has been closely watched in political circles due to the potential impact on political advertising and its possibility to open up the floodgates for robocalls to start hitting cell phones.

Challengers to an exemption provision in the ban argue the provision could be considered a “content based restriction,” which refers to a law that applies differently depending on the content of a certain kind of speech. The First Amendment prohibits the government from “restrict[ing] expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.”

For the general public, the case may still best be remembered for the toilet flush caught on live audio during the remote oral arguments.

And in a case concerning the limits of tribal sovereignty and what constitutes a reservation under the law, the Supreme Court will decide whether the eastern part of Oklahoma qualifies as an American Indian reservation, where suspects must be tried by the federal government.

The court heard a similar challenge to eastern Oklahoma’s territorial boundaries last term but was unable to come to a final decision after Justice Neil Gorsuch recused himself.

Supreme Court retirement watch

As the term nears its conclusion, eyes are also on conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, both of whom could announce their retirements ahead of the election.

While neither justice has given public indications he is ready to step aside, the prospect of a vacancy has excited conservatives about installing a younger Supreme Court justice as a replacement.

Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee from receiving a hearing or vote in 2016, he has said a Trump nominee would go ahead.

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Here are the 8 Supreme Court cases the justices have yet to rule on