Supreme Court back in session, poised to issue five big decisions

United States Supreme Court (Front L-R) Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Jr., (Back L-R) Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Elena Kagan and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh … Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court is back in session today, poised to issue several significant rulings to include decisions regarding …

  • Two allegedly partisan gerrymandering cases
  • Citizenship questions on the census
  • Another issue related to separation of church and state
  • Jury selection racial bias in a death-penalty case
  • Whether Apple is fair game for a class-action lawsuit regarding iPhone apps

Gerrymandering

Historically, issues related to partisan gerrymandering have divided the court. According to The Hill, based on questions justices asked during arguments before the court on two current cases, it appears this high court’s judges are also of differing opinions.

North Carolina Democrats argued before the court that Republicans drew the state’s congressional districting in favor of the GOP. Meanwhile, Republicans in Maryland charge that Democrats in their state redrew a district in such a way that it eliminated a GOP congressional seat.

Prior rulings by the Supreme Court have noted that drawing congressional districts is inherently political and it is extremely difficult to define when such maps are too partisan.

Conservatives on the bench seemed hesitant to rule, implying that the states themselves should be making these decisions. Interestingly, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked if there was “any genuine doubt” that Maryland Democrats intended to deprive Republicans of a seat in the House by redrawing the congressional district.

“With two lower courts recently striking down district maps in Michigan and Ohio and ordering them to be redrawn ahead of the 2020 elections, the pressure is on the Supreme Court to issue a decision that could help resolve at least some of the legal questions at hand,” according to The Hill.

Citizenship on the census

Probably the most widely anticipated decision is connected to the Trump administration’s intent to add to the 2020 census a question about U.S. citizenship, in order to collect data helpful to the DOJ in enforcing the Voting Rights Act.

Opponents claim that asking about citizenship will cause non-citizens and possibly legal immigrants to skip the question or the census altogether, resulting in an inaccurate population count. Census data is used to determine congressional representation as well as federal funding.

Conservative justices seem to side with approving the census question, while liberal justices believing it is improper.

Separation of church and state

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has responsibility for the care-taking of a World War I veterans memorial park that includes a 40-foot-tall cross. Justices indicated the cross would likely be allowed to stay, but the question of making a precedent-setting decision on whether or not religious items can be presented on government property is not something they want to take lightly.

Role of race in jury selection

Court watchers believe justices will rule in favor of a death-row inmate who charges that race-based discrimination during his trials’ jury selection process invalidated his guilty verdicts. Curtis Flowers was tried for the murder of four people in a Mississippi furniture store. He claims prosecutor Doug Evans blocked every potential black juror during each of his four trials. A fifth trial ended in a mistrial. In a sixth trial, Evans accepted one black juror and denied five others.

A previous Supreme Court decision prohibits jurors from being struck from jury selection due to race. The Supreme Court can order a new trial for Flowers or affirm the Mississippi Supreme Court’s ruling upholding Flowers’s conviction and death sentence.

Class-action lawsuit versus Apple

The Supreme Court is considering whether to allow a class-action lawsuit to proceed that alleges Apple has a monopoly over iPhone apps. A group of consumers claim that app developers are artificially inflating the price for apps because Apple receives 30 percent of each sale made through the App Store. The company argues that only app developers can sue over any alleged monopoly, not app purchasers.

UPDATE: The court has ruled against Apple, allowing the lawsuit by consumers to proceed. Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s four liberals in rejecting a plea from Apple to end the lawsuit and he wrote the majority opinion. “In other words, Apple as retailer pockets a 30% commission on every app sale,” he stated, and that was enough to convince the majority of the justices to allow the suit to go forward.

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