Bold Justice: SCOTUS releases opinions on Title VII, right-of-way, and DACA

Ballotpedia's Bold Justice

Welcome to the June 22 edition of Bold Justice, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S. As court watchers, we know that as summer heats up, so does the opinions calendar. Stay up-to-date on the latest news by following us on Twitter or subscribing to the Daily Brew.


We #SCOTUS so you don't have to

Arguments

The Supreme Court has finished hearing arguments for the 2019-2020 term. The court agreed to hear arguments in 74 cases, but heard arguments in only 61 cases due to the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ current term. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ upcoming 2020-21 term.

Opinions

SCOTUS has issued three opinions—ruling on seven cases—since our June 8 issue. The court has issued rulings in 45 cases so far this term.

Click the links below to read more about the specific cases SCOTUS ruled on since June 8:

  • June 15

    • Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (consolidated with Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC) was argued on October 8, 2019.

      The cases: The three cases questioned whether sexual orientation and gender identity were included in Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination “because of … sex.”

      In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Gerald Bostock was a Clayton County employee whose employment was terminated. After his termination, Bostock sued the county for discrimination because of sexual orientation. Bostock argued his termination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The U.S. district court dismissed the case and, on appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling.

      In Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, Donald Zarda sued Altitude Express after his employment was terminated. Zarda brought the suit under Title VII, alleging his employment was terminated because of his sexual orientation.

      In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, Aimee Stephens’ employment was terminated after she informed the funeral home’s owner that she would transition from male to female. Stephens filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which charged the funeral home with violating Title VII.

      The outcome: In a 6-3 ruling the court said that sexual orientation and gender identity were forms of sex discrimination under Title VII. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority: “Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

      Justice Samuel Alito filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Brett Kavanaugh also filed a dissenting opinion.

    • United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association (consolidated with Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association) was argued on February 24, 2020.

      The case: The U.S. Forest Service issued a permit in 2018 allowing Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC to construct a natural gas pipeline that would cross under the Appalachian Trail. Cowpasture River Preservation Association challenged the permit in the 4th Circuit. The 4th Circuit vacated the permit, ruling the Forest Service didn’t have the legal authority to grant right-of-way—strips of land in which natural gas pipelines are installed—on Appalachian Trail land.

      The Forest Service and Atlantic Coast Pipeline petitioned to the Supreme Court, arguing the 4th Circuit was wrong to vacate the permit.

      The outcome: The court reversed and remanded the 4th Circuit’s ruling in a 7-2 vote, holding that because the Department of the Interior’s decision to assign responsibility over the Appalachian Trail to the National Park Service did not transform the land over which the Trail passes into land within the National Park System, the Forest Service had the authority to issue the special use permit.

      Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Elena Kagan.

  • June 18

    • Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California (consolidated with Trump v. NAACP and Wolf v. Vidal) was argued on November 12, 2019.

      The case: In 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Regents of the University of California sued DHS in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging the decision violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and denied respondents’ right to equal protection and due process.

      The district court issued a preliminary injunction barring the government from rescinding DACA. The government filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit, which heard oral argument on May 15, 2018, but had not issued an opinion as of November 5, 2018, when the government asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

      In its appeal, the government defended its decision to end DACA as a lawful wind-down of a discretionary policy because of the program’s dubious legal status.

      The outcome: The court ruled against DHS in a 5-4 opinion, holding that the agency’s decision to end DACA was reviewable under the APA and that its decision was arbitrary and capricious. The court found the decision unlawful because DHS “failed to supply the requisite ‘reasoned analysis'” at the time the agency chose to end the DACA program and failed to consider how to accommodate those who relied on the program.

      Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, except for part IV. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan joined the full opinion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the opinion except for part IV.

      Sotomayor filed an opinion concurring in part, concurring in the judgment in part, and dissenting in part.

      Justice Clarence Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

      Justices Alito and Brett Kavanaugh each filed opinions concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.


Upcoming SCOTUS dates

Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest:

  • June 25: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices.

  • June 29: SCOTUS will release orders and possibly opinions.


SCOTUS trivia

How many SCOTUS justices must be present to hear a case?


Federal Court action

Confirmations

The Senate has confirmed one new nominee since our June 8 issue.

Since January 2017, the Senate has confirmed 199 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—143 district court judges, 52 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices.


Nominations

President Trump announced two new Article III nominees since our June 8 edition.

The president has announced 262 Article III judicial nominations since taking office January 20, 2017. The president named 69 judicial nominees in 2017, 92 in 2018, and 77 in 2019. For more information on the president’s judicial nominees, click here.



Vacancies

The federal judiciary currently has 79 vacancies. As of publication, there were 47 pending nominations.

According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, an additional six judges have announced their intention to leave active judicial status during Trump’s first term.

For more information on judicial vacancies during Trump’s first term, click here.


Committee action

The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported five new nominees out of committee since our June 8 edition.

  • John Holcomb, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Central District Of California

  • Brett Ludwig, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Of Wisconsin

  • Shireen Matthews, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Of California

  • Todd Robinson, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Of California

  • Christy Wiegand, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Western District Of Pennsylvania

Do you love judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? We figured you might. Our monthly Federal Vacancy Count, published at the start of each month, monitors all the faces and places moving in, moving out, and moving on in the federal judiciary. Click here for our most current count.

Need a daily fix of judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? Click here for continuing updates on the status of all federal judicial nominees.

Or, if you prefer, we also maintain a list of individuals President Trump has nominated.


Looking ahead

We’ll be back on June 29 with a new edition of Bold Justice, pending opinions.

Click here to learn more.




About the author

Sara Reynolds

Sara Reynolds is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Bitnami