For over a year, the Supreme Court had a vacant seat which Republicans refused to fill with Obama’s pick. Now it’s been fully warmed by the butt of Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s pick.
Gorsuch joined the court in April, but because of the way things work he wasn’t allowed to join any decisions right away. He only got to ask questions, unless he’d been there for the case from start to finish. In his first ruling, not surprisingly, he sided with debt collectors. I wrote about why that was actually a good thing and gave his some clues about how he thinks.
This week, a new court term begins. Gorsuch is now a full member of the court — so everything he says and does counts, and it’s time to really start evaluating the potential lasting impact Trump could have on American law.
Here are some major cases being considered, the stakes at play, and what Gorsuch has said about each so far…
Can you prove the shape of political districts is unconstitutional?
One of the most important cases of the term that will indirectly affect your wallet is called Gill v. Whitford. It involves whether there’s a mathematical way to identify “gerrymandering” — when a political district’s boundaries are defined in a way that benefits a specific political party, by either excluding or including people known to vote a certain way.
Gerrymandering is how you end up with districts shaped more like drug-fueled scribbles that zig, zag, and skirt territory rather than sensible rectangles.
And it’s also how you end up with one political party having a stranglehold on the state legislative process. Since the party that’s in power when redistricting happens gets to decide the boundaries, it can try to sneak in a permanent political advantage for itself — and that’s what this case is trying to prove happens all the time.
Democrats from Wisconsin are trying to argue Republicans there gerrymandered their way to victory after the 2011 redistricting, and some prominent Republicans including John McCain and John Kasich are supporting the argument. The question is: Do the Justices understand the gerrymandering test that’s been proposed, and do they think it’s a way to enforce fair, constitutional political boundaries?
The court heard oral arguments on the case this week, and it doesn’t sound like Gorsuch quite gets it — he likened the mathematical formula to how he preps steak rub. “I like some turmeric, I like a few other little ingredients, but I’m not going to tell you how much of each,” Gorsuch said. “And so what’s this court supposed to do, a pinch of this, a pinch of that?” He also asked what specific authority the court had to revise state electoral maps.
Can employers prevent their employees from suing?
A case with some definite financial impacts for consumers is Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, a case about whether companies can dictate in hiring contracts that employees can’t sue. In other words, a condition of employment is agreeing that you have no power to file a lawsuit against them, no matter what happens.
It’s sort of like the forced arbitration banks tried to force on consumers to prevent class-action lawsuits, and which the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said was garbage.
The Supreme Court has historically supported arbitration, and Neil Gorsuch was uncharacteristically quiet during oral arguments for this one. That could mean he’s already made up his mind — he also supported arbitration when he was serving in lower courts. But it also means he’s not trying to sway the opinion of other Justices with his questions, a pretty common practice. Perhaps there is some genuine uncertainty there.
Two upcoming cases: union fees and doing business with gay people
Since the term is just getting started, many cases don’t even have oral arguments scheduled yet. But two to watch for are Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
The Janus case is about whether government workers who don’t want to join a union still have to pay for the union negotiating on their behalf — something that often results in higher pay and better working conditions for them. If the Supreme Court rules against the unions, it could mean millions of workers will keep a little more cash in their pockets, but at another cost. It’ll mean unions are less effective at negotiating anything.
The cake shop case is one you’ve probably heard about, where a cakemaker refused to make a cake for a gay wedding on the grounds that it violated his Christian faith and free speech. It was postponed because Republicans refused to do their job and fill the Supreme Court vacancy quickly, leaving a deadlocked court to deal only with easier cases.
If the court sides with the cake shop, this has big implications for lots of people that get discriminated against in the name of “religious freedom.” If, for instance, you’re a gay couple living in a conservative area that refuses to provide service on religious grounds, you might have to pay higher prices to a business that doesn’t have much competition in serving you. Or, you might have to drive much further away to do business.
There’s no telling what Gorsuch will say about these cases, but as I argued before, a lot hinges on how well the laws cited in the case are written. My gut feeling is that once Democrats take back Congress, they’re going to start liking how literally Gorsuch takes the law — because they’ll be the ones writing it.
Article last modified on October 9, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Now You Can Start Judging Justice Neil Gorsuch - AMP.
Article last modified on October 9, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC .