Supreme Court

Weekly Wrap 3.27.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. How Yemen Became the Middle East’s Latest Regional Nightmare

As Saudi Arabia and Egypt say they’re prepared to send in ground troops, here’s a look at how Yemen got to this point.

2. God and Jeb

“[Jeb] Bush wants Christian conservatives to pay attention to what he's done, not just to what he says. But in a Republican presidential primary, can actions — much less actions more than a decade in the past — actually speak louder than words? Can quiet faith, and quiet support from some religious leaders, carry the day against a field full of outspoken Christian warriors?”

3. A Response to Critics of the Open Letter to Franklin Graham

Jesus says ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.’ Jesus does not say, ‘If another member of the church sins against millions, and hundreds of thousands begin to follow his lead on the issue, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.’”

4. Women & Leadership: Public Says Women Are Equally Qualified, but Barriers Exist

And it might not be the barriers you would think. “Only about one-in-five say women’s family responsibilities are a major reason there aren’t more females in top leadership positions in business and politics. Instead, topping the list of reasons, about four-in-ten Americans point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves. Similar shares say the electorate and corporate America are just not ready to put more women in top leadership positions.”

Justice Ginsburg Writes a Feminist Opinion for Passover

Photo via REUTERS / Mario Anzuoni / RNS

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Photo via REUTERS / Mario Anzuoni / RNS

Rabbi Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Not quite, but when a Jewish nonprofit asked the Supreme Court justice to write a biblical commentary for Passover, she agreed, and added a feminist twist: It would raise up the often overlooked women of the Exodus story.

Ginsburg, one of three Jews and three women on the high court, is known as a champion of women’s rights — but not for being particularly religious.

But Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, whom Ginsburg asked to help out with the commentary, said Ginsburg had a clear vision for the piece and knew exactly which biblical women she wanted to highlight from the iconic liberation story of the Book of Exodus.

“She has a Jewish soul, there is no question,” Holtzblatt, a rabbi at Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C., said of Ginsburg.

“It’s in her. It’s deeply in her.”

Supreme Court Wrestles with Accommodating Religious Faith on the Job

Samantha Elauf outside of the Supreme Court on Feb 25. Image courtesy RNS.

Samantha Elauf outside of the Supreme Court on Feb 25. Image courtesy RNS.

Samantha Elauf was a teenager who loved clothes and applied to work in an Abercrombie & Fitch Kids store in her native Tulsa, Okla., in 2008. But Elauf, a Muslim, also happens to wear a headscarf. So she didn’t get the job.

No one — not even Abercrombie & Fitch — disputes that her hijab cost her the job offer. And the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states that an employer can’t deny employment based on an worker’s religious practice, unless accommodating it would prove terribly burdensome.

At the time, Abercrombie had a “no hats” policy for its sales associates. When the U.S. Supreme Court heard Elauf’s case on Feb. 25, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up the religious exemption required of the company: “Title VII doesn’t require accommodating baseball caps, but it does require accommodating religious practice.”

So why did this case make it all the way to the Supreme Court?

Elauf, though she won in a federal district court in 2011, lost in a federal appeals court in 2013. At the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the company’s argument — that it shouldn’t have had to give a religious accommodation because Elauf never asked for one — found traction.

Do we really want companies delving into an applicant’s religious practice in order to determine whether the person might want an accommodation, Abercrombie lawyer Shay Dvoretzky asked the justices on Wednesday.

“This will inevitably lead employers to stereotype,” he said.

Five Reasons Why Citizens United Matters Five Years Later

Tashatuvango / Shutterstock.com

Tashatuvango / Shutterstock.com

Five years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations are welcome to the same free speech rights that are allotted to individuals and can therefore spend freely on direct political advocacy.

To those unfamiliar with the topic, Citizens United essentially opened the flood gates for dark money to flow into the Washington electoral circuit. Within the five years since this decision the amount of money spent on political campaigns has steadily increased each election cycle. The most recent midterm elections cost $3.7 billion dollars.

Why should this matter to Christians?

1. Divine dignity is silenced.

The Center for Responsive Politics reported that only “666,773 individuals donated more than $200 to campaigns in the 2014 election cycle." What does this mean? Only 0.2 percent of the population funded the elections. Only the wealthiest Americans, through Super PAC funding and private corporation contributions have influence over the electoral state. The voice of the average American is almost completely silenced because they do not have financial influence. This becomes an issue of morality when we see each citizen as an individual with divine dignity. When the voice of the individual is silenced, the voice of the Divine is also silenced because only the economically elite are heard.

Supreme Court Weighs a Church’s Right to Advertise Services

Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS

Pastor Clyde Reed of Good News Community Church, center, with his wife Ann. Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS

The Supreme Court on Jan. 12 considered a tiny church’s curbside sign in a case that could raise the bar on government regulation of speech, and make it easier for houses of worship to advertise their services.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the nonprofit advocacy group that represents Pastor Clyde Reed and his Good News Community Church, bills the case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, as a religious rights case. But their attorney mostly argued it on free speech grounds.

“The town code discriminates on its face by treating certain signs differently based solely on what they said,” attorney David A. Cortman told the justices. “The treatment we’re seeking is merely equal treatment under the First Amendment.”

The town of Gilbert, Ariz., outside Phoenix, allows political signs to be much larger and permits them to stay up much longer, Cortman said.

If the Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage in 2015, How Will Evangelicals Respond?

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

A man holds a gay pride flag in front of the Supreme Court. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Ten years after Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian Americans can be wed in 35 states and the District of Columbia (Florida will boost that number to 36, starting Jan. 6). This year, the Supreme Court may put an end to the skirmish by legalizing what progressives call “equality” and conservatives dub a “redefinition” of this cherished social institution.

The court last ruled on gay marriage in 2013 when the justices gutted much of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor and delivered a massive blow to anti-gay marriage advocates. Since then, the court has acted by not acting — in effect, doubling the number of states where gay marriage is legal, from 17 to 35, by refusing to hear a slew of appeals last year.

In November, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld gay marriage bans in four states, which will almost certainly require the high court to decide the issue once and for all.

Conservative Christians have been among the most ardent opponents of gay marriage and rights for decades. How will they respond if the Supreme Court makes gay marriage legal nationwide?

The answer, it turns out, depends on which Christian you’re speaking to.

Supreme Court Seems Increasingly Wary on Death Penalty

A view of the Supreme Court on Oct. 7, 2014. Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS.

A view of the Supreme Court on Oct. 7, 2014. Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS.

The Supreme Court — the last stop for condemned prisoners such as Scott Panetti, a Texan who is mentally ill — and whose case was just stayed by an appellate court —  appears increasingly wary of the death penalty.

In May, the justices blocked the execution of a Missouri murderer because his medical condition made it likely that he would suffer from a controversial lethal injection.

Later that month, the court ruled 5-4 that Florida must apply a margin of error to IQ tests, thereby making it harder for states to execute those with borderline intellectual disabilities.

In September, a tipping point on lethal injections was nearly reached when four of the nine justices sought to halt a Missouri prisoner’s execution because of the state’s use of a drug that had resulted in botched executions elsewhere.

And in October, the court stopped the execution of yet another Missouri man over concerns that his lawyers were ineffective and had missed a deadline for an appeal. The justices are deciding whether to hear that case in full.

Gay Marriage Hits Major Bump in Federal Appeals Court

The National Organization for Marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2013. Creative Commons image by Elvert Barnes/RNS.

The same-sex marriage movement lost its first major case in a federal appeals court Thursday after a lengthy string of victories, creating a split among the nation’s circuit courts that virtually guarantees review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 2-1 ruling from the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed lower court rulings that had struck down gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

More important, it gives Supreme Court justices an appellate ruling that runs counter to four others from the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th circuits. Those rulings struck down same-sex marriage bans in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho and Nevada, leading to similar action in neighboring states.

Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, one of the Republican Party’s most esteemed legal thinkers and writers, issued the 42-page decision precisely three months after hearing oral arguments in the cases, with fellow GOP nominee Deborah Cook concurring. He delivered a rare defeat for proponents of same-sex marriage, who had won nearly all the cases decided from Florida to Alaska since the Supreme Court ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.

Sutton argued that appellate judges’ hands are tied by a one-sentence Supreme Court ruling from 1972, which “upheld the
right of the people of a state to define marriage as they see it.” Last year’s high court decision requiring the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages does not negate the earlier ruling as it applies to states where gay marriage is not legal, he said.

Justice Roberts Asks If The Case of The Muslim Prisoner’s Beard Is Too Easy

John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the United States of America. Photo courtesy of Steve Petteway via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

In some ways, the case of the Muslim prisoner who wants to grow a beard seems easy.  When it comes to a prisoner’s religious rights, federal laws favors accommodation when possible.

So how could Gregory Holt — known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad after his conversion to Islam — possibly lose at the Supreme Court, where the justices heard his case on Oct. 7?

Holt wants to grow a mere half-inch beard — a length of whisker allowed in the vast majority of state prison systems, but not the one where he is incarcerated: Arkansas.

Even Chief Justice John Roberts wondered how such a seemingly straightforward case came before the high court, which usually occupies itself with the thorniest of legal questions.

What Happens Next in the 20 States That Still Ban Gay Marriage?

Participants celebrate the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling in Kansas City, Mo. on June 26. Photo by Sally Morrow/RNS.

The Supreme Court’s decision to sit out the legal battle over same-sex marriage will — for now, at least — leave the future of laws prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying in the hands of lower state and federal court judges. But it also almost certainly means the couples challenging those laws are more likely to win in the end.

The court said Oct. 6 that it would not hear appeals from five states whose same-sex marriage bans had been invalidated by lower federal courts. The decision, issued without explanation, will likely lead to recognition of gay marriages in 11 more states. It also allows an avalanche of legal challenges to the remaining bans to keep going forward in state and federal courts, where gay and lesbian couples have overwhelmingly prevailed.

The court’s decision leaves unchanged 20 state laws blocking same-sex unions. Each is already under legal attack, facing challenges in state or federal court, and sometimes both. Challenges to marriage bans already have reached a handful of state appeals courts and the federal appeals courts for the 5th, 6th, 9th and 11th circuits.

Some of those judges had been waiting to see what the Supreme Court would do. The court’s instruction Oct 6. was: Proceed.

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