Constitution Daily

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Last day of Supreme Court decisions features religion, immigration cases

June 24, 2017 by


The Supreme Court will wrap up scheduled decisions from its current term on Monday morning. Here’s a quick look at the six cases that will be announced by the Court on June 26, 2017.

The most-publicized decision will be Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, which was heard on April 19. The Justices might answer the question of whether religiously affiliated schools can be constitutionally denied equal access to government benefits, even if the benefit has nothing to do with matters of faith.

The case is about a program in Missouri that provides rubberized material for school playgrounds, made out of old tires. Missouri’s constitution bars parochial schools from such public benefits, explicitly because of the Missouri constitution’s “Blaine Amendment,” first adopted in 1875. The Blaine amendment says, “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination or religion.”

Trinity Lutheran qualified for the playground grant, which was competitive, scoring very highly in a neutral grading process. But the state disqualified the church as a grant recipient because Trinity Lutheran was a church.

The church appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that “no public benefit could be further removed from the state’s anti-establishment concerns than a grant for safe rubber playground surfaces that serve no religious function or purpose.”

One late factor in the case was a decision by the state of Missouri in April to start a new cycle of the grant program where private schools can apply and receive funding. That raises the question of the existence of a live controversy in front of the Court to decide.

The other case that could generate some publicity is Hernández v. Mesa, which was heard on February 21. The case is an appeal from the family of a boy from Mexico who was fatally shot by a U.S. Border Patrol officer. Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, 15, died in 2010 as he stood on Mexican soil by a border officer who fired his gun while on United States soil in Texas. The agent claimed Hernandez and others were throwing rocks at him.

Hernandez’s family sued the agent for damages, but in 2015 the Fifth Circuit appeals court said the family had no standing to sue because the teen was a Mexican citizen and not protected by the Fifth Amendment under its Due Process clause or by the Fourth Amendment.  The full appeals court had unanimously ruled in favor of the agent.

The Supreme Court took the appeal and also added a question about determining if the parents had a constitutional right to sue a Border Patrol officer.

The remaining cases include two immigration-related decisions. In Jennings v. Rodriguez, the Court will consider if immigrants who are legally detained by government officials should qualify for a bond hearing. There wasn’t a clear consensus of how the Court would act after arguments and the decision could be deadlocked or remanded to a lower appeals court, some Supreme Court observers say.

In Sessions v. Dimaya, the Court will consider if a non-citizen immigrant convicted of an “aggravated felony” can be deported under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The act defines an aggregated felony as a “crime of violence.” A similar term, “violent felony,” was found constitutionally vague in another Supreme Court decision, and the Court will decide if the words are too similar to allow Dimaya’s removal under the act.

The remaining cases on Monday include a case about securities fraud class action lawsuits, and a dispute over alleged inadequate representation of a client by an attorney.


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