supreme court ruling
April 10, 2021

The Supreme Court has once again ruled against California in a case concerning religious worship during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a 5-4 decision, mostly along ideological lines, the court ruled late Friday night that California cannot enforce its three-household limit on at-home religious meetings, such as prayer groups and Bible studies. Conservatives were in the majority, with only Chief Justice John Roberts splitting off and siding with the three liberal justices.

A panel of the 9th Circuit of Appeals had previously upheld the state's restrictions on at-home gatherings since it was a blanket ban that applied to secular and non-secular gatherings, alike. The Supreme Court's minority argued along similar lines; in a dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that California is not required to "treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons."

But the majority wasn't satisfied with that explanation, suggesting the state was treating secular businesses, like movie theaters and restaurants, more favorably. "The state cannot assume the worst when people go to worship, but assume the best when people go to work," the unsigned majority opinion said. "This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise." Read more at Politico and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

October 27, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's critics are perplexed by his concurring opinion following the court's 5-3 ruling that Wisconsin can only count absentee ballots that arrive by Election Day, describing his reasoning as "sloppy."

One of the accusations hurled at Kavanaugh is that he confused receipt and submission deadlines while making his point. The Wisconsin case involved extending the former in light of U.S. Postal Service slowdowns, but Kavanaugh's analogies appeared more congruent with the latter.

Kavanaugh was also criticized for his stance that the deadline should remain intact so that the "apparent winner" on the morning after election night doesn't have their victory overturned by late-arriving ballots, which could spark allegations of a "rigged election." In response, observers argued that declaring an election winner on Nov. 3 isn't necessary and that it's reasonable for close races in states to remain uncalled.

Finally, analysts called Kavanaugh out for apparently misreading a source that influenced his decision. Tim O'Donnell

April 1, 2019

The United States Supreme Court on Monday ruled against a death row inmate who was seeking to find an alternative to lethal injection as a capital punishment method. Some believe it might set a dangerous precedent.

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern writes that the court ruled against Russell Bucklew, an inmate from Missouri who has a rare medical condition that would make death by lethal injection extremely painful for him, as confirmed by medical professionals. Bucklew requested to die by "hypoxia" — a lack of oxygen — instead, citing two Supreme Court precedents which ruled that inmates challenging their methods of execution must provide an alternative method. Bucklew fulfilled that criteria, but he lost 5-4 anyway, with the court's five conservative justices voting against him.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion, wrote that the prisoner must not only provide a "feasible" alternative method, but that the prisoner can only do so when "the question in dispute is whether the State's chosen method of execution cruelly superadds pain to the death sentence."

But Gorsuch "smuggles" in that argument, writes Stern. The notion that prisoners could only request changes if the State was proven to intentionally add pain did appear in one of the precedents for this ruling written by Justice Clarence Thomas, but it was not adopted by the majority of the court. Instead, the precedents only specify that the prisoner's request can be granted if a feasible and less painful alternative is provided.

The decision could eventually warp itself into something even uglier, writes Stern, and could turn into a larger battle over the Eighth Amendment and precedents regarding capital punishment. Read more at Slate. Tim O'Donnell

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