The Supreme Court wrapped its session Monday morning, but before the justices’ summer recess, the Court made major announcements on three high-profile cases — two of which the Court will take up in the fall.
Perhaps the biggest case the Court will be taking up is President Donald Trump’s travel ban — a revised version of the “Muslim ban” he advocated for on the campaign trail. The justices will also consider a case on religious liberty and the right to refuse services to same-sex weddings, and it decided a case in favor of a Missouri church’s right to state funding.
Here’s what you need to know about these three consequential Supreme Court cases.
The travel ban
After multiple defeats in the appellate courts, the Trump administration finally earned a victory to the president’s travel ban executive order. Though the Court hasn’t affirmatively ruled in favor of the case, they have lifted previous courts’ stays on the ban, meaning travel restrictions will go into effect this Thursday. Importantly, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about what this means for tourists from six Muslim-majority countries and potentially many more refugees.
But first, it’s important to understand the evolution of this case. On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that prevented people from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) from entering the US for 90 days. It also suspended the United States Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and limited the number of refugees allowed in the US unless they were “persecuted religious minorities.”
In the midst of widespread protests at airports and reports of refugees, immigrants, and green-card holders barred from flights to the US, orders were challenged by some state judges within hours and in two different federal courts the following week. It was determined that the ban would be suspended while judges decide on its constitutionality.
A second order was issued on March 6, 2017, which took Iraq off the 90-day suspension list, kept the USRAP suspension to 120 days, and maintained the 50,000-refugee limit. That new version was then blocked by the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals — which upheld a Hawaii judge’s lower court decision — and the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals. The Trump administration’s next move was to take the ban to the Supreme Court.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration will be allowed to uphold the ban over the summer before the case enters consideration in the fall.
As Vox’s Dara Lind notes, by the time the Court hears the case against the travel ban when sessions resume in October, “the 90-day ban will likely have been completed — potentially replaced by a longer, indefinite ban on entries from countries that don’t provide enough information to the US.” Dara writes:
It’s a massive victory for the Trump administration, which before Monday couldn’t get a break in court. Even if the Supreme Court ultimately rules that the lower courts were correct to stop the travel ban from going into effect, it’ll be totally moot — the bans will already have happened.
Read Dara Lind’s full explainer on this case.
Same-sex wedding cake
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission revolves around a gay couple who ordered a custom wedding cake from a Colorado-based bakery in 2012 — before same-sex marriages were legally established in the state. The couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage had been legal since 2004, and celebrate in Colorado. Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips refused to make the cake for the couple, arguing that forcing him to make the cake would be infringing upon his right to religious freedom as a Christian.
As Vox’s German Lopez reports, the lower courts upheld the current Colorado public accommodations law, “which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, such as bakeries.” Lopez writes:
If the Court rules in favor of Phillips, it would be a huge blow to LGBTQ civil rights laws — and not just in the context of bakeries. It could also open a legal path to anti-LGBTQ discrimination in multiple settings, from the workplace to housing, by letting business owners — even in states where such discrimination is prohibited — cite their religious beliefs to discriminate.
The Court is expected to take the case up in October.
In the case of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the Court decided in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church, ruling that the Lutheran preschool in Columbia, Missouri, was unfairly denied state funds to purchase rubber tires to resurface a playground due to its religious affiliation.
In 2012, the Church applied for a grant with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to help pay for recycled tires for the playground. Trinity Lutheran was denied based on a section of Missouri’s constitution, which reads “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, section or denomination of religion.” Trinity subsequently sued the state on the basis of religious discrimination.
After lower courts dismissed the church’s claims, Trinity took its case to the Supreme Court in January 2016 and heard oral arguments in April. The Court overturned the lower courts’ rulings on Monday morning.
As Vox’s religion reporter Tara Burton writes, this decision could have major implications, including “setting a precedent allowing state funds to flow to religious institutions which could be used to legitimize discrimination on religious grounds.” Burton writes:
The Trinity case could potentially be one of the most significant SCOTUS decisions of the year, setting the tone for generations of legislation about the separation between church and state on the state level, and potentially paving the way for more radical education reform, like the use of state vouchers for religious schools.