June 16, 2019; The Hill
Courts matter. That’s especially true for the Supreme Court at the end of June, when it wraps up its cases for the session and then goes on hiatus for the summer. What this means is that all the cases that have been heard by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) this session but have not yet had opinions issued can be counted on to have those opinions issued in the next two weeks. Court watchers and those with a stake in these cases—and this year, it would be almost anyone who lives, breathes, and votes in this country—are waiting on pins and needles for certain opinions to be issued.
There are 24 cases that have not yet had opinions issued, an unusually high number. Of those, two are the clear focus of the press, policymakers, and the public.
NPQ has written multiple times about the cases of gerrymandering that now await a SCOTUS decision. Clearly, it has been a reluctant Supreme Court that has taken on this issue of drawing lines for partisan political districts, as it has sent cases like these back to the states of Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and elsewhere over the years in order to avoid what it may say in the next two weeks about which party gets to prevail in setting up state and federal voting districts.
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The most anticipated decision is that of whether the 2020 US Census will contain a citizenship question. This became a highly partisan issue around immigration rights and getting an accurate count if, given the fear of deportation among even legal immigrants, people would respond to a census that asked about their citizenship. After arguments before the Supreme Court justices, new evidence surfaced that this citizenship question was contrived to help boost white voters and suppress voters of color in elections and when drawing maps and allocating Congressional seats. No decision has been made about whether to hear that evidence or if the Supreme Court will consider it relevant to its decision.
No matter what the outcome on these two cases, it is likely that they will be decided by a 5-to-4 vote, with the conservative and liberal justices on opposite sides of the bench.
These two cases are of great interest because they are ultimately about voting rights, something that touches each American. In one case, gerrymandering may determine how your vote will count based on where you live. The other may determine the quality of your representation based on the tally of your state’s census. In both, the issue of partisan politics has reared its head, and the Supreme Court will find it difficult to avoid it much longer. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this week, “Given the number of most-watched cases still unannounced, I cannot predict that the relatively low sharp divisions ratio will hold,” noting that about a quarter of the court’s decisions issued this term have been 5-4 or 5-3. We should expect more of the same with the Court’s conservatives holding the majority of the seats.
And the future? SCOTUS has agreed to relist three DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) cases, which means they might hear these cases sooner than anticipated. These were also cases that they had been deferring. As was said at the beginning, courts matter. Hopefully, the outcomes of these voting rights cases and others will show that justice is not subject to partisan politics. We’ll know within the next two weeks.—Carole Levine