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Transgender Rights, Religion Among Cases Justices Could Add

June 28, 2021by Mark Sherman and Jessica Gresko, Associated Press
The Supreme Court is seen in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A closely watched voting rights dispute from Arizona is among five cases standing between the Supreme Court and its summer break. But even before the justices wrap up their work, likely later this week, they could say whether they’ll add more high-profile issues to what already promises to be a consequential term, beginning in October.

This month, the court has already issued big decisions on health care and religious freedom. And next term, the high court has agreed to take on cases about abortion  and guns. The court could say as soon as Monday what it will do about these issues awaiting action:

TRANSGENDER RIGHTS

Á Virginia school board is asking the court to uphold a policy, struck down by lower courts, that prohibits transgender students from using school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The case has been around for six years, since then-high school student Gavin Grimm filed a federal lawsuit over the Gloucester County board’s refusal to allow him to use the boys bathroom.

RELIGION

The justices just wrapped up a case involving a church-affiliated foster care agency that declined to work with same-sex couples, ultimately siding with the agency. Now they’ll have to decide whether to hear other cases involving religious freedom claims. Alternately, they could send the cases back to lower courts for review in light of their recent decision. 

The pending cases include a dispute out of Washington state involving a florist who refused to provide arrangements for a same-sex wedding. The Supreme Court already sent that case back once to lower courts to be revisited after the court’s 2018 ruling involving a Colorado baker  who declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Also waiting is a case involving a Catholic hospital in Maryland sued by a transgender man who sought to have a hysterectomy. The hospital canceled the procedure, saying it was contrary to its Catholic faith, after learning the reason for it.

ABU GHRAIB

Seventeen years after shocking photographs of prisoners being abused at the U.S.-run prison in Abu Ghraib were first made public, Iraqis who claim they were victims of torture are still seeking their day in court against a U.S. defense contractor that supplied the military with interrogators. The company, CACI Premier Technology of Arlington, Virginia, is appealing to the court on a technical legal issue that could delay or even prevent a trial. The inmates say they were beaten and tortured by military police officers who were acting at the direction of civilian interrogators who wanted the inmates “softened up” for questioning. CACI says none of its interrogators is linked to the abuse suffered by the men who are suing.

PROPERTY RIGHTS

A chocolate company’s expansion plans are at the heart of what could be the court’s biggest case about property rights in years, if the justices take it. The case involves a property the city of Chicago took by eminent domain in order to allow the Blommer Chocolate Company to expand.

Agreeing to hear the case would give the court the opportunity to overturn a 2005 case that has been roundly criticized by conservatives. In that case, the court divided 5-4 to say that the city of New London, Connecticut, could use eminent domain to take private property and then sell it to private developers as part of an attempt to revitalize the city. The decision was written by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who acknowledged it was the most unpopular opinion he ever wrote. Justice Antonin Scalia, who dissented, ranked it among the court’s biggest mistakes. Only two justices who decided the case remain on the court: Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Stephen Breyer. Stevens died in 2019 and Scalia in 2016.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH 

A book that became the Hollywood movie “War Dogs” is at the center of what could become a landmark First Amendment case. Shkelzen Berisha, the son of the former prime minister of Albania, says the book harmed him by falsely linking him to would-be arms dealers from Miami.

He sued for defamation and wants the justices to revisit the high bar the court has set for public figures to win defamation lawsuits. Berisha’s complaint stems from a landmark civil rights-era case, New York Times v. Sullivan. As a result of Sullivan and cases that followed, public figures can win defamation lawsuits only if they can prove that the person publishing the falsehood knew the statement they made was false or made it with reckless disregard for the truth. Former President Donald Trump has complained about the high bar, and Thomas has said the court should consider overturning the case.

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