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Among cases on the U.S. Supreme Court docket for the term that began this month, two Louisiana cases stand out — one because of its implications for criminal justice in the state, the other because of what it portends for abortion rights and access nationwide.

And, both, in part, because they deal with matters that, on the surface, might appear to have been settled.

Yes, voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring unanimous jury verdicts in felony cases — following Pulitzer Prize winning reporting by The Advocate on the racial impacts of allowing 10-2 verdicts. But sometimes lost amid celebrations of the measure’s passage is its effective date: it applies to crimes that happened on or after Jan. 1 of this year.

No help to people like Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted on a 10-2 jury vote in 2016 of second-degree murder in the killing of a woman in New Orleans. Ramos is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.


A seemingly divided Supreme Court struggled Tuesday over whether a landmark civil rights law protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment, with one conservative justice wondering if the court should take heed of “massive social upheaval” that could follow a ruling in their favor.

With the court’s four liberal justices likely to side with workers who were fired because of their sexual orientation or transgender status, the question in two highly anticipated cases that filled the courtroom was whether one of the court’s conservatives might join them.

Two hours of lively arguments touched on sex-specific bathrooms, locker rooms and dress codes, and even a reference to the androgynous character known simply as Pat on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s.

A key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as Title 7 bars job discrimination because of sex, among other reasons. In recent years, some courts have read that language to include discrimination against LGBT people as a subset of sex discrimination.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, said there are strong arguments favoring the LGBT workers. But Gorsuch suggested that maybe Congress, not the courts, should change the law because of the upheaval that could ensue. “It’s a question of judicial modesty,” Gorsuch said.

David Cole, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing fired transgender funeral home director Aimee Stephens, said the situation at the court itself showed such concerns were overblown.



The Supreme Court began a potentially contentious election-year term Monday in seeming general agreement that juries in state criminal trials must be unanimous to convict a defendant.

The justices took up a quirk of constitutional law, a 47-year-old ruling that requires unanimity in federal, but not state trials. Earlier in the day, the court also wrestled with whether states must allow criminal defendants to plead insanity.

The one minor surprise when the justices took the bench just after 10 o’clock was the absence of Justice Clarence Thomas. The 71-year-old Thomas was at home, likely with the flu, the court said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in her customary seat to the left of Chief Justice John Roberts. The 86-year-old Ginsburg asked the first question in the insanity arguments.


The Supreme Court agreed Friday to plunge into the abortion debate in the midst of the 2020 presidential campaign, taking on a Louisiana case that could reveal how willing the more conservative court is to chip away at abortion rights.

The justices will examine a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The law is virtually identical to one in Texas that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, when Justice Anthony Kennedy was on the bench and before the addition of President Donald Trump’s two high court picks, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who have shifted the court to the right.

The court’s new term begins Monday, but arguments in the Louisiana case won’t take place until the winter. A decision is likely to come by the end of June, four months before the presidential election.

The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Louisiana law from taking effect in February, when Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices to put it on hold. Kavanaugh and Gorsuch were among the four conservatives who would have allowed the law to take effect.

Those preliminary votes do not bind the justices when they undertake a thorough review of an issue, but they often signal how a case will come out.

Roberts’ vote to block the Louisiana law was a rare vote against an abortion restriction in his more than 13 years as chief justice. That may reflect his new role since Kennedy’s retirement as the court’s swing justice, his concern about the court being perceived as a partisan institution and respect for a prior decision of the court, even one he disagreed with.

In the Texas case, he voted in dissent to uphold the admitting privileges requirement.

The Louisiana case and a separate appeal over an Indiana ultrasound requirement for women seeking an abortion, on which the court took no action Friday, were the most significant of hundreds of pending appeals the justices considered when they met in private on Tuesday.

Both cases involve the standard first laid out by the court in 1992 that while states can regulate abortion, they can’t do things that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion. The regulations are distinct from other state laws making their way through court challenges that would ban abortions early in a pregnancy.



A federal jury will decide whether the operator of a Wichita abortion facility had reasonable grounds to seek a protection-from-stalking order against an abortion protester.

Jury selection begins Monday in the federal lawsuit filed by anti-abortion activist Mark Holick against clinic operator Julie Burkhart.

The lawsuit stems from anti-abortion protests in 2012 and 2013 in front of Burkhart's home and in her neighborhood. She subsequently got a temporary protection-from-stalking order against him that was dismissed two years later.

U.S. District Judge John Broomes has already thrown out some of the lawsuit's claims, but left it to a jury to decide whether the facts constituted malicious prosecution.



In a decision that badly undermines Boris Johnson’s authority, Britain’s highest court ruled unanimously Tuesday that the prime minister broke the law by suspending Parliament in a way that squelched legitimate scrutiny of his Brexit plan.

The historic move by the U.K. Supreme Court offered a ringing endorsement of Parliament’s sovereignty and slapped down what justices viewed as the legislature’s silencing by the executive.

The ruling upended the prime minister’s plan to keep lawmakers away until two weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union. The Supreme Court said Johnson’s suspension was “void” and never legally took effect, opening the door for Parliament to resume its duties Wednesday morning as if nothing had happened.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow welcomed the decision, saying citizens were “entitled” to have Parliament in session to review the government and enact laws.

The ruling also established that Johnson had involved Queen Elizabeth II — one of the most revered and respected figures in British life — by giving her improper advice when he sought her permission to shutter Parliament for five weeks.

The justices made clear they were not criticizing Elizabeth, who as a constitutional monarch was required to approve the prime minister’s request.

The British government said Johnson spoke to the queen after the ruling, but did not disclose details of the conversation.



The conventional wisdom that the court is split along partisan lines based on the political views of the president that appointed each justice is false, a U.S. Supreme Court justice said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch spoke about civility to an audience of about 1,000 at Brigham Young University on Friday, refuting the notion that judges are just "like politicians with robes."

Gorsuch is considered one of the Supreme Court's most conservative members, though he recently agreed with more liberal colleagues in a decision reaffirming a criminal defendant's right to a jury trial.

Gorsuch denied that justices' decisions are predictable, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News reported. Gorsuch noted he uses the original meaning of the Constitution to guide his judicial decisions, in contrast with judges who believe interpretations of the document should evolve over time.

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