Nov 02, 2020
Barrett to Join Supreme Court Arguments for the First Time
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By JESSICA GRESKO, Associated Press
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the high court began hearing cases by phone in May. That means the public won't see the new justice, but they'll be able to hear her if she asks questions, as all her colleagues have been doing.Also because of the pandemic, the court has been allowing the public to listen to arguments in real time, a change from the past.
Participating in oral arguments will be among the first things Barrett will do after being confirmed last week in a 52-48 virtual party-line vote, with Republicans overpowering Democrats to install President Donald Trump's third Supreme Court nominee.
She did not participate in decisions the high court issued last week involving extended timelines for receiving and counting ballots in Pennsylvania and North Carolina because of the need for a quick resolution and "because she has not had time to fully review the parties’ filings,” the court's spokeswoman said in a statement. But her vote also wouldn't have changed the outcome in either case.
The two cases Barrett will hear Monday are relatively low-profile, a dispute involving the Freedom of Information Act and another involving disability benefits for railroad employees. On Tuesday, however, as the country finishes voting, the court's cases include one about sentencing young people to life without parole. And on Wednesday, the day after Election Day, the court hears a case that involves a clash of LGBTQ rights and religious freedoms in a major swing state, Pennsylvania.
Next week brings a case that could threaten the Affordable Care Act, one that was front and center during Barrett's confirmation hearings last month. Democrats claimed that the Obama-era health law, known as “Obamacare,” would be in jeopardy if Barrett joined the court. Trump has urged the court to overturn the law.
The justices have said they will continue to hear cases by phone through at least December. So it’s unclear when Barrett will move in to her offices at the court, taking over the space of her predecessor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
On Monday, Chief Justice John Roberts is expected to offer a traditional, short welcome, to Barrett before arguments begin, wishing her “a long and happy career in our common calling.” And the court will have a typical two hours of argument in two cases.
The pandemic has upended other traditions. If the justices were in their courtroom, Barrett would join her colleagues in a round of handshakes before taking the bench, a tradition every time the justices meet for argument or their private conference that was suspended months ago because of the pandemic. Spectators would see her emerge from behind the court's red curtains and take a seat on the far right hand side of the bench, the junior-most justice's seat. She would be seated next to Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first nominee to the court.
And while arguments in the courtroom are a free-for-all, with justices constantly jumping in with questions, the court's phone-arguments are more orderly. Each justice gets to ask each lawyer questions in order of seniority. As the junior justice, Barrett will ask her questions last.
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How abortion rights and redistricting are firing up state supreme court races in 2022
In the United States federal government, U.S. Supreme Court seats are not elected positions; High Court justices are nominated by presidents and either confirmed or rejected by the U.S. Senate. But state supreme courts are another matter, and many of their justices will be chosen or retained by voters this year.
In the 2022 midterms, Politico reports, elections for state supreme court seats are being held in 30 different states — and according to Politico reporters Zach Montellaro and Shia Kapos, two of the main issues firing up those races are abortion and redistricting.
“The U.S. Supreme Court may get all the attention, but some of the most consequential decisions for the next decade could come instead from their counterparts in the states — many of whom are facing voters in the fall,” Montellaro and Kapos report in an article published on August 17. “Like many down-ballot offices, state supreme court races have often slipped out of the headlines in favor of the battles for Congress and governorships, despite how influential the elected justices are. Judicial elections often suffer serious voter dropoff from top-of-the-ticket races…. But with the nation’s highest court punting major policy decisions back to the states over the last several years — from partisan gerrymandering to abortion access — that is increasingly starting to change.”
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The Politico journalists note that “30 states” in the U.S. “have or will hold state supreme court elections this year, in a combination of traditional elections or a retention vote — an up-or-down vote to decide if a judge should stay on the bench.”
“Some of the biggest state supreme court contests this year map alongside traditional battlegrounds, like Michigan and North Carolina, while others creep into redder or bluer territory,” Montellaro and Kapos observe. “For many of the biggest partisan players in the fight over state supreme courts, redistricting is still a north star for where to invest money…. Since the U.S. Supreme Court said, in 2019, that the federal judiciary had no role in policing partisan gerrymandering, state supreme courts have increasingly weighed in — often throwing out Republican-drawn maps in states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, but also, dealing big blows to Democrats in New York.”
Montellaro and Kapos cite Michigan and Illinois as some of the states to pay especially close attention to in 2022 when it comes to state supreme court elections.
“Michigan will have one of the most pitched battles for control of the state supreme court, where liberal justices have a narrow 4-3 majority,” Montellaro and Kapos observe. “The positions are technically nonpartisan elections in November, but the candidates are affiliated with parties…. The (Michigan) Supreme Court has a significant question on abortion looming in front of it, with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who is also on the ballot this year — petitioning the Court directly to overturn the state’s 1930s-era law that bans most abortions, with a separate challenge also working its way through the state’s court system.”
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The Politico reporters says of Illinois, “Two seats are open on the Illinois Supreme Court, which currently has a 4-3 Democratic majority, and Democrats are using the issue of abortion to rally voters in an effort to hold on to their edge…. Illinois pro-abortion rights groups are ramping up get-out-the-vote efforts because of a concern that a right-leaning court could imperil abortion rights, even though Illinois law keeps abortion legal in the state despite Roe v. Wade being overturned.”
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