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New SCOTUS Term Starts Quietly, but That Could Change

The term is so far short on high-profile cases, but perhaps not for long
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 5, 2020 11:27 AM CDT
As New SCOTUS Term Opens, Here's What's Coming
In this May 3, 2020, file photo the setting sun shines on the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Supreme Court opens a new term Monday, Oct. 5.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(Newser) – The Supreme Court began its new term Monday with a remembrance of "a dear friend and a treasured colleague," the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Chief Justice John Roberts paid tribute to Ginsburg as the court resumed its work via telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic. Roberts said the justices would hold a fuller memorial service for Ginsburg once they return to the courtroom. The term is so far short on high-profile cases, but that could change quickly because of the prospect of court involvement in lawsuits related to the election. The cases being argued over the next two weeks all had been scheduled for last spring but were postponed when the virus forced the court to shut down for a time. Details from the AP on what was decided on Monday and what's coming down the pike:

  • The high court said Monday it wouldn't take the case involving Kim Davis, the former clerk of Rowan County, Ky., and two same-sex couples who'd sued her. Soon after the 2015 Supreme Court decision in which same-sex couples won the right to marry nationwide, Davis, a Christian who has a religious objection to same-sex marriage, stopped issuing all marriage licenses. That led to lawsuits against her. Davis had argued that a legal doctrine called qualified immunity protected her from being sued for damages by couple David Ermold and David Moore, as well as James Yates and Will Smith. Their case will now move forward, reports the AP.

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  • The Supreme Court is leaving in place a decision awarding the late John Steinbeck's stepdaughter $5 million in a family dispute over abandoned plans for movies of some of Steinbeck's best-known works. The high court said Monday it wouldn't take up the dispute involving the Nobel Prize-winning author's stepdaughter Waverly Kaffaga, his late son Thomas Steinbeck, and his daughter-in-law Gail Steinbeck. When he died, Steinbeck left the vast majority of his estate to Kaffaga's mother, Elaine, his third wife. In the case the Supreme Court declined to get involved in, the AP reports Kaffaga alleged that Thomas Steinbeck and his wife had continued to claim various rights to Steinbeck works despite losses in court. That, she said, led multiple Hollywood producers to abandon negotiations with her to develop screenplays for remakes of The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.
  • The Supreme Court also refused to take up an appeal from South Dakota's only death row inmate, who was sentenced to death after he pleaded guilty to taking part in a torture killing 20 years ago. The court didn't comment in leaving in place the death sentence for Briley Piper, an Alaska man who was one of three people convicted in the killing of Chester Allen Poage of Spearfish, SD. The AP reports one has been executed and the other is serving a life sentence in prison.
  • The most consequential case in October is a dispute between technology giants in which Oracle claims it's owed $9 billion by Google for using Oracle's copyrighted code in the development of Google's Android operating system for smartphones.
  • The day after the election brings a battle of religious rights and LGBT discrimination from Philadelphia. A social services agency run by the Catholic church sued after the city decided to stop placing children with the agency over its policy of not permitting same-sex couples to serve as foster parents.
  • President Trump's nominee for Ginsburg's seat, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, could be on the bench in time for one of the term's biggest cases, post-Election Day arguments in the latest Republican bid to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which provides more than 20 million people with health insurance. Barrett's confirmation would cement a 6-3 conservative majority and diminish Roberts' ability to moderate the court's decisions. That's because conservatives would have five votes even in cases where Roberts might side with the remaining three liberal justices.
  • In December, the justices will decide whether the House of Representatives can obtain grand jury materials that were part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the last election.
(Read more Scotus stories.)

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