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SCOTUS to Hear Case Asking Whether a Catholic Agency Can Deny Foster Children to Same-Sex Couples on Religious Grounds

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  • The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case that will decide whether a taxpayer-funded Catholic adoption agency can refuse to match foster children with same-sex couples.
  • While a ruling isn’t expected to be made until June, a decision in favor of the adoption agency could result in broader ramifications that allow organizations to deny service to LGBTQ+ on religious grounds.
  • This will be the first major argument heard by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a strong proponent of religious rights; however, the case in question will ask her whether she is in favor of overturning a 1990 precedent written by her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Philadelphia and Catholic Church Spar Over LGBTQ/Religious Rights

Justice Amy Coney Barrett will begin hearing arguments Wednesday on her first major case as part of the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s a case that is set to decide the intersection of LGBTQ+ and religious rights.

The case is known as Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, and it concerns a taxpayer-funded Catholic adoption agency in Philadelphia that is refusing to match foster children with same-sex couples. That agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS), claims that allowing such a practice would violate its religious beliefs. 

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia caught wind of CSS denying same-sex couples the ability to foster children. As a result, the city then began refusing to refer new groups of foster children to the agency, doing so by citing a city law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 

The following year, Philadelphia updated language in its government contracts to specifically prohibit adoption agencies from denying potential foster parents that are part of a same-sex couple. 

With that, CSS sued the city in an attempt to uphold its practice of denying adoption to same-sex couples. In its lawsuit, it argued that the city unlawfully targeted its religious rights protected under the First Amendment. 

Meanwhile, Philadelphia defended itself by arguing that it is simply enforcing an anti-discrimination policy that protects LGBTQ residents. As the city noted, it applies this policy evenly across all religious and even secular government contractors. 

Cynthia Figueroa, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for children and families, added that CSS is now attempting to rewrite a contract it had already voluntarily signed.

In 2019, a federal appeals court unanimously sided with Philadelphia, ruling that CSS failed to show that the city’s decision was made for any other reason than “sincere opposition to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

In its decision, that court heavily cited a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling authored by former Justice Antonin Scalia: Employment Division v. Smith. That ruling stated that laws burdening religious exercise are permissible if they don’t specifically target the idea of religion or any one religion. 

“Preventing discrimination in the provision of public services is undeniably a legitimate interest,” District Court Judge Petrese Tucker also said in 2018, while siding with Philadelphia.  

Since both decisions, CSS has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to overturn Smith and saying that the agency “stands to be excluded from foster care, not because it broke any law, but because Philadelphia disagrees with its religious practices regarding marriage.”

“Just as no LGBT couples are prevented from marrying because a particular church does not perform same-sex weddings, no LGBT couples are prevented from fostering because a particular church cannot provide an endorsement,” CSS lawyers stated in their appeal to SCOTUS. “Yet many churches will be prevented from exercising religion by caring for at-risk children, all due to a disagreement with the government about marriage.” 

Broader Effects of a Decision in Favor of CSS

As lawyers for the city of Philadelphia have noted, if the Supreme Court were to side with CSS, such a decision could have broad ramifications on LGBTQ+ individuals nationwide. 

“[It] would essentially give anyone who objects to LGBT people and cites a religious basis for that the right to opt out of all those protections that achieved equal treatment for the LGBT community,” Leslie Cooper, a American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said. 

For its part, CSS has refuted that claim, with one of its lawyers, Lori Windham, calling Cooper’s statement “overblown.”

“Catholic Social Services has been partnering with women of color for decades to service a diverse population,” Windham said. “They are asking to continue to do that.”

Critics, however, have noted that even if CSS serves a diverse community, such a statement falls flat if it also specifically excludes others from that diverse community.

If SCOTUS were to side with CSS, as far as whether or not that would overturn Smith’s precedent… Well, the answer’s unclear. Any decision could lead to a number of outcomes.

For example, in 2018, SCOTUS heard a case involving a Christian baker who had refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. There, the Court sided with the baker; however, it did on narrow grounds and the ruling largely didn’t apply to similar cases. 

Still, some legal experts do believe that a decision in favor of CSS would likely make it easier for religious organizations to mount defenses against accusations of violating anti-discrimination laws. 

“The real world consequences of this could be really, really, really important to people,” David Flugman, a partner at the law firm Selendy & Gay, said according to CNBC. “From denial of health care, to exclusion from schools, or refusing to serve people in restaurants or not accommodating them in bed and breakfasts.”

Is CSS Favored to Win with SCOTUS?

There are very real reasons to suspect that SCOTUS could side with CSS. 

In June, Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh all dissented to a ruling that upheld federal anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ employees. While Justice Neil Gorsuch broke from the court’s conservative bloc for that decision, he — along with Alito, Thomas, and Kavanaugh — has hinted that he may be open to overturning Smith.

Notably, there is also the new addition of Barrett, a devout Catholic and a strong proponent of religious rights, to the bench. In fact, questions around Barrett’s faith and how she intends to couple it with her seat on the bench were a major aspect of her Senate confirmation hearing. 

Still, there is also eason to suggest that she could possibly rule in favor of Philadelphia. As Flugman noted, “She clerked for Justice Scalia. Will she, in the first week or so of her time on the court, be running toward overturning a three-decade-old precedent written by her old boss?” 

Many have also pointed to moments during her nomination process, where she said she would be guided by the law as written, not by her personal beliefs.

While SCOTUS will begin hearing arguments on this case Wednesday, it is not expected to make a decision until June. Currently, 11 states still allow private agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (The Wall Street Journal) (The Hill)

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NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud

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The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.


New York Attorney General’s Filing

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”

The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.

The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage. 

The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.

That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.

In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.

While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.

Alleged Direct Involvement

The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.

The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations. 

According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.” 

Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.

While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.

It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.

Response

Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.

“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”

As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”

Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win

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The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.


New Maps Upheld

A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.

Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.

The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.

The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.

In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”

Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.

Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution. 

The Path Ahead

While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.

There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.

A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month

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The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.


New At-Home Testing Policy

The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.

Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.

The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months. 

According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance. 

Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.

Potential Exemptions

All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased. 

In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.

As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.

If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.

During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”

“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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