- 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)
Republicans Say They Will Block Bill To Avert Government Shutdown and Debt Default
Democrats argue the bill is necessary to prevent an economic catastrophe.
Democrats Introduce Legislation
Democrats in the House and Senate unveiled sweeping legislation Monday that aimed to keep the government funded through early December, lift the federal debt limit, and provide around $35 billion for Afghan refugees and natural disaster recovery.
The bill is needed to avoid a government shutdown when funding expires next week. It is also necessary to prevent the Treasury Department from reaching the limit of its borrowing authority, which would trigger the U.S. to default on its debt for the first time ever.
For weeks, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged Congress to raise the federal debt limit, also known as the debt ceiling, warning that the department will soon exhaust all of its measures to keep the federal government within its legal borrowing limit.
If the U.S. were to default, it would be unable to pay its debts, sending massive shockwaves through the financial system.
Democrats have painted the bill as crucial to avert an economic doomsday that would massively undermine recovery.
They argue that the combination of a government shutdown and a debt default would destabilize global markets and leave millions of Americans without essential aid.
Republicans Vow to Oppose Raising Debt Ceiling
Despite the considerable threats, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said Republicans will not vote to increase the debt ceiling, arguing that Democrats should do it without their help because they are pushing trillions of dollars in new spending priorities.
Democrats have slammed the Republican leader’s stance as hypocritical. They point out that while it is true they are proposing new spending, it has not been approved yet, and the debt that currently risks default has been incurred by both parties.
Democrats also noted that trillions of dollars were added to the federal debt under former President Donald Trump, which is more than what has been added by President Joe Biden. As a result, Republicans raised the debt ceiling three times during the Trump administration with the support of Democrats.
McConnell, however, remains unlikely to budge. On Monday, White House officials said McConnell has not outlined any requests or areas of negotiation in exchange for support of the legislation.
While the bill is expected to pass the House, it appears all but doomed in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to break the filibuster.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Politico)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom Survives Recall
Experts say the outcome should act as a warning for Republicans who tie themselves to former President Donald Trump and attempt to undermine election results by promoting false voter fraud claims.
Recall Effort Fails
After seven months and an estimated $276 million in taxpayer money, the Republican-led effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) failed Tuesday.
Just under 70% of the votes have been reported as of Wednesday morning, showing that “no” on the recall received 63.9% of the vote. That’s nearly twice as many votes as “yes,” which had 36.1%.
According to The Washington Post, even if the margin narrows as more votes are counted, this still marks one of the biggest rejections of any recall effort in America over the last century.
Analysts say the historic rebuke was driven by high Democratic turnout and broader fears over resurging COVID cases.
While the Delta variant continues to push new infections to record highs in many parts of the country with lax mask rules and low vaccination rates, California, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, now has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest new caseloads in the nation.
Newsom has continually tried to convince voters that those figures are the results of his vaccine and masking policies, which have been some of the most aggressive in the U.S.
Given that polls showed the pandemic was the top concern for California voters, it is clear that the majority favored his policies over those of his competitors. Larry Elder, the Republican talk radio host of led the field of 46 challengers, ran on a platform of getting rid of essentially all COVID restrictions.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Newsom painted the recall’s failure not only as a win for Democratic coronavirus policies but also for Democracy at large.
“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic,” he said. “We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression.”
“I think about just in the last few days and the former president put out saying this election was rigged,” he continued. “Democracy is not a football. You don’t throw it around. That’s more like a, I don’t know, antique vase. You can drop it and smashing a million different pieces. And that’s what we’re capable of doing if we don’t stand up to meet the moment and push back.”
“I said this many, many times on the campaign trail, we may have defeated Trump, but Trump-ism is not dead in this country. The Big Lie, January 6th insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country.”
A Warning for Republicans
Newsom’s remarks took aim at the efforts by Elder and other Republicans — including former President Donald Trump — who over the last week have claimed falsely and without evidence that voter fraud helped secured the governor’s win before Election Day even took place.
While it is currently unknown whether that narrative may have prompted more Republican voters to stay home, Newsom’s effort to cast Edler as a Trump-like candidate and the recall as an undemocratic, Republican power grab appears to have been effective.
Now, political strategists say that the outcome of the recall should serve as a warning that Republicans who pin themselves to Trump and his Big Lie playbook may be hurt more in certain states.
“The recall does offer at least one lesson to Democrats in Washington ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue- and purple-state strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists can still prove effective with the former president out of office,” The New York Times explained.
Even outside of a strongly blue state like California, analysts say this strategy will also be effective with similar candidates in battleground states like Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, which will be essential to deciding control of the Senate.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Justice Department Sues Texas Over Abortion Ban
The department claims the Texas law violates past Supreme Court precedents on abortion and infringes on Constitutional protections.
Biden Administration Takes Aim at Texas Law
The Department of Justice sued Texas on Thursday in an attempt to block the state’s newly enacted law that effectively prohibits all abortions by banning the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The abortion law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not provide exceptions for rape or incest, allows private citizens to take legal action against anyone who helps a person terminate their pregnancy after six weeks.
In its lawsuit, the Justice Department argued that the Texas law is unconstitutional because it violates past Supreme Court precedents through a technical loophole.
While numerous other states have passed similar laws banning abortion after about six weeks, federal judges have struck down those measures on the grounds that they are inconsistent with Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that states cannot prevent someone from seeking an abortion before a fetus can viably live outside the womb, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.
The Texas law, however, skirts the high court decisions by deputizing citizens to enforce the law rather than state government officials, taking the state out of the equation entirely and protecting it from legal responsibility.
Individuals who do so do not have to prove any personal injury or connection to those they take legal action against, which can range from abortion providers to rideshare drivers who take someone to a clinic.
If their lawsuit is successful, the citizen is entitled to a $10,000 award.
DOJ Lawsuit Targets Constitutionality
During a press conference detailing the DOJ lawsuit, Attorney General Merrick Garland referred to the enforcement mechanism as “an unprecedented” effort with the “obvious and expressly acknowledged intention” to prevent Texans from their constitutionally protected right to have an abortion.
“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans — whatever their politics or party — should fear,” Garland said, adding that the provision of the law allowing civilians “to serve as bounty hunters” may become “a model for action in other areas, by other states, and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents.”
The Justice Department argued that the Texas policy violates equal protection guarantees under the 14th Amendment as well as the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes that the Constitution and federal law generally take precedence over state law.
The lawsuit also claimed that the law interferes with the constitutional obligation of federal employees to provide access to abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, to people who are under the care of federal agencies or contractors such as those in prisons.
Both Sides See Path to Supreme Court
While proponents of abortion rights applauded the Justice Department’s legal challenge, officials in Texas defended the law and accused the Biden administration of filing the lawsuit for political reasons.
“President Biden and his administration are more interested in changing the national narrative from their disastrous Afghanistan evacuation and reckless open border policies instead of protecting the innocent unborn,” a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), said in a statement.
“We are confident that the courts will uphold and protect that right to life.”
The DOJ’s suit will now be decided by a federal judge for the Western District of Texas, based in Austin.
Depending on how that court rules, either opponents or supporters of the abortion ban are expected to appeal the case, sending it to the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and likely ultimately placing the matter before the Supreme Court again in a matter of months.
The Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect by declining to approve an emergency petition to block the measure last week, but it did not rule on the constitutionality of the policy.
As a result, the Justice Department’s legal challenge could force the high court to hear another facet of the law that it has not yet considered if it decides to see the case.