WASHINGTON – When the Supreme Court issues a rash of major decisions on hot-button issues such as abortion, immigration, religion and LGBTQ rights, it usually means the term is ending.
Unless there's a global pandemic.
Long accustomed to closing up shop by the end of June and jetting off to teaching assignments, speaking engagements and vacations, the justices on Wednesday will enter July with eight important cases to decide and a lengthy list of petitions to review.
The court's inability to get through its 2019 docket under the normal schedule is a casualty of COVID-19, which forced the justices – the majority of whom qualify as senior citizens for whom the virus is a greater risk – to postpone oral arguments in March and April rather than violate social distancing guidelines.
Half of those cases were pushed to the 2020 term starting in October. But 10 others were heard by telephone in early May, and most of those decisions and dissents are still being written.
On Tuesday, the court finished deciding all the cases heard the old-fashioned way – in court, up through March 4. Those included four major cases decided in the past two weeks on LGBTQ employment rights, abortion clinic restrictions, religious school choice and the DACA program that protects people brought illegally to the United States as children.
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But still facing the justices are these major questions:
• Should President Donald Trump be allowed to keep years of private financial records away from congressional investigators and New York prosecutors?
• Must presidential electors – the men and women who ministerially turn the popular vote into the electoral vote – be forced to follow the popular vote in their states?
• Should religious nonprofits such as charities and universities be freed from a federal rule that employers must offer workers free insurance coverage for contraceptives?
• Should religious employers, led by two Catholic schools in California, be allowed to fire workers without without being answerable to employment discrimination laws?
• Should political pollsters and consultants be exempt from a federal law barring robocalls to cellphones?
• Should Native Americans win jurisdiction over nearly half of the state of Oklahoma under boundaries set in the 1800s?
The court has not announced when those decisions will come, but it is expected to take several days or weeks.