The current Supreme Court term began on October 1, 2019, and will continue through Spring 2020. Most matters that come before the court fall under its appellate jurisdiction, meaning a party has appealed to the Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision. The court only agrees to review, or grants certification, when a case is particularly timely, it involves a state supreme court decision, or lower federal courts have issued conflicting decisions (known as a “circuit split.”)
Explore our glossary of Supreme Court terminology, adapted for the Leadership Education Advancing Democracy & Diversity Program (LEADD.)
LGBTQ+ Employment Cases
Status: Argued October 8, 2019
In October 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for three cases: Altitude Express v. Zarda, Bostock v. Clayton County, GA, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC and Aimee Stephens. These cases concern non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Dan Zarda and Gerald Bostock were both fired after their employers learned of their sexual orientation. Aimee Stephens was fired after her employer learned of her gender identity. In all three situations, the employers used sex stereotypes to make hiring and firing decisions, a type of prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the various lower courts define sex stereotypes to include an employer’s beliefs about who their employee should be attracted because of the employee’s sex and the relationship between an employee’s gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth.
The Supreme Court will decide whether to affirm this established definition of sex discrimination or roll back existing employment protections for millions of LGBTQ+ Americans.
Too often employers overstep the boundaries of personal religious freedom – the right to believe as we choose – to impose their beliefs on others through staffing decisions. Turning away LGBTQ+ job applicants and employees isn’t religious freedom – it’s discrimination. Learn more about the cases and #OurDayInCourt events across the country.
Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue
Status: Argued January 22, 2020
The Court will also examine a state tax credit program, adopted by the Montana legislature in 2015, that would have diverted millions of dollars to taxpayer funded Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs). SSOs provide scholarships to students to attend private, often religious, schools.
Because the Montana Constitution provides strong protections for the separation of religion and government, the state Department of Revenue prohibited the use of SSO scholarships to pay for religious education. Parents of students attending religious private schools challenged the decision in state court and ultimately lost. The Montana Supreme Court ultimately struck down the entire program, prohibiting tax-credit funding for all private schools in the state to prevent SSOs from funneling public dollars to private religious schools.
The Supreme Court will decide whether the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the entire Student Scholarship Organizations program violates the religion and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
States like Montana have a longstanding, historical interest in avoiding taxpayer support for religious activities. Forcing them to fund private religious education would be unprecedented. That’s why Interfaith Alliance joined diverse religious and civil rights organizations in an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the separation of religion and government. Learn more.
June Medical Services LLC v. Russo (formerly Gee)
Status: Oral arguments scheduled March 4, 2020
This spring the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, challenging the constitutionality of a Louisiana state law requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Act 620 is nearly identical to a Texas law that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court ruled that targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws are an unconstitutional undue burden on the right to abortion. These laws often disproportionately impact poor, rural, and minority communities.
The Supreme Court will decide whether Act 620 unduly burdens Louisianians’ constitutional right to abortion.
Religious traditions approach the topic of abortion in a myriad of ways. Patients should be free to consult their faith traditions and consciences when making essential health decisions, but Act 620 would place the decision to receive an abortion out of reach for millions of Louisiana residents.
For Interfaith Alliance this is, at its core, a matter of religious freedom. We joined faith-based organizations and allies in an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to protect the ability of all Louisianians to make reproductive healthcare decisions consistent with their own beliefs and circumstances. Read our brief.
Tanzin v. Tanvir
Status: Accepted for review
The Supreme Court will also hear a case brought by Muslim men who were each placed on the “No Fly List” after rebuffing FBI agents’ pressure to inform on their faith communities. They have since been removed, but suffered serious harm as a result of being placed on the list and sued the agents in their official and personal capacities.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) doesn’t permit an injured party to sue the government for money damages under the principle of qualified immunity. But the Court must decide whether individual actors, like FBI agents, can be personally sued for RFRA violations. Interfaith Alliance joined religious and civil rights partners in an amicus brief emphasizing that money damages are often the only way to make whole a party whose religious freedom has been violated, especially when the harm they experienced cannot be resolved prospectively (like changing a discriminatory policy). Read our brief.
American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association
Status: Decided June 20, 2019
On June, the Supreme Court issued a decision in American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association. The case considers whether a large marble cross located on public land and maintained using public funds violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Interfaith Alliance immediately condemned the decision, which allows the 40-foot monument to remain at the center of a public intersection, paid for by local taxpayers. Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, expressed grave concern that the Court would now be in the business of determining what constitutes a religious symbol:
“While today’s Supreme Court ruling in American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association may have been the outcome many expected, the decision to allow the Bladensburg cross to remain on public land endangers religious freedom.
“Under Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court has slowly been chipping away at the separation between religion and government in this country, allowing the religious beliefs of some more weight than others. This case in particular, no matter how narrowly decided or how justices tried to parse old and new memorials, places the Supreme Court in the business of determining what constitutes a religious symbol and justifies the use of public money and land for private beliefs.”