The United States Supreme Court on June 27 ended its 2018-2019 session, which began last October. It was a work year that unfolded against a volatile political background and as individual justices faced their own delicate dilemmas.
Here are some highlights of the session as compiled by the Washington Post:
• Shortly after the Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh, 50-48, to succeed retired Justice Anthony Kennedy he took his oath of office on the evening of Oct. 8, 2018. President Donald Trump referred to the sexual assault claim asserted against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford, from their high school years. Kavanaugh categorically denied Ford’s claim, which was neither conclusively dismissed nor validated.
• Speaking at the University of Minnesota on Oct. 16, Chief Justice John Roberts tried to lower the post-Kavanaugh hearing political tensions. “I will not criticize the political branches,” Roberts said. “We do that often enough in our opinions. But what I would like to do, briefly, is emphasize how the judicial branch is – and how it must be — very different. We do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle, we do not caucus in separate rooms and we do not serve one party or one interest. We serve one nation.”
• Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has surgery on Dec. 21 to remove the cancerous nodules on her left lung.
• After Trump disparaged a lower court judge who ruled against the administration in an asylum dispute as an “Obama judge,” Roberts, on Nov. 21, issued a remarkable statement implicitly criticizing the president and asserting judicial neutrality.
• The death penalty discussion led to a prolonged public fight. On the first Thursday in February, by a 5-4 vote, the court allowed an Alabama inmate, Domineque Ray, to be executed without his choice of a religious minister by his side. Ray, a Muslim, had requested an imam. Prison officials disallowed Ray’s choice.
• In a later death penalty dispute, the justices split 5-4 along ideological lines to reject a Missouri inmate’s claim that execution by lethal injection would cause him unconstitutional suffering.
• Justice Clarence Thomas, a 1991 appointee who is the longest-serving member of this bench, was the subject of retirement rumors throughout the annual session. Questioned about any plans to step down, he told an audience at Pepperdine University this spring, “I’m not retiring.”
• In a final set of orders released on Friday, the justices announced they would hear a challenge to Trump’s attempt to end the Obama administration policy that protects from deportation, hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the country as children and lack proper documentation. The court had stalled any action on the Trump administration’s appeal in the matter for months.
But now the high-profile dispute on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be part of a 2019-2020 court calendar that already includes contentious cases over gun rights and LGBTQ protections in the workplace.
• As state legislatures were adopting a multitude of new abortion regulations, including outright bans on the procedure, Justice Stephen Breyer, on May 13, penned an ominous dissenting opinion on a California tax case that referred to a high court abortion-rights milestone. Joined by his fellow liberal justices as the conservative majority reversed a 1979 tax precedent, Breyer wrote, “Today’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the court will overrule next.”
• When the justices heard arguments over the Trump administration’s proposed addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census on April 23, it appeared the five conservative justices were ready to accept the administration’s grounds for adding the controversial query to the decennial survey. Opponents noted that census analysts said the question would diminish census participation by recent immigrants and Hispanic citizens. A decision is expected this summer.