Supreme Court Begins Election Year Term Full of Big Cases

supreme court
The Supreme Court building. (Reuters/Leah Millis/File)

The justices are returning to the Supreme Court bench for the start of an election year term that includes high-profile cases such as funding for religious institutions via scholarships, protections for young immigrants and more.

The court meets on Monday, Oct. 7 for its first public session since late June. First up is a death penalty case from Kansas about whether states can abolish an insanity defense for criminal defendants.

The justices also will hear arguments Monday in a challenge to a murder conviction by a non-unanimous jury in Louisiana.

The term could reveal how far to the right and how fast the court’s conservative majority will move, even as Chief Justice John Roberts has made clear he wants to keep the court clear of Washington partisan politics. The court is beginning its second term with both of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, on board.

On Nov. 12, the court is to hear a case concerning protections for young immigrants. President Trump first announced his intention in 2017 to end the Obama-era program that protected from deportation and gave work permits to roughly 700,000 people who, as children, entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was never authorized by Congress. At issue before the court is whether the way the administration has tried to wind down the program is lawful. There seems to be little debate that Trump has the discretion to do so, as long as his administration complies with a federal law that generally requires orderly changes to policies.

No date has been set for a case concerning religious school funding, in which the Montana Supreme Court struck down a state program that provided tax credits for contributions to a private school scholarship fund because religious schools were included in the program. The state court said the program violated a state constitutional ban on sending public funds to religious institutions, even indirectly through the scholarship program. Montana parents are challenging the ruling as a violation of their religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.

On Oct. 16, the issue of “life with parole” sentences for juveniles will be back before the court in the person of Lee Boyd Malvo, who as a teenager terrorized the Washington, D.C., region in 2002 as one-half of a sniper team. At issue for the justices is whether Malvo should be resentenced in Virginia in light of Supreme Court rulings restricting life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed by juveniles. The case gives the more conservative court the chance to put the brakes on what has been a gradual move toward more leniency for juvenile offenders.

No date has been set yet for the “Bridgegate” case, in which Bridget Anne Kelly, aide to then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, sent an email — “Time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee” — that led to the scandal of lane closures on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge to punish a local officeholder. Kelly was convicted of fraud. The justices have agreed to hear her argument that her actions must be viewed in the rough and tumble of politics and did not constitute a crime.

A case from New York City could be the court’s most significant word on gun rights in a decade, or it could go away altogether because of changes in local and state law since the justices agreed to weigh in. At issue is a New York City ordinance that prohibited licensed gun owners from carrying their unloaded weapons to shooting ranges or second homes outside the city. New York has amended the ordinance and the state also has passed a law requiring local governments to allow licensed gun owners to transport their weapons. That could make the case go away, even if the justices often frown on an effort by one party to end a case after it has been accepted for review.