The Supreme Court's new term may attract a slew of new controversies, even as the high-profile legal fight over President Trump's third effort to enforce a travel ban on citizens of certain countries heads toward the high court.
Ranging from religious liberty and abortion rights to prayer before football games and e-commerce, here are five other prominent disputes working their way through the lower courts that could hit the Supreme Court's docket soon:
Neely v. Wyoming
The Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision to punish a judge based upon comments the judge made to a newspaper about her religious beliefs and same-sex marriage could land soon in the Supreme Court.
After Wyoming legalized same-sex marriage in 2014, a small-town newspaper reporter called Judge Ruth Neely, a Wyoming municipal judge and state court magistrate, and asked her if she was “excited” to perform same-sex weddings, according to attorneys representing the judge. Neely, who was hanging Christmas lights when she received the call, said “no” and cited her religious beliefs when asked for her reasoning.
As a state court magistrate, Neely had the discretionary authority to perform marriage ceremonies in her 2,000-person Wyoming town. While Neely did not turn away anyone seeking a same-sex union, her published comments prompted the Wyoming Supreme Court to censure her and demand that she commit to performing same-sex weddings or stop performing them altogether.
Lawyers from the right-leaning Alliance Defending Freedom have petitioned the Supreme Court to hear Neely’s case and resolve the conflict between her assertion of First Amendment rights and the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
Hargan v. Garza
Trump’s Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to review an illegal immigrant teenager’s decision to have an abortion while in federal custody.
A federal appeals court ruling allowed the teenager in a Texas facility to have an abortion before Texas law blocking most abortions by women more than 20-weeks pregnant could take effect.
The teenager, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, had the abortion early in the morning of Oct. 25, the day after the appeals court ruling and before the Justice Department could challenge the appeals court’s opinion allowing the abortion to proceed.
Trump’s Justice Department subsequently asked the Supreme Court to hear its challenge and provide guidance for other lower courts to follow. The agency also suggested discipline may be warranted against the ACLU, who Trump’s team said “misled” the Justice Department.
South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc.
South Dakota is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a ban on sales taxes for Internet retailers.
States across the country could win the right to extract billions of dollars of tax revenue from online retailers with no presence in their states if the Supreme Court rules in South Dakota’s favor and scraps part of an earlier high court ruling.
In petitioning the high court for review, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley appears to have tailored his argument toward Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is mentioned 25 times in the 38-page brief.
Thirty-six states’ attorneys general filed a brief in support of South Dakota earlier this month, including both Republicans and Democrats. Both Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a pro-Trump Republican, and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, an anti-Trump Democrat, have signed on to the same brief supporting South Dakota.
Kennedy v. Bremerton School District
The battle over who kneels before and after football games and their reasons for doing so may soon arrive at the Supreme Court.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August against a Washington state high school football coach who was suspended for kneeling in prayer after games, deciding it was unlikely the coach could show the school district had violated his constitutional rights.
Attorneys for the coach asked the Western federal appeals court to provide a fuller review of the Ninth Circuit’s panel opinion that found Coach Joseph Kennedy “took advantage of his position to press his particular views upon the impressionable and captive minds before him.”
Trump, who has weighed in repeatedly opposing NFL players’ decision to kneel in protest during the national anthem, took particular interest in Kennedy’s case as a presidential candidate and tweeted a message in support of the Washington state coach in 2015.
While the lower courts may not have finished their review of the case, it has the makings of a future high court controversy.
Harvest Family Church v. FEMA
The record-breaking hurricane season has spawned new litigation about whether churches have the right to federal disaster relief.
Three Houston churches wrecked by Hurricane Harvey sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency in September over the agency’s refusal to provide them access to disaster-relief grants because of the churches’ religious status.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing the churches, has argued that houses of worship should be considered on par with “private nonprofit societal institutions such as community centers and zoos” in their effort to obtain disaster-relief assistance from the federal government.
Oral arguments in the case began in federal court Tuesday, but its adjudication could affect ongoing disaster response and relief efforts in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and elsewhere across the country. While the litigation appears to be in its infancy, it's not hard to imagine the challenge arriving at the Supreme Court in the not-too-distant future.