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Justice Barrett Joins Court in Hearing Oral Arguments in Five Cases

Photo attribution: By Rachel Malehorn – Direct link, smugmug.com, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95572669

Newly-confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined her colleagues on the Supreme Court for her first full week of oral arguments. The Court heard arguments in five cases, with issues ranging from the Freedom of Information Act’s (FOIA) deliberative process privilege to the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

Below is a brief summary of the issues before the Court:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club: The case involves FOIA’s key deliberative process privilege, which covers “predecisional” materials written as part of the decision-making process in federal agencies. The specific question before the Court is [w]hether FOIA’s Exemption 5, by incorporating the deliberative process privilege, protects against compelled disclosure of a federal agency’s draft documents that were prepared as part of a formal interagency consultation process under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and that concerned a proposed agency action that was later modified in the consultation process.

Salinas v. United States Railroad Retirement Board: The case requires the justices to determine whether, under Section 5(f) of the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act and Section 8 of the Railroad Retirement Act, the Railroad Retirement Board’s denial of a request to reopen a prior benefits determination is a “final decisionsubject to judicial review.

Jones v. Mississippi: The case will further clarify juvenile sentencing requirement under the Eight Amendment following the Supreme Court’s decision inMiller v. Alabama, where the Court held that juvenile defendants could not be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole and Montgomery v. Louisiana, where the Court held that the rule it established in Miller was retroactive and applied to all juveniles except “those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.” The question the Court must now answer is “[w]hether the Eighth Amendment requires the sentencing authority to make a finding that a juvenile is permanently incorrigible before imposing a sentence of life without parole.”

Borden v. United States: The Court continues to clarify the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The question this time around is whether the “use of force” clause encompass crimes with a mens rea of mere recklessness.

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The closely-watched case involves whether the City of Philadelphia can ban Catholic Social Services (CSS) from providing foster care services because it has refused to consider same-sex couples as foster parents due to their LGBTQ+ status. The specific issues before the Court are: “whether free exercise plaintiffs can only succeed by proving a particular type of discrimination claim — namely that the government would allow the same conduct by someone who held different religious views — as two circuits have held, or whether courts must consider other evidence that a law is not neutral and generally applicable, as six circuits have held; (2) whether Employment Division v. Smith should be revisited; and (3) whether the government violates the First Amendment by conditioning a religious agency’s ability to participate in the foster care system on taking actions and making statements that directly contradict the agency’s religious beliefs.”

Decisions in all of the case are expected by the end of the term in June 2021. Please check back for updates.

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