8 Cases to Watch at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020-2021

US Supreme Court building

The U.S. Supreme Court began its 2020-2021 term in October. There are a number of high-profile cases on the docket, including disputes over voting rights, LGBTQ rights, and the Affordable Care Act.

The Court hears oral arguments from October through April. The justices continue to add new cases to the docket, so it’s highly probable more hot-topic cases will be granted as the term goes on. Opinions are usually handed down by the last day of the Court’s term. With the exception of this deadline, there are no rules concerning when decisions must be released.

With all that in mind, here are eight cases to watch at the Supreme Court:

Germany v. Philipp

On Dec. 7, the Court heard oral arguments on whether the heirs of Jewish art dealers can sue in U.S. courts to retrieve a collection of medieval ecclesiastical art, known as the Guelph Treasure, from Germany. The Guelph Treasure was originally purchased by Jewish dealers in 1929 and their heirs claim the dealers were coerced to sell the works at a reduced price as part of the Nazis’ campaign to persecute Germany’s Jewish population. The heirs brought the case in U.S. courts under a rarely used clause in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that gives an exception for lawsuits concerning the taking of property in violation of international law. 

Azar v. Gresham and Arkansas v. Gresham

The Court will decide whether the Trump administration may impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients in Arkansas and New Hampshire. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had struck down the requirements which would have denied health care coverage under Medicaid to poor people in Arkansas and New Hampshire unless they were working, volunteering, or training for a job. The appeals court ruled that by tying Medicaid coverage to employment, community service, or job training, the programs risked undermining the goal of furnishing health care, which is the principal objective of Medicaid. As of this writing, the cases were not scheduled for oral arguments and will likely not be argued until late winter or early spring.

Edwards v. Vannoy

Last April, the Court ruled that non-unanimous jury verdicts violated the Sixth Amendment’s right to a jury trial. However, that decision only applied to future cases. Earlier this month, the justices debated whether April’s new rule should apply retroactively to prisoners in Louisiana and Oregon who were convicted by non-unanimous juries. The justices heard the case of Thedrick Edwards, a Louisiana prisoner who had been convicted by a non-unanimous jury. Edwards’ lawyers argued that he is entitled to a new trial in light of the April decision declaring such verdicts unconstitutional. 

Trump v. New York

The justices heard oral arguments last month challenging the Trump administration’s instructions to exclude noncitizens from the 2020 census’s base population number for purposes of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives. If the justices allow the administration to implement the plan before it leaves office in January, states with large immigrant populations could lose seats, while states with fewer immigrants could gain them. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau has indicated it probably will not be able to meet the usual Dec. 31 deadline to report the new state population figures to the president. It remains unclear whether the justices will rule on this case before the new population figures are finalized.

Arizona Republican Party v. Democratic National Committee and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee

The Court will hear a proposal to reinstate a pair of Arizona voting restrictions that were struck down by a lower court as racially-biased. One of the policies requires voters who vote in person to use their assigned precincts or their provisional ballots will not be counted. The second voting restriction at issue is an Arizona law that bars “ballot harvesting”—the collection and return of mail-in ballots by someone other than a voter’s caregiver, family member, mail carrier, or election official. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) argues that both restrictions violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars racial discrimination in voting. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with the DNC and ruled that because racial minorities disproportionately use ballot harvesting and vote outside of their precincts, Section 2 forbids the state from eliminating those practices. The cases are not yet scheduled for oral arguments.

California v. Texas

Last month the Court heard a third challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The challengers argued that the ACA’s original design depended on a requirement that most people purchase insurance as well as a tax penalty for noncompliance. As President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 set the individual mandate penalty to $0, the challengers argued that the individual mandate is no longer a tax and is therefore illegal, which should cause the entire health law to be struck down. 

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

In November, the justices heard a dispute between a Catholic foster care agency and the city of Philadelphia. The city severed ties with the organization after learning that the Catholic group refused to place foster children in the homes of same-sex couples, in violation of Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination ordinance. The organization alleged that the ordinance has unfairly targeted religious contractors whose sincerely held objection to gay marriage is protected under the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment. 

Trump v. Sierra Club

The Sierra Club, along with the Southern Border Communities Coalition, sued the Trump administration regarding the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Much of the funding for the wall comes from money that the Pentagon reallocated from other sources. The opponents of the wall argue that the administration lacks the power to spend more than Congress already allocated for border security. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with the challengers, the federal government asked the Supreme Court to rule directly on the issue. The case is currently not yet scheduled for oral arguments.