Wuhan Virus and the Supreme Court

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

In this Oct. 4, 2018 photo, the U.S. Supreme Court is seen at sunset in Washington. The Supreme Court is refusing a new invitation to rule on gun rights, leaving in place California restrictions on carrying concealed handguns in public. The justices on Monday rejected an appeal from Sacramento residents who argued that they were unfairly denied permits to be armed in public.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)


The Supreme Court had some interesting cases ready for oral argument before the Wuhan virus shut down Washington and the rest of the country.  However, life goes on and this is an update on happenings at the Court.

Previously, this writer covered the Court’s decision regarding the Wisconsin primary.  To summarize, a lower court ruled that the date for receipt of absentee ballots would be extended for a week from an 8:00 PM postmark on April 7th to 4:00 PM April 13th.  This was after governor Tony Evers first attempted to move back the date of the primary, the state supreme court ruled he lacked that authority and the Republican legislature refused to delay the primary.  The Wisconsin Democrats appealed to the Supreme Court who ruled in a 5-4 decision, relying on a little known precedent, that last minute delays were suspect, would lead to voter confusion and then vacated the lower court ruling.  The Democrats yelled “disenfranchisement” and the Court yelled “precedent.”  Incidentally, Biden won.

In other events, the Court announced that they would be holding oral arguments in 13 cases over ten hours between May 4 and May 13.  The arguments will be held through a teleconference.  The most important cases involve subpoenas against Trump over financial information, the employment decisions of private Catholic school teachers, and whether electors are permitted to cast votes against the winner of the state’s popular vote.  Most importantly, the Court announced that they were allowing live-audio media access to the arguments (media access will be pooled).  This is an important development as the Court, not exactly known for breaking with tradition, is usually devoid of only the basic technology.  Although a schedule has not been announced given the availability of litigants, in at least one case a lawyer has agreed to have the case deferred to the next term that begins in October.

The Supreme Court dodged an abortion bullet.  In response to the Wuhan epidemic, Governor Abbott’s order in Texas determined that abortions were non-essential.  Planned Parenthood immediately appealed to the Supreme Court to allow medication abortions continue as planned since no protective surgical equipment was necessary.  Medication abortions involve taking pills.  However, before the Court could act, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that medication abortions were not covered under Abbott’s public health emergency order.  This ruling came down before the Supreme Court asked Texas to respond to Planned Parenthood’s petition.  On Tuesday April 14th, Planned Parenthood withdrew their petition before the Supreme Court.

In January in a 5-4 decision, the Court granted a request by the Trump administration for permission to enforce the “public charge” rule governing the admission of immigrants to the United States.  Per Wikipedia: “Under the public charge rule, immigrants to United States classified as Likely or Liable to become a Public Charge may be denied visas or permission to enter the country due to their disabilities or lack of economic resources.”  The rule has been available since 1882.  A federal district court in New York had previously blocked the administration from enforcing the rule and the 5-4 decision vacated that ruling pending appeal.

The state of New York and several municipalities have petitioned the Court to block the government from enforcing the rule given the Wuhan virus pandemic in New York.  They said that enforcing the rule would inhibit state efforts to control the spread of the virus.  The filing claims enforcement would have grave implications for public health because immigrants- legal and illegal- would avoid testing and access to health care.  They further note that many immigrants occupy jobs considered “essential” like home healthcare aids, custodians, and cooks.  They finally stated that when the Court issued the 5-4 decision in January, they could not have anticipated the pandemic.  In the alternative, they request that the case be remanded to the district court to consider whether a delay in enforcement is warranted until the “crisis” is over.