GOING THE DISTANCE
The U.S. Supreme Court is releasing its final decisions of the 2020-2021 term. An analysis found that 67% of the court’s opinions argued during this term have been unanimous or near-unanimous with just one justice dissenting. We’ll take a look at some of the latest cases and orders of the court.
FREESTYLE NOT BACKSTROKE
In a blow to states’ rights, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a private pipeline can seize land from the state of New Jersey for its construction. In the 5-4 decision, the majority argued that the federal government can deputize private entities to seize land under the federal government’s eminent domain rights. The majority rejected New Jersey’s argument that the pipeline company taking its land violated its sovereign immunity protecting it from lawsuits, including property condemnation suits. The court also found that New Jersey gave up its ability to evade eminent domain by ratifying the Constitution.
In a victory for student speech rights, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a former cheerleader’s profane social media post about her school is protected speech under the First Amendment. As previously reported, the student posted this while off-campus. However, in the 8-1 decision, the court declared that school administrators do have the power to punish student speech that occurs online or off campus if it genuinely disrupts classroom study, including speech that is harassing, bullying, cheating, or otherwise disruptive.
GOING FOR THE SPIKE
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a school’s appeal in a dispute over bathrooms for transgender students and let a lower court ruling stand that a Virginia school had been discriminatory by barring a transgender student from the men’s bathroom. The lawsuit focused on the 14th Amendment, which says no state can deny “equal protection of its laws” to any of its people. Last year the court ruled that a federal civil rights law bans employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and now the Biden administration has interpreted that ruling as applying to Title IX as well. This order, however, does not set national precedent on whether schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom that fits their identity.
DOING A 180
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a Colorado medical marijuana dispensary that was denied federal tax breaks that other businesses are allowed. In the order, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that because of the hodgepodge of federal policies on marijuana, federal laws against its use or cultivation may no longer make sense. He stated that the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2005 upholding federal laws making marijuana possession illegal may now be out of date.
THE FINAL SPRINT
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hand down the last opinions of the term on Thursday. Only two cases are left to be decided: closely watched cases involving the Voting Rights Act and California’s nonprofit donor disclosure rules.
ANOTHER CANNABIS STATE
Connecticut is now the 19th state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Starting July 1, people 21 and over will be allowed to possess and smoke marijuana or eat and drink cannabis products. Retail sales are not expected to begin until next year, and cities and towns can block sales. And looking south of the U.S. border, the Mexico Supreme Court struck down laws which criminalized the recreational use of cannabis. Now, Mexican citizens over 18 years of age need to apply for a permit to legally obtain cannabis.
NEW TESTING DECISION
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that employers cannot subject all warehouse employees to random drug testing by designating them as having “safety sensitive” jobs. In its 4-3 ruling, the court ruled that companies must consider the specific duties of each worker when designating safety-based drug testing programs and not just where they worked.
Making Our Way Around the Country
The Biden administration announced a compromised $1 trillion infrastructure deal with Democrats and Republicans. The eight-year proposal includes $249 billion for roads, bridges, railways, public transport, and airports. In addition, almost $140 billion would be pumped into the power grid and expanding access to broadband internet. The bill will not raise taxes on middle-income Americans nor reverse the cuts to business taxes that were passed during the Trump administration. However, another bill being drafted by Sen. Bernie Sanders addressing climate change, education, paid leave, and childcare benefits is expected to include tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.
The State’s Assembly passed a bill that would create a new $10 million grant program to help communities clean up contamination from “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. However, under the bill, any local government that accepts a grant is barred from bringing any legal action against the person or party responsible for the contamination. Grants could also not be awarded to any entity that has already received an award from a lawsuit. The bill now heads to the Senate.
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