Taking Up 5 Cases, High Court Clears Way for Trial on Census Change

WASHINGTON (CN) –  In a flurry of activity late Friday, the Supreme Court refused to block a trial over the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census and took up five new cases for the term.

Though the order in the census case notes that Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were each in favor of a stay, no opinion or dissent was filed with the decision.

The Commerce Department had lobbied for the stay earlier this week, with a trial in New York set to begin on Monday.

Led by New York, the challengers in the case contend that Commerce Secretary Wilbur ross added the citizenship question with discriminatory intent. Though the Supreme Court blocked an order last month for Ross to be deposed, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman rejected a motion to put the trial on hold.

“It would be hard enough for that normally lengthy process to run its course by next May or June — when the census questionnaires are apparently scheduled to be printed — if these cases proceed to trial on November 5, 2018,” Furman wrote. “Granting a stay of indefinite duration could make a timely final decision next to impossible.”

The challengers contend that the citizenship question will discourage participation by immigrants of color, causing population undercounts that will reduce the political power and federal funding of blue states for a decade.

In addition to the order denying Ross a stay, the Supreme Court granted certiorari Friday in a case concerning the constitutionality of a nearly 100-year-old veterans memorial honoring the 49 men from Prince George’s County, Maryland, who were killed in World War I.

After the Fourth Circuit agreed with the American Humanist Association that the memorial amounts to an unconstitutional establishment of religion, the American Legion petitioned the high court for a reversal.

The Supreme Court consolidated its grant in the case Friday with that of a parallel case from Maryland-National Capital Park. Per their custom, the justices did not otherwise comment on the case.

Friday’s order list includes a grant of certiorari to another verteran’s case, that of Vietnam War veteran Robert Gray who says he has been fighting for over 11 years to obtain disability benefits after his exposure to Agent Orange on the U.S.S. Roark left him with diabetes, neuropathy, heart disease and other ailments.

Though the Federal Circuit found that it lacks jurisdiction to review the interpretive rules of the Department of Veteran Affairs, Gray says this erroneous holding must be overturned.

The Supreme Court also took up a case Friday that went before the Sixth Circuit, involving a claim for supplemental security income benefits filed by Ricky Lee Smith with the Social Security Administration.

Smith’s case was one of two from the Sixth Circuit in Friday’s order list. The second case involves Jason Mont, who says he was arrested in Ohio for violating the terms of his probation after his supervised-release sentence had expired.

The Supreme Court took up a capital case as well. In it, Mississippi inmate Curtis Flowers says that the prosecutor in his case “relentlessly removed as many qualified African American jurors as he could.”

Finally on Friday the Supreme Court called for reargument of a dispute involving private cemeteries.

The U.S. Supreme Court already heard argument in the cemetery case Knick v. Scott Township, Pennsylvania, last month, but an order filed late today invites the parties and the solicitor general to brief the court on an alternative argument for vacatur that the petitioner raised at oral argument.

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