School Funding

Supreme Court to hear case on funding for religious schools: NPR


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The Supreme Court

After making its final term rulings on Thursday, the Supreme Court on Friday granted a religious freedom case for the next term and dismissed challenges to long-standing rulings on qualified immunity and defamation, sparking dissent from the part curators of the court.

Court agrees to hear religious freedom case, but rejects another

The judges agreed to consider a constitutional challenge to a Maine school funding program that excludes private schools that teach religion.

Only half of Maine’s school districts have their own high schools. The rest pay for students to attend public schools in other districts or attend private schools. The state, however, will not fund students who attend a school offering religious education.

Parents who wanted to send their children to a private Christian school challenged the law, alleging it violated their right to freely practice their religion. The First Circuit disagreed, but now the High Court will hear their case.

Judges, however, declined to hear another religious freedom case – this one brought by a Washington state florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage. She alleged that the state’s anti-discrimination law violated her First Amendment rights, and in 2017 the Washington Supreme Court ruled against her.

Although judges refused to hear his appeal on Friday, three of the court’s conservatives – Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch – reportedly took him for the next term.

Thomas calls for waived qualified immunity

Also on Friday, Judge Thomas again asked the court to remove qualified immunity, the legal shield for police officers that has come under scrutiny in the past year of racial justice protests.

Thomas disagreed with the court’s refusal to hear the case of a student promoting Turning Point USA, a right-wing organization known for publishing lists of college professors it deems hostile to conservatives. The student claimed that the Arkansas State University campus police violated her First Amendment rights by preventing her from advertising the organization to the student union. But campus officers escaped the lower court’s responsibility because of qualified immunity, a doctrine created by the Supreme Court in 1967 that has turned into an almost impenetrable bulwark for police.

“Why should university officers,” Thomas writes, “be afforded the same protection as a police officer who decides in a split second to use force in a dangerous environment? Going further, Thomas questioned whether the doctrine created by justice should exist, an opinion that gained a growing bipartisan consensus following the murder of George Floyd.

Thomas and Gorsuch call for overturning historic precedent for free speech

The court declined to hear a defamation case brought by a Miami-born international arms dealer – portrayed in the 2016 film War Dogs – against the author of a book about his life.

The lower court dismissed the action. He pointed to a landmark 1964 First Amendment decision in which the High Court ruled that publishers are safe from libel suits brought by public figures, as long as publishers do not know, or have no reason to know, that the information they published was false.

Thomas and Gorsuch were both dissenters, arguing the court should overturn the nearly 50-year-old precedent. In the age of disinformation, “lies do real harm,” writes Thomas. “Instead of continuing to isolate those who tell lies,” Thomas said, the court should narrow First Amendment protections.

In a separate dissent, Gorsuch agreed. In 1964, publishers needed defamation protection if unpopular views were to survive. Indeed, the 1964 court ruling was first used to protect civil rights leaders who ran a New York Times ad criticizing Montgomery, Alabama police for repeatedly arresting Martin Luther King Jr. .

But, said Gorsuch, in 2021, “it is less clear what strength [libel protections have] in a world in which everyone carries a soapbox in their hands ”, referring to smartphones. Now, Gorsuch wrote, “the game seems stacked against those with traditional (and expensive) journalistic standards – and in favor of those who can deliver the most sensational news as effectively as possible without any particular concern for the truth.”

Another execution

In addition to their rulings on the next term’s cases, the judges have given Alabama the green light to execute Matthew Reeves, whose death sentence was recently overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is the second time the judges have ruled against Reeves, who in 1998 was convicted of murder in Alabama. In 2002, Reeves first challenged his sentence in state court. He argued that due to his low IQ, his lawyer should have hired an expert to assess him for intellectual disability. After 15 years of appeals, the Supreme Court dismissed his claim in 2017, so Reeves appealed his claim through the federal system.

But on Friday, the High Court again dismissed his challenge, allowing Alabama to move forward with his execution. Judge Sotomayor, joined by Judge Kagan, expressed his dissent, criticizing the state court for its blunt dismissal of Reeves’ claim.

Sotomayor drew attention to “a disturbing trend in which this tribunal seeks to summarily cancel all subsidies awarded to those threatened with execution.” The court, Sotomayor wrote, “made deference” to state courts “a rule that … help is never available to those at risk of execution.”

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