The Supreme Court was dominated last term by fraught cases on civil liberties and marriage equality that will reverberate long after the justices have retired. Here are a few that you should keep a close eye on.
1. Perversion of Islam, United States v. Aziz
A civil rights case focusing on a Washington woman convicted of sending religious texts to a woman who claimed to be Muslim but was not.
Examination of the texts – which deal with topics such as the afterlife and funeral rituals, for example – could reveal unspeakable secrets about whether domestic Muslim women are required to obey their husbands as they reach old age, or whether various Islamic scholars consider “religiously affiliated” women to be possessions of their husbands. The texts also touch on matters such as abortion.
Judge Aaron Persky, of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled in a case called Riggs v. State of California that the California statute was constitutional – which means that Aziz will now be taking her case to the Supreme Court for a ruling that could have sweeping ramifications for a wide range of communications between religious figures and people of faith. Here’s the heart of Persky’s reasoning:
If it were impermissible for a family to counsel its newborn baby to adopt a Christian denomination and to hear the story of a Christian saint and to bring the story to the child’s ears when the infant was of old enough to understand … it would be thought, then, that it was somehow improper to provide the child with something for his eyes only – for his ears only – or in so doing in some way conformed him to the religious viewpoint the family sought to impart upon him.
So could Aziz be allowed to practice Islamic law, even though it’s not technically Islam?
2. Brian Dawkins, Virginia Veterans Medical Center v. Aum Shinrikyo
A case between the Native American tribe of the same name, its founder, and health professionals who have lodged suits claiming they were unfairly treated at a VA facility. The Tribe is alleging harassment, though in court documents it takes the liberty of calling its spiritual leader the Chinook Spirit God, the Sacred Spirit Mother and the Sole Power Source of the Chinook and Southern Spirit realms. The state is also claiming abuse, but medical professionals also alleged that mental health treatments were “deliberately limited to relaxation, meditation, and guided imagery at the expense of substance therapy, and alternatively undiagnosed basic psychiatric problems” and medication that could have changed the subject and improved peoples’ mental health. Ultimately, the legal fight over the “Aum Shinrikyo” name is between Virginia, and will only become relevant to the American public when it reaches the Supreme Court.
It comes down to whether the Tribe is allowed to call itself “Aum Shinrikyo” – or if the name is, as the state says, offensive to the Asian population.
3. Immigration on Trial: Yajaira V. U.S.C.R. 1505
A lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that, according to lawyer Robert Ahdoot, “fundamentally threatens the constitutional relationship between the United States and its citizens”
When a federal law from 1952 allows permanent residents to sponsor their immigrant parents and spouses, those immigrants must then wait ten years to apply for citizenship. But when Congress added a provision requiring applicants for citizenship to come from “family unity,” the law also included a grandfather clause which allowed many people to enter the U.S. legally in the 1960s even if they were not directly related to their sponsor.
The immigration rule has been interpreted by Congress, since then, to mean that only sponsored children are eligible for citizenship – making the children’s parents and spouses ineligible to become citizens. That raises two problems. The first is that it leaves millions of family members out of the scheme. The second is that it favors people over children, in terms of who should become citizens. The mother-in-law to the child in question was born in the U.S., and is a citizen – even though, to be considered a sponsor of her in-laws, she must come from a country other than the U.S. Her potential citizen daughter is a child in the U.S. with no relationship to her parents, even though both of her parents are in the U.S. in the same manner.
So Yajaira V. United States.C.R. 1505 is about who gets a promotion, or whether children can get citizenship. It could take up a lot of time at the Supreme Court.