U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi

In its first sitting with nine justices on board, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday granted certiorari in no new cases and gave no resolution to closely watched cases involving abortion, religious freedom and mandatory bar association membership.

Those aspects of the court’s weekly orders list may reflect, at least in part, the fact that new Justice Brett Kavanaugh “took no part in the consideration or decision of the motions or petitions appearing on this order list,” as stated in an asterisk on the order list. It is not uncommon for the court’s second orders list of the term to report no new cert grants.

At least three high-profile cases were available to be acted on but were not, likely because they were reviewed by only eight justices, making it harder to reach four votes needed for certiorari.

➤➤ Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association and The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, a dispute over whether a war memorial in the shape of the cross on public land in Maryland violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

➤➤ Gee v. Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast, and Anderson v. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid Missouri, asking whether those states could terminate agreements with Planned Parenthood when Medicaid has a provision allowing free choice of any qualified provider.

➤➤ Fleck v. Wetch, a First Amendment challenge to North Dakota’s mandatory bar association membership laws.

The court did deny cert in a pair of environmental cases in which Kavanaugh would have had to recuse himself because he authored the lower court ruling as a judge on the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Honeywell International v. Mexichem Fluor Inc. and National Resources Defense v. Mexichem Fluor, involving a 2015 rule limiting use of hydrofluorocarbons, a class of climate-damaging chemicals. Kavanaugh said the rule overstepped the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority.

The justices also denied cert in Apodaca v. Raemisch and Lowe v. Raemisch, a pair of cases asserting that prolonged solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment. Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy was critical of solitary confinement, but without him on the court, the cases were dismissed, permitting solitary confinement.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a statement regarding the cert denial, in which she agreed that the petitions were flawed and should not have been granted cert. But she said the issue of solitary confinement “raises deeply troubling concerns” and quoted Kennedy’s statement about it.


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