Travel ban, church-state case await action by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is declining to reinstate a lawsuit filed by the brother of an Oklahoma man whose botched execution in 2014 lasted almost 45 minutes.

The nine-justice court ended its 2016-2017 term on Monday with a flurry of rulings.

With four mostly conservative justices and four mostly liberal ones, Kennedy is often the decider, the man in the middle.

Gorsuch is already delivering as the strong conservative President Donald Trump promised his voters when he ran for office a year ago. With President Trump under investigation by the special counsel and his approval rating mired below 40 percent, his incentive may be to cater to his base with a pick as far to the right as possible, an instinct enabled by the Republicans' move, during the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch, to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. The decision itself is of little effect, but Gorsuch's opinion shows he's a thorough-going textualist and flashes a little judicial humility.

One of these issues was Trump's travel ban, where Gorsuch, together with Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito, criticized the other justices for refusing to allow all of the executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries to come into force while the case is reviewed.

In a ruling today on Donald J. Trump v International Refugee Assistance Project, also known as the revised version of Trump's travel ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries, Gorsuch sided with Thomas (pdf) in dissenting from a partial reinstatement. In the meantime, the court said Monday that Trump's ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen can be enforced if those visitors lack a "credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States".

To liberals he is a hero for Obergefell v. Hodges - a landmark opinion that cleared the way for same-sex marriage in 2015 and will likely be his most lasting legacy.

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Gorsuch dissented, calling the decision "overbroad", and justifying the Arkansas law as merely "designed to ensure that the biological parents of a child are listed on the child's birth certificate". The court will also take on the case of a baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. Gorsuch once served as a clerk for Kennedy.

Not even Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the principal dissent in Obergefell, signed on.

The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal in the case of a Somali farmer who alleges he was tortured by a former Somali military officer now living in Virginia. On Monday the court finally pulled the trigger after months of inexplicable inaction. Without Kennedy's vote, the law would have been allowed to go into effect, inspiring other states to pass similar legislation. While no one knows the vote count, the unusual timing implies that there might not have been the necessary fourth vote to hear the case until Gorsuch was ready to participate.

Those who pushed for his nomination were thrilled.

"Neil Gorsuch, who I did not support as a Supreme Court justice, he's joined two of the most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Alito on the court to take the position that the entire injunction should have been lifted", she said on MSNBC.

Helping drive the speculation, dozens of Kennedy's former law clerks traveled to Washington this weekend to participate in a private clerk reunion that occurs regularly - and many of them wondered if it will be their last chance to meet with him while he is still on the bench.

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