The U.S. Supreme Court began its term Monday by wrestling over whether states must allow criminal defendants to plead insanity. The one surprise when the justices took the bench was the absence of Justice Clarence Thomas, 71, who was home, likely with the flu, the court said. The court opened a term that could reveal how fast its conservative majority will move, even as Chief Justice John Roberts has vowed to steer clear of partisan politics. Some key cases are below.—AP


Does the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which outlaws job discrimination "because of … sex" — protect gays, lesbians and transgender employees from being fired?

California and 21 other states prohibit such discrimination, but Congress has not added that protection to federal law. In recent years, however, U.S. appeals courts in New York, Chicago and Cincinnati have ruled it is sex discrimination to fire employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Trump administration has urged the court to overturn those decisions.

Arguments in three cases will be heard Tuesday. They are Bostock vs. Clayton County, Altitude Express vs. Zarda and R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Home vs. EEOC.


Was President Donald Trump justified in revoking the Obama-era rule that shielded from deportation more than 700,000 young immigrants who entered the country illegally as children?

In 2017, Trump administration officials said they would "wind down" the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals because President Barack Obama's executive order was illegal and an "unconstitutional exercise of authority." Federal judges in California blocked the repeal on procedural grounds. They said Obama's order was legal so it could not be repealed by claiming it was illegal.

The justices will hear arguments on Nov. 12 in Department of Homeland Security vs. University of California.


Must a state offer grants and scholarships to students in church-related schools if it offers such money to students in other private schools?

Two years ago, the court broke new ground by ruling the First Amendment's protection for the "free exercise of religion" forbids discrimination against churches when the government gives grants to private groups. Most states, however, have constitutions that forbid giving tax money to churches. The Montana Supreme Court, citing its constitution, blocked a state scholarship fund from giving money to students attending church-related schools. The Trump administration argues such discrimination is unconstitutional because it imposes "a special disability on religious schools because they are religious."

Arguments will be heard in January in the case of Espinoza vs. Montana.


Is it a crime for a public official to give a deceptive reason for redirecting the spending of government funds?

The justices have been skeptical of vague laws that give prosecutors too much leeway to decide what is a crime and who is a criminal. In June, they agreed to hear an appeal from Bridget Kelly, a former aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who was convicted of fraud in the so-called Bridgegate scandal. Prosecutors said she and others conspired to shut down two lanes of the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan as part of a "traffic study" when, in fact, their aim was to punish a Democratic mayor who had not endorsed Christie's reelection. They said the fraud cost $3,600 in overtime pay for toll collectors.

Administration lawyers will defend the conviction in January when the court hears arguments in Kelly vs. U.S.


Can Louisiana require that "every physician" who performs abortions have "active admitting privileges" at a nearby hospital, even if this would force all but one its abortion clinics to close?

The high court in 2016 struck down an identical law in Texas, but a conservative appeals court in New Orleans upheld the Louisiana law. The key difference now is that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who joined liberals in the Texas decision, has retired and been replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In February, the justices by a 5-4 vote temporarily blocked the Louisiana law from taking effect. Now, they will decide in June Medical Services vs. Gee whether the law puts an "undue burden" on women in Louisiana who seek an abortion.

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.