September 30, 2015 at 2:58 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Supreme Court unlikely to hear LGBT cases in new term
Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to deliver major LGBT rulings in its upcoming term. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

During the upcoming term of the U.S. Supreme Court, justices are likely to follow their monumental ruling in favor of same-sex marriage with barely a peep on LGBT issues.

On Monday, the Supreme Court met behind closed doors for the first conference of its term, which was set to begin exactly one week later.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said the Supreme Court’s upcoming term will likely be less consequential in terms of LGBT issues following the marriage ruling.

“The popular wisdom is they’re not going to rush in to decide more cases right now,” Davidson said. “They’ve done a lot in the last number of years and unless they feel like there’s something that the lower courts are really getting wrong, they’re not going to be looking for other LGBT issues to tackle right away.”

One petition before the Supreme Court is another legal challenge to New Jersey’s ban on widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy for minors, which was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The petition was filed by the conservative legal firm Liberty Counsel on Aug. 10.

The Supreme Court has twice before declined to review state bans on prohibiting the practice of “ex-gay” therapy for minors. Justices denied a certiorari petition for a lawsuit challenging California’s ban, and earlier this year denied a different request to review the Third Circuit’s decision in the New Jersey case.

Andrea Bowen, executive director of the New Jersey-based Garden State Equality, predicted the Supreme Court would likely reject this second challenge to her state’s conversion therapy ban.

“We’re highly confident that this will be rejected,” Bowen said. “We’ve seen stunning statements from lower courts affirming repeatedly that conversion therapy bans are constitutional, and we believe that this is settled law.”

But the decision on that petition may well be the only word from the Supreme Court on LGBT issues for its 2015-2016 term. Other cases affecting LGBT people are too far down the pipeline for review by the Supreme Court before the expected final day of its term in June 2016.

One such case is the continued litigation against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has enforced a “no licenses” policy in her office after the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage. A district court has already enjoined her from enforcing that policy and the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have refused to stay that order, but technically her lawsuit is ongoing

On Tuesday, the Liberty Counsel, which is defending Davis, filed a request before the Sixth Circuit seeking to consolidate her appeals before the appellate court.

She’s appealing (1) the order against her itself, (2) the clarification it extends to everyone as opposed to just the plaintiff couples, (3) the district court’s decision that Davis cannot sue Gov. Steve Beshear refusing to grant her an accommodation under the state’s religious freedom law because it should be handled in state courts and (4) U.S. District Judge David Bunning’s decision to hold Davis in contempt of court.

Also potentially on the way to Supreme Court is a decision by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., discriminated against a same-sex couple for denying them a cake for their wedding. In August, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the commission’s decision that the bakery violated Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, but the business pledged to continue litigation all the way to the Supreme Court.

But the case has yet to be reviewed by the Colorado Supreme Court, which would first have to render a decision before the bakery’s lawyers could petition the Supreme Court for review.

One lawsuit that’s not overtly related to LGBT issues, but may have an impact on LGBT people is Evenwel v. Abbott, a case in which conservative groups are promoting the idea the “one-person, one-vote” principle requires states to use registered or eligible voting population, not total population, to apportion state legislative districts. The Supreme Court already agreed to review the case in May for its upcoming term.

Davidson, whose organization has joined a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court in the case, said the litigation’s outcome will be important to LGBT people.

“What they’re trying to do is to move power in the legislatures to the areas of the states that have fewer young people who aren’t eligible to vote and fewer immigrants who aren’t eligible to vote, fewer people who may be disqualified with voter ID restrictions or by felony disenfranchisement restrictions,” Davidson said. “This is an attempt to move power out of the cities and into more conservative areas of the states, which would have very negative impacts on wide ranges of issues, but particularly on LGBT issues.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Thanks. Terrific Blade reporting on SCOTUS, as usual.

  • This Kim Davis issue obviously shows that despite winning marriage equality legally, Christian conservatives will continue to look for ways to undermine or weaken it just like they have over abortion.

    You can say the fight for marriage is over but really it’s just morphing into something else. Social conservatives will never give up on fighting marriage equality anymore than they have abortion!

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