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About the SCOTUS Blog

June 4, 2017

This post is a public service announcement of sorts.

I was doing some research on the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) case, Trinity Lutheran vs. Comer, and I wondered whether my readers know about the SCOTUS blog and other SCOTUS online resources.

Yes, the Supreme Court case info can be found on a blog called the SCOTUS blog. However, do not get the idea that the justices themselves write for the blog. SCOTUS blog was created in 2002 by lawyers Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe, and use of the blog falls under creative commons licensing. (See fine print,  bottom center of any blog page.) So, the SCOTUS blog– called the Supreme Court of the United States blog (see fine print under blog title) is privately operated. An additional note from the “about” page:

SCOTUSblog is devoted to comprehensively covering the U.S. Supreme Court without bias and according to the highest journalistic and legal ethical standards. The blog is provided as a public service. …

The blog generally reports on every merits case before the Court at least three times: prior to argument, after argument, and after the decision. In certain cases, we invite the advocates to record summaries of their arguments for podcasts. The blog notes all of the non-pauper cert. petitions that raise a legal question which in Tom’s view may interest the Justices; we give additional coverage to particularly significant petitions. For the merits cases and the petitions we cover, we provide access to all the briefs.

The blog has a search feature (top right corner), which allows one to search either blog or docket (or both by default).

For example, I entered the search term, “vouchers,” and one of the results was an April 2017 blog post on the Trinity vs. Comer case, entitled, “Argument Preview: More Than Just a Playground Dispute.” An excerpt:

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this preview ran on August 8, 2016, as an introduction to the blog’s symposium on Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. The post has been updated to reflect events that occurred after the post was originally published.]

One year, three months, and four days after the justices originally agreed to review it, the court will finally hear oral argument in a dispute that began as a battle over a playground – or, to be precise, the surfaces of the playground at the daycare and preschool operated by a Missouri church. The church argues that its exclusion from a state program that provides grants to help nonprofits buy rubber playground surfaces violates the Constitution, because it discriminates against religious institutions. The state counters that there is no constitutional violation, because the church can still worship or run its daycare as it sees fit – the state just isn’t going to pay to resurface the playground. The two sides (and their supporters) do agree on one thing, however: The stakes in the case could be far bigger than playground surfaces.

The dispute dates back to 2012, when Trinity Lutheran Church applied for a state program that reimburses nonprofits for the purchase and installation of rubber playground surfaces made from recycled tires. …

Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, which administers the playground program, ranked Trinity Lutheran’s application fifth out of the 44 that were submitted. And although the department awarded 14 grants, it denied Trinity Lutheran’s application, citing a provision of the state constitution that prohibits money from the state treasury from going “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”

One can see how the outcome of his case could affect the use of public money for private school vouchers:

Supporters on both sides of the case predict that dire consequences will flow from a ruling for the other side. “Friend of the court” briefs backing the church argue that, if the lower court’s ruling and the program are upheld, everything from school vouchers and fire and safety protection for private religious schools to social services – such as battered women’s shelters and soup kitchens – provided by faith-based organizations that receive public funds could be in jeopardy. On the other side, the state’s supporters contend that a ruling for the church would effectively bar the government from treating churches differently – “an approach that among other things would invalidate provisions in thirty-nine state constitutions” – and could result in taxpayer funds going to groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation or religion.

By conducting a search on “Trinity Lutheran,” I was able to connect with the case page, which includes links to all SCOTUS blog entries on Trinity Lutheran vs. Comer as well as a comprehensive case history complete with links to documents.

As of this writing, the history for this case stops with the April 19, 2017, arguing of the case before the Supreme Court. No judgment has been issued yet. However, at the top of the case history is a place to enter an email address to receive alerts as the case proceeds. (Note: When one enters an email address, one receives a confirmation email that one must acknowledge in order to receive updates.)

The SCOTUS blog also includes a feature, “This Week at the Court” (archived here). Below is the “This Week” page for June 04, 2017:

We expect orders from the June 1 conference on Monday at 9:30 a.m. There is also a possibility of opinions on Monday. On Thursday the justices will meet for their June 8 conference; our list of “petitions to watch” for that conference will be available soon.

If we go back one week, to May 28, 2017, we can access the “petitions to watch” list:

The court issued orders from its May 25 conference on Tuesday. It granted certiorari in one new case and called for the views of the acting solicitor general in another. The court also released opinions in four argued cases on Tuesday. On Thursday the justices met for their June 1 conference; our list of “petitions to watch” for that conference is available here.

The best way to stay abreast of specific cases is to use the email alerts. In contrast, if one wants to peruse the latest for a particular week on a list of cases that had action during that week, one can view the listing using the “petitions to watch” link.

The SCOTUS blog also has a listing of “featured posts” to the right of any page. The one topping the list is the June 02, 2017, post, “Trump administration asks justices to weigh in on travel ban,” which is excerpted below, including an update:

(UPDATE: The justices have asked the challengers to file responses to the petition for review and the requests for stays of the lower courts’ rulings. Those responses are due on or before 3 p.m. on Monday, June 12.)

Arguing that lower courts “openly second-guessed” President Donald Trump’s determination that national security concerns require a freeze on new visas for travelers from six Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen), last night the federal government asked the Supreme Court to step into the legal dispute over the constitutionality of the executive order that the president signed on March 6. The government also asked the court to put on hold two lower-court rulings blocking the implementation of the executive order, telling the justices that those rulings undermine “the President’s constitutional and statutory power to protect” the United States.

Last night’s filings came in two separate challenges to the March 6 order, popularly known as the “travel ban.” One challenge originated in Maryland, where a federal district judge blocked the implementation of the order on March 16; last week the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit largely upheld the Maryland judge’s order. Another challenge came from Hawaii: A district judge there also ruled for the challengers, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit heard oral argument in the government’s appeal on May 15, but the appeals court has not yet issued its decision. Yesterday the government urged the Supreme Court to review the 4th Circuit’s ruling on the merits and to freeze the district court’s order barring the implementation of the travel ban. The government also asked the justices to freeze the Hawaii court’s ruling blocking the travel ban until the 9th Circuit appeal is resolved – and, if necessary, while the government seeks review of that decision in the Supreme Court.

One final observation: At the lower right of any SCOTUS blog page is a calendar that includes links for Supreme Court justice conferences, orders, and opinions.

The SCOTUS blog offers a wealth of timely information to the public… but only if the public knows.

Now you know. 😉


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Andrea Lancer permalink

    Thank you.

  2. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Thank you. I had heard the Trinity Church case described on NPR. Now I know how to be aware of current events.

  3. Jen permalink

    Thank you for this excellent resource.

  4. Amor Fati permalink

    SCOTUS blog is not an official blog of the Supreme Court. It’s privately owned and operated.

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