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SCOTUS RULINGS


Every June, the Supreme Court releases judgments for the cases in that sessions docket. Some years, the decisions are met with great fanfare and attention. Other years, the public responds with a yawn. This year, the major rulings issued by the Supreme Court focused on Trump's controversial travel ban, religious freedom, union fees, and online taxes.

Regardless of the public's initial interest, all rulings have the potential to greatly impact society, as they serve as precedents for future cases. This year is no different, as many of these cases contained wedge issues that divided society. Understanding the impact and potential applications is important for society going forward.

BAKE THE CAKE

The earliest of the batch of decisions was Jack Phillips case, which pitted religious freedom against social protections from discrimination. Masterpiece bakery, a Colorado bakery owned by Christian baker, ran afoul of Colorado's anti-discrimination regulations when refusing service based on his strongly held religious beliefs on marriage. As a result, the gay couple filed a regulatory complaint and regulators essentially put the baker out of business with fines.

The question was whether government can coerce a person to violate religious beliefs to protect the rights of another. Those on the left and agnostic promptly support the notion that the baker should bake the cake. Religious and more right-wing people support the baker's religious rights and question why the gay couple did not simply seek another vendor. 

The Supreme Court clearly ruled in favor of the baker. Not a glaring victory, but one that provides some level of protection. In the ruling, the issue for the court was the treatment of the baker by the state, deeming it hostile based on the sincerity of the baker’s beliefs and the state’s previous view on the position. While the plaintiff received justice in this instance, the ruling did not provide a clear path for future instances where religious followers are coerced by state actors.

What level of protection did the Supreme Court provide? The guidance really seems to be on the level of sincerity of belief, which is difficult to gauge. Society cannot have people hiding behind religion to infringe on rights of others. But religious need protection from state coercion to violate their principles, which commonly occurs as seen in the ObamaCare legislation.  

SALES TAX

The general principle for whether a government could collect sales tax for online purchases was the presence of a physical location in the particular state collecting the tax. For instance, retailers with stores, distribution centers, or other operating units in the state borders need to collect sales tax from purchases made to that state. Given the growth of online shopping, retailers can expand reach without increasing supply network, which provided shoppers an avenue for purchases without the cost of sales tax.

There is a structural competitive disadvantage for brick and mortar retailers, big employers in certain markets. Besides the convenience factor, online retailers could provide a greater cost advantage based solely on the lack of requirement to collect taxes. Now, the Supreme Court remedied this market inefficiency by deeming the principle outdated and allowing states to collect tax revenue on taxable purchases made. 

The impact can be largely positive for states’ coffers with minimal impact to consumer wallets. As retailers like Amazon expanded supply chain networks, consumers already paid sales tax on online purchases. Not supportive of increasing taxes, but this is simply applying the same tax laws to same taxable behaviors. 

TRAVEL LIMITATIONS

The growth and reach of ISIS posed a significant humanitarian crisis that plagued many societies throughout the world. As the terror organization destabilized many governments, nations accepting refugees struggled to verify the all of the identities with true certainty of those admitted into their communities. Why was this an issue? Because ISIS threatened to use lax border rules to move agents around. As President Trump took office, he sought to protect Americans from potential dangers, placing travel and immigration restrictions on nations known and regarded as sponsors of terror or safe domain to terror organizations. 

As one would expect, the proponents of open borders and illegal immigration challenged the policy in federal courts, achieving early victories that were wiped away in higher courts. The argument was that President Trump exceed his authority in issuing these restrictions. In addition, some claimed that President Trump had a bias against Muslim, even though many Muslim majority nations were not impacted by the policy. Although the restriction were not permanent in nature, the anti-Trump groups consistently referred to it as a travel ban. 

Many pundits on both sides of the aisle believed President Trump would eventually emerge victorious as the issue was adjudicated. Early victories attained came from more liberal friendly courts, which frequently saw decisions overturned upon further review. Furthermore, the United States had plenty of experience with travel limitations in the past, which made the issue more political than practical. So, no real shocker that the Supreme Court ruled that the travel limitations were in-line with the authority of the Office of the President. 

While the risks of terrorists being among those admitted is relatively low, the impact of that risk is high. Many international journalists highlighted the issues with falsified visas and other documentation used to move migrants throughout Europe. In addition, the travel restrictions were only in effect for impacted nations until vetting was made possible, which removed many nations from the list early on. As one would expect, people would find fault or any reason to claim racism, but ensuring vetting is in place before accepting migrants is not unreasonable. 

UNION FEES

The percentage of Americans working in union jobs is steadily decreasing, as many labor-intensive fields leave our borders for more cost-effective economies. As manufacturing is a large employer in many states, states that rely on these jobs fought back with Right to Work, allowing workers to opt of union membership, potentially driving down the cost of operations. For government workers, public sector unions were able to collect agency fees from workers that did not want membership, but experienced possible benefits.

The Supreme Court ended this practice, ruling that public sector unions could not force dues from employees that did not want to be members. Essentially, the Supreme Court ruled that the collection of agency fees violates the First Amendment rights of those required to pay agency fees to retain their employment. The agency fee forces workers to be associated with speech, made by a private institution, that the individuals might find counter their own beliefs.

The left leaning journalist quickly reacted against the ruling, more against President Trump's reaction to the ruling, stating unions agreed to not use agency fees for political activity. But, that does not resolve the problem. The payment automatically associates the non-member with the private organization. Whether those dollars were the ones used does not matter, as the member is being coerced to be associated with the views of a private organization.

Not all Supreme Court rulings receive great fanfare, but all impact our society. The rulings this year settled many controversies, fabricated or real. The session was an important one for national security, First Amendment rights, and common sense. Now, the public awaits what the Court will be, as Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. Important session and important opportunities for the future.