GORSUCH COULD HEAR SCHOOL CHOICE CASE: The Senate could confirm Neil Gorsuch as early as today, and if they do there's a chance he'll take a seat on the Supreme Court in time to hear a case that could have ramifications for the Trump administration's "school choice" push.
- Teachers unions and advocates for the separation of church and state regularly use the provisions to challenge voucher programs in court. In the case before the Supreme Court, however, a Lutheran church in Missouri is challenging that provision in the state's constitution after it was excluded from a state program giving money to nonprofits to resurface playgrounds with recycled tires. The state constitution states that "no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, section or denomination of religion." More than three dozen state constitutions contain similar language.
- The case, which the court agreed to take up in January 2016, would normally have been argued already, SCOTUSblog points out - noting the court may have been waiting for a ninth justice to avoid a 4-4 split. Arguments were scheduled just days after Trump nominated Gorsuch.
- Gorsuch's involvement in the case will likely gratify school voucher supporters while giving heartburn to those advocating strict separation of church and state . "He's more likely to find these Blaine Amendments do impose a restriction on the free exercise of religion," said Josh Blackman, a law professor at Houston's South Texas College of Law. Blackman pointed to Gorsuch's opinion in an appeals court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case as a possible guidepost to his vote. Gorsuch joined in the full appeals court ruling that the Obama administration could not require a closely-held business to offer contraceptive coverage in its health plans if that interfered with the owners' religious beliefs. The decision was later affirmed by the Supreme Court.