Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Supreme Court Deals California Back-to-back Losses in Travel Ban, Pregnancy Center Cases
By CASEY TOLAN | ctolan@bayareanewsgroup.com
Bay Area News Group
June 26, 2018 at 2:01 pm

The Supreme Court delivered a smackdown to California on Tuesday, handing down back-to-back decisions against the state in high-profile cases over President Trump’s travel ban policy and a state law regulating pregnancy centers.

The 5-4 rulings — with Trump-appointed justice Neil Gorsuch voting against California in both cases — suggest limits for the Golden State’s legal resistance as long as conservatives control a majority on the high court.

Both decisions overturned favorable rulings for California from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the San Francisco-based court known for its liberal leaning, which has proved more fertile ground for the state’s cases.

The courts have become the frontline of the increasingly acrimonious battles between California’s Democratic leaders and the Trump administration over the last year and a half. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed more than two dozen lawsuits against the federal government, often joining with other liberal states, and the feds have fired back.

But most of California’s cases are still working their way through the court system, and few have made it to the Supreme Court so far. The legal duels cover topics from sanctuary cities to health care to environmental regulations to the 2020 census.

Legally, at least, neither of Tuesday’s rulings means much for California’s heavy docket of lawsuits. The travel ban decision, which outlines a broad power for the president to determine who can enter the U.S., doesn’t necessarily apply to issues of sanctuary policy or whether the administration can force states to help it enforce immigration law, said Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University. And the Trump administration wasn’t a party in the pregnancy center case.

“When we’re talking about the California judicial resistance, we’re talking about a wide range of very different issues,” Somin said. “These rulings aren’t some kind of general judgment on all of the legal arguments California and other states are making.”

Still, the decisions are a reminder that the conservative majority on the court could be a bulwark against the state’s much-vaunted legal defiance, and that wins in more liberal lower courts don’t always last.

“It really matters who’s on the Supreme Court, and it was hugely important that President Trump was able to nominate Neil Gorsuch,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “We have a conservative Supreme Court, and to the extent that some of those additional issues will work their way up to the Supreme Court, it doesn’t look so good for California.”

In addition, the travel ban ruling might be seen as a “cautionary signal to lower courts not to issue broad nationwide injunctions and attempt to set nationwide policy,” said Eugene Kontorovich, a Northwestern Law School professor — potentially making it harder for states like California to use the courts to block federal policies.

The fight over the travel ban, cast in the first weekend of the Trump presidency, has been one of the most rancorous. After the administration moved to block many travelers from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., Californians and state elected officials rushed to the airports in protest. Becerra, who had started his job three days earlier, quickly joined other states to sue.

Federal officials revised the travel ban policy twice — prompting new lawsuits from California and other liberal states — and the Ninth Circuit ruled in December that the final version of the ban exceeded Trump’s authority. But the Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the president had broad power to set immigration policy.

“One day, this nation and Court will look back and regret this ruling that legalized discrimination,” Becerra said of the high court ruling in a statement. “We will continue to fight actions that unlawfully target people based on their background or faith.”

In the pregnancy center case, the court struck down a California law requiring pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to post notices letting their clients know that free or low-cost abortion and other services were available to low-income women. The majority ruled that the law violated the centers’ freedom of speech, overturning a Ninth Circuit decision from October 2016.

Conservative activists and leaders applauded both decisions Tuesday. The pregnancy center case “put a halt to the abortion industry’s campaign forcing pro-life advocates to act as a sales team for abortion,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America.

Overall, California has had some successes in its ongoing legal battle with Trump — most notably, a lawsuit filed by Becerra led to a federal judge blocking the administration’s efforts to unravel the DACA program, which protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

And most federal cases never make it to the Supreme Court, which could be a good thing for California’s efforts.

If the court continues issuing closely divided rulings with Republican-appointed judges backing the Trump administration and Democratic-appointed judges backing California, it would give weight to a worrying trend of apparent judicial partisanship, Levinson said.

“We’re seeing this terrible blurring of the lines, with what looks more like like a Republican versus Democrat ruling rather than a conservative versus liberal ruling,” she said. “That’s not how it’s supposed to be.”

Casey Tolan Casey Tolan covers national politics and the Trump administration for the Bay Area News Group. Previously, he was a reporter for the news website Fusion, where he covered criminal justice, immigration, and politics. His reporting has also been published in CNN, Slate, the Village Voice, the Texas Observer, the Daily Beast and other news outlets. Casey grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and graduated from Columbia University.

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