Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. President Biden announced a new slate of judicial nominees, several justices are in the news after criticizing the media and public perception of the Court, SCOTUS has added new cases to its merits docket, and the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in support of an ADA challenge to Texas’s ban on school mask requirements.
President Biden announced his eighth round of judicial nominees, including ten nominees to the federal bench. Since taking office, he has nominated 53 individuals to federal judgeships. The new slate of nominees includes several current and former public defenders, who are underrepresented among judges. In a move cheered by progressives, Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, has been nominated to the SDNY bench. Demand Justice’s Balls & Strikes has been tracking the gender, race, and professional diversity of nominees and newly confirmed judges here.
Meanwhile, several Supreme Court justices are in the news after criticizing the media and public perception of the nation’s highest court, CNN reports. At a speech at Notre Dame Law School, Justice Alito said that discourse about the Court’s shadow docket was an attempt “to intimidate” the justices by painting the Court as “sneaky” and “sinister.” Justices Barrett, Breyer, and Thomas have also used recent remarks to criticize those who say that the Court is politicized. That Justice Barrett did so in a speech at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center after being introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—and in a setting where no audio or video recordings were allowed—was particularly notable. This unusual wave of sharp, public remarks from justices comes after congressional hearings on the shadow docket and court reform and a Gallup poll that found public approval of the Supreme Court stood at 40%, the lowest level in the 21 years that Gallup has polled the issue and nine points lower than when Gallup last asked the question in July.
SCOTUSblog reports that the justices added five new cases to the Supreme Court’s merits docket on Thursday, following their “long conference.” In Shurtleff v. City of Boston, they will consider whether Boston violated the free exercise rights of a Christian group when it denied the group’s request to raise a Latin cross on the city hall flagpole while permitting other groups to raise nonreligious flags on that flagpole. In FEC v. Ted Cruz for Senate, the Court will hear a challenge to federal restrictions on repayment of personal loans that candidates make to their campaigns. Cruz argues that these restrictions constitute an impermissible burden on speech, while the government argues that the narrow requirements are justified to prevent the perception of quid pro quo corruption.
And, in other SCOTUS news, Justice Sotomayor denied an emergency appeal that sought to block New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school staff, NPR reports. Staff who do not comply will be suspended without pay starting today.
Finally, the Justice Department weighed in with a statement of interest in support of a lawsuit challenging Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on mask requirements in public schools. According to the Texas Tribune, the Texas Education Agency had “largely stepped away from enforcing the governor’s order” in the face of conflicting court decisions on mask requirements across the country, but changed course “because the courts were not blocking” the Texas order. Disability Rights Texas is challenging the order on behalf of families of children with medical conditions that leave them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, arguing that the ban makes in-school education impossible or dangerous for students “who need others to wear a mask so they can attend school,” and thus denies them an equal opportunity to participate in a government program in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.