Decision time: Some of the Supreme Court's notable rulings this year

Here are some of the notable decisions from the Supreme Court’s 2016-17 term:

Trademarks and free speech

The Supreme Court struck down on free-speech grounds part of a federal law that prohibited the government from registering trademarks that may “disparage” people or groups. The unanimous ruling was a victory for the Slants, an Asian American rock band that sued after its application for a trademark was denied. The decision was also likely a win for the Redskins, the Washington professional football team that has been facing pressure to change its name. (Matal vs. Tam)

Social media and sex offenders

The court unanimously struck down on free-speech grounds an unusually broad North Carolina law that made it a crime for a registered sex offender to post a message on any website that can be used by minors, including Facebook and Twitter. The defendant was charged for posting the phrase “God is good” on his Facebook page. The court ruled the law was too broad. (Packingham vs. North Carolina)

Race and redistricting

The court ruled North Carolina lawmakers engaged in unconstitutional racial gerrymandering when they moved tens of thousands of black voters into the two congressional districts that had already elected black Democrats. The 5-3 ruling said that the racial gerrymandering violated the rights of voters to equal protection of the laws. (Cooper vs. Harris)

Schools and special education

The court, in a 8-0 decision, set a somewhat higher standard for the special education that public schools must provide for the millions of children with disabilities. The child’s individualized learning program must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress,” the court said. (Endrew F. vs. Douglas County Schools)

Fines and freed defendants

The court ruled that people whose convictions are overturned are entitled to a refund of the fines and fees they paid to the court. The 7-1 decision rejected Colorado’s claim that the fines, once paid, were the state’s property. (Nelson vs. Colorado)

Cases still awaiting a decision

Church schools

Must a state offer equal funds to church schools? A seemingly small dispute over the playground at a Lutheran day center in Missouri could trigger a major shift in church-state law. Most states’ constitutions forbid sending tax money to a church. Religious rights advocates sued when Missouri refused to pay for rubberizing a church school’s playground, and they argued the court should strike down the limits on state funds going to churches as discriminatory and abridging the 1st Amendment’s protection for the “free exercise” of religion. The court heard the case in April, a few days after Justice Neil M. Gorsuch arrived. (Trinity Lutheran vs. Comer)

Jail and deportation

May U.S. authorities arrest and jail for as long as needed immigrants who face deportation, or does the Constitution’s guarantee of “due process of law” accord them a bond hearing within six months and possible release if they pose no danger or flight risk? A class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles challenged the long-term detention of these immigrants, many of whom typically go on to win their cases and are eventually set free. It led to a ruling from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals putting limits on the jailing of immigrants. The case was heard in November shortly after President Trump was elected. (Jennings vs. Rodriguez)

Border shootings

Can a U.S. Border Patrol agent be sued for fatally shooting a Mexican teenager who was standing on the other side of the border? Video of the officer killing the 15-year-old boy provoked outrage along the border, but U.S. officials refused to prosecute the agent, and federal judges threw out a lawsuit filed by the boys’ parents on the grounds that the Constitution did not protect the Mexican boy on Mexican soil. In cases about the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, however, the court has said the Constitution’s protection did extend to territory beyond the border that was under the control of U.S. authorities. (Hernandez vs. Mesa)

Deportation and burglary

Is breaking into a garage or empty home a “crime of violence” that requires the deportation of a longtime legal immigrant? The law says noncitizens who are guilty of an “aggravated felony,” including a crime of violence, must be deported. But it is not clear what crimes qualify. A Filipino native who has lived in Northern California since 1992 faces deportation for a 10-year-old burglary conviction involving break-ins of a garage and a house. But the 9th Circuit Court said the law itself was unconstitutionally vague because it did not define a crime of violence. (Sessions vs. Dimaya)

Decision time at the Supreme Court: A look at this term's rulings on religion, free speech and immigration »

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