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

The Supreme Court with new Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, top right.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

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

Church schools and state grants

The court ruled that a church-run, preschool could not be denied a state grant to rubberize its playground. In a 7-2 decision, the justices said the state’s refusal to send tax money to the church violated the 1st Amendment and its protection for the “free exercise” of religion. (Trinity Lutheran vs. Comer)

Presidential power and immigration


The court cleared the way for the Trump administration to enforce part of an executive order that “suspends” for 90 days the entry of foreign visitors and refugees from six Muslim-majority nations. In a 9-0 decision, the justices set aside lower court orders had blocked the order entirely. However, they said the travel ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” such as a close relative or a student who is enrolled in a university. (Trump vs. International Refugee Assistance Project)

Same-sex couples and birth certificates

The court struck down part of an Arkansas law that gave opposite-sex couples, but not same-sex couples, the right to include a spouse’s name on a child’s birth certificate, even in cases of artificial insemination. In an unsigned opinion for a 6-3 majority, the court said this differing treatment violated equal rights protections for same-sex couples. (Pavan vs. Smith)

Constitutional violations and high-level federal officials

The court threw out a damages suit against high-level federal officials, including the former attorney general and FBI director, for allegedly ordering a roundup of Muslim immigrants in the New York area after the 9/11 attacks. In a 4-2 opinion (two members of the then-eight-member court recused themselves), the justices said such damage claims cannot proceed because they have not been authorized by Congress. (Ziglar vs. Abbasi)

Trademarks and free speech


The 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 in an 8-0 decision struck down on free-speech grounds an unusual North Carolina law that made it a crime for a registered sex offender to post a message on any website that may 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)

Insider trading and family tips

The court in an 8-0 decision upheld insider trading charges against a man who received confidential corporate information from a brother-in-law. The justices rejected the argument that the crime of insider trading required an exchange of money or something of value. (Salman vs. United States)

Cases left undecided:

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 eight justices heard the case in November, but announced on the last day they would rehear it in the fall. (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. The court decided to send the case back to Texas a further hearing (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. The justices announced on the last day they would rehear the case in the fall. (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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9:15 a.m. June 28: This article was updated with the court’s final actions.

This article was originally published June 21.