Supreme Court nominee Barrett readies for meetings this week on Capitol Hill

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, will begin meeting with senators this week as Republicans push ahead with a rapid Senate confirmation process ahead of November’s presidential election over the objections of Democrats.

Barrett will meet Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT) at the U.S. Capitol, Graham’s office said. She will meet with several other committee Republicans earlier in the day.

Trump on Saturday announced Barrett, 48, as his selection to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 at age 87. Barrett, who would be the fifth woman to serve on the high court, said she would be a justice in the mold of the late staunch conservative Antonin Scalia.

Her confirmation by the Senate would result in a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.

Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate and are aiming to hold a vote before the Nov. 3 election, in accordance with Trump’s wishes.

Trump, who is running for a second term against Democrat Joe Biden, has said he wants nine justices on the court so that it will have a full complement to tackle any election-related legal issues and possibly decide the outcome in his favor.

The only time in U.S. history the Supreme Court has had to resolve a presidential election was in 2000.

Barrett’s meetings with senators are taking place ahead of a multiday confirmation hearing scheduled to begin on Oct. 12, when she will face questions about her judicial philosophy and approach to the law.

Graham told Fox News on Sunday that the panel will likely vote on the nomination on Oct. 22, setting up a final vote on the Senate floor by the end of the month.

Democrats object to Republicans pushing through the nomination so close to the election, saying that the winner of the contest should get to pick the nominee.

Trump’s nomination of Barrett is the first time since 1956 that a U.S. president has moved to fill a Supreme Court vacancy so close to an election.

Democratic opposition to Barrett has so far been focused on her possible role as a deciding vote in a case before the Supreme Court in which Trump and fellow Republicans are asking the justices to strike down the Obamacare health law known formally as the Affordable Care Act. If confirmed quickly, Barrett could be on the bench when the justices hear oral arguments on Nov. 10.

A key provision of the law that would be thrown out if the court struck it down requires insurance companies to provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Some Democrats have said they will refuse to meet with Barrett but others, including some on the committee, have said they intend to engage in the process so they can ask Barrett directly about issues such as healthcare and abortion. Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, will talk to her by phone or in a Zoom meeting, a spokesman said.

Conservative activists are hoping that a 6-3 conservative majority will move the court to the right by curbing abortion rights, expanding gun rights and upholding voting restrictions.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump Supreme Court pick would slash odds of surprise liberal victories

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Amid a flurry of major rulings early this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court in an under-the-radar case handed a significant win to Native Americans by finding for the first time that almost half of Oklahoma is tribal land.

The ruling was a 5-4 decision in which conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the four liberal justices, one of a handful of such surprise victories by the liberal wing of the court in recent terms.

The death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her possible replacement by a conservative appointed by President Donald Trump imperil such unlikely liberal wins in coming years.

The 5-4 conservative majority before Ginsburg’s death meant that the liberals on certain key issues only needed one conservative colleague siding with them.

Now, if Trump replaces her, they would need two, with likely implications for headline-grabbing issues on which liberals have prevailed in recent years, including abortion and gay rights, as well as lesser-known cases.

“The stars would have to line up,” said John Elwood, a Supreme Court lawyer.

The last two Supreme Court terms have defied expectations with a series of 5-4 rulings in which Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberals in ruling against Trump’s bid to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census, blocking the president’s effort to rescind protections for young immigrants known as “Dreamers” and striking down a Louisiana abortion restriction.

But there are also several lesser-noticed 5-4 rulings that would have been unlikely with a 6-3 conservative majority.

The Oklahoma ruling was one. It is one of three 5-4 cases on Native American issues in which Gorsuch, who was appointed by Trump, joined the four liberals in the majority.

Similarly, Gorsuch two years ago was the fifth vote for the liberal wing of the court in striking down part of an immigration law that made it easier to deport people convicted of certain criminal offenses. He also cast the deciding vote that year in two 5-4 criminal cases in favor of defendants.

Last year, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, another conservative appointed by Trump, joined the four liberals in a 5-4 ruling that gave the greenlight to an antitrust lawsuit accusing Apple Inc of forcing consumers to overpay for iPhone software applications.

In an important case on evolving privacy rights in the age of the smartphone, Roberts and the four liberals prevailed in another 5-4 case in 2018 as the court imposed limits on the ability of police to obtain cellphone data pinpointing the past location of criminal suspects.

Whether the three liberals will be able to cobble together a majority in similar cases in future depends in large part on the identity of Trump’s nominee.

UNPREDICTABLE VOTES

Trump has said he intends to announce his nomination on Saturday, with conservative appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa considered the frontrunners to be named to succeed Ginsburg, who died last Friday at age 87. The Republican-controlled Senate, which has to vote on whether to approve or reject the nomination, is poised to act even ahead of Nov. 3, when Trump is seeking re-election.

Carolyn Shapiro, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, said that even before Ginsburg’s death, the 5-4 cases in which liberals prevailed were contingent on the individual legal reasoning of the conservative who joined them. It might be possible to win certain cases with a 6-3 majority, she added, but it will be harder.

“Those occasions are likely to be fairly idiosyncratic and mostly unpredictable,” Shapiro said.

One area where liberal votes may still be key is on LGBT rights. In June, the court to the dismay of conservatives ruled 6-3 that federal law that outlaws sex discrimination in the workplace applies to gay, lesbian and transgender people.

In that case, both Roberts and Gorsuch were in the majority with the liberals, so even with Ginsburg’s absence, five of the votes in favor of LGBT workers remain on the court. Other cases on the definition of sex discrimination under other federal laws are likely to reach the court soon.

Shannon Minter, a lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he is “hopeful” that the majority remains intact but noted that every time there is a change in personnel on the court it can change the internal dynamic in unpredictable ways.

As such, he added, “Ginsburg’s absence is a significant factor.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell)

Supreme Court blocks path to Oregon redistricting ballot measure

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that had opened the door to a ballot measure in Oregon to create an independent commission to redraw electoral district lines in the state.

The justices granted a request by Oregon officials to put on hold a July 10 injunction by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane in Eugene that had ordered the state to reduce the number of signatures needed to place the measure on the November ballot amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Two of the nine justices, liberals Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, said they would have left the lower court’s order in place.

The drawing of electoral districts in Oregon currently is carried out by the state legislature. Some election reform advocates have promoted the establishment of independent commissions to delineate electoral districts, saying many state legislatures draw political maps intended to boost the election prospects of the party already in power.

The commission proposed in Oregon would draw electoral maps for both chambers of the state legislature and for U.S. House of Representatives seats.

The justices again sided with state officials opposed to changing election-related rules during the pandemic. In July, they blocked a lower court ruling that would have eased the path to an education-related ballot initiative in Idaho.

In June, they rejected a bid to direct Ohio to accept electronic signatures from residents seeking to place voter initiatives, including one to raise the state’s minimum wage, on the ballot.

Voting rights groups and the committee seeking to establish the nonpartisan commission sued Oregon, saying the signature requirement and deadline would effectively bar the measure from the November ballot, violating their right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

On July 23, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to put McShane’s injunction on hold while the litigation continues, prompting Oregon’s Democratic attorney general to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Nearly 150,000 signatures were needed by a July 2 deadline for the initiative to be placed on the ballot, but its backers said the pandemic had made it difficult to gather that many. McShane had ordered the state either to allow the ballot initiative outright or to extend the deadline to Aug. 17 and lower the signature threshold to just under 59,000.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. executes first prisoner in 17 years after Supreme Court gives OK at 2 a.m.

(Reuters) – The U.S. government on Tuesday carried out its first execution in 17 years, putting to death convicted murderer Daniel Lee after the Supreme Court cleared the way with a ruling issued at two o’clock in the morning.

Lee was pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m. EDT (1207 GMT), U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Kristie Breshears said by phone.

The execution had been held up by a U.S. District Court in Washington, which on Monday ordered the U.S. Justice Department to delay four executions scheduled for July and August. The order was later affirmed by an appellate court.

But at 2:10 a.m. (0610 GMT), about 10 hours after Lee’s execution was due to take place in Terre Haute, Indiana, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote cleared the way for federal executions to resume.

“The plaintiffs in this case have not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention by a Federal Court. Last-minute stays like that issued this morning should be the extreme exception, not the norm,” the Supreme Court said.

Lee was convicted of killing three members of an Arkansas family in 1996, but some relatives of his victims opposed him receiving the death sentence.

Strapped to a gurney, Lee was asked if had any last words, according to a media witness present in the viewing chamber.

“I didn’t do it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life but I’m not a murderer,” Lee said, according to a reporter who witnessed the execution and issued a report for all media. “You’re killing an innocent man.”

As the drug was being administered, Lee raised his head to look around, and his breathing appeared to become labored, according to the pool report. Soon after, Lee’s chest was no longer moving, his lips turned blue and his fingers became ashy.

Two unnamed Bureau of Prisons officials and Lee’s spiritual adviser could be seen inside the execution chamber.

While several states conduct executions, the federal government had not done so since 2003.

Attorney General William Barr announced last July that the Justice Department would resume carrying out executions of some of the 62 inmates on federal death row.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely, Daniel Trotta and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Supreme Court tosses rulings blocking Indiana abortion curbs

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday gave Indiana a second chance to revive two restrictive abortion laws – one imposing an ultrasound requirement and the other expanding parental notification when minors seek abortions – by throwing out a lower court’s rulings blocking them.

The justices directed the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider both cases in light of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on Monday invalidating a Louisiana law that imposed restrictions on doctors who perform abortions.

Indiana will now get another shot at arguing for the legality of its two Republican-backed laws that the 7th Circuit had prevented from going into effect.

The ultrasound measure would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure at least 18 hours before terminating a pregnancy. The second law would require that parents be notified when a girl under 18 is seeking an abortion even in situations in which she has asked a court to provide consent instead of her parents, as was allowed under existing law.

The ultrasound measure was passed by the state legislature in 2016 and signed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was Indiana’s governor before Donald Trump selected him as his running mate.

Abortion rights proponents have said that for most women seeking an abortion, an ultrasound is not medically necessary, and that the requirement is an attempt by anti-abortion politicians to make obtaining an abortion more difficult.

Republicans at the state level have pursued a variety of abortion restrictions.

In a third Indiana case on Thursday, the court left in place a ruling in favor of an abortion clinic seeking a license to open a clinic in South Bend. The state appealed when the 7th Circuit ruled in 2019 that abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health could get a provisional license while the litigation over the matter continued.

The Supreme Court on Thursday in two other abortion-related cases left in place policies in Chicago and Pennsylvania’s capital Harrisburg that place limits on anti-abortion activists gathered outside clinics.

The Chicago policy bars activists from coming within eight feet (2.4 meters) of someone within 50 feet (15 meters) of any healthcare facility without their consent if they intend to protest, offer counseling or hand out leaflets. The Harrisburg measure bars people from congregating or demonstrating within 20 feet (6 meters) of a healthcare facility’s entrance or exit.

In Monday’s ruling on Louisiana’s law, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices in the majority on the basis that the law was almost identical to a measure from Texas that the court struck down in 2016.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court allows public money for religious schools in major ruling

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the separation of church and state in a major ruling on Tuesday by endorsing Montana tax credits that helped pay for students to attend religious schools, a decision paving the way for more public funding of faith-based institutions.

In a 5-4 decision with the conservative justices in the majority and the liberal justices dissenting, the court backed a Montana program that gave tax incentives for people to donate to a scholarship fund that provided money to Christian schools for student tuition expenses.

The ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, represented the court’s latest expansion of religious liberties, a priority of its conservative majority in recent years.

The court sided with three mothers of Christian school students who appealed after Montana’s top court invalidated the tax credit for violating the state constitution’s ban on public aid to churches and religious entities.

Roberts wrote, “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

The justices faulted the Montana Supreme Court for voiding a taxpayer program merely because it can be used to fund religious entities, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution’s protection for the free exercise of religion.

President Donald Trump’s administration supported the plaintiffs in the case. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a prominent supporter of such “school choice” plans. Christian conservatives are an important voter bloc for Trump, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3.

Thirty-eight states have constitutional provisions like Montana’s barring public aid to religious entities. Opponents have said these provisions were the product of anti-Catholic bias and resulted in impermissible discrimination against religion.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in dissent that the ruling risks “entanglement and conflict” over where to draw the line between allowing free exercise of religion while protecting against government endorsement of religion, both of which are required under the Constitution.

The decision followed the court’s major 2017 religious rights ruling in favor of a Missouri church, Trinity Lutheran, that challenged its exclusion from state playground improvement grants generally available to other nonprofit groups. The court ruled in that case that churches and other religious entities cannot be flatly denied public money even in states whose constitutions explicitly ban such funding.

Churches and Christian groups in the United States have sought for years to widen access to taxpayer money for religious schools and places of worship, testing the limits of U.S. secularism.

The Montana tax credit program, created in 2015, provided up to $150 as an incentive for donations to groups that fund scholarships for tuition to private schools including religious schools. In practice, most of the money went to Christian schools. The one such scholarship organization currently operating provides $500 payments to schools, primarily to help lower-income students attend.

The dispute began when state tax officials limited the program to non-religious schools to comport with the state constitution’s prohibition on “direct or indirect” public aid to any church or “school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

Lead plaintiff Kendra Espinoza and two other mothers of students at Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, Montana challenged the exclusion, saying state officials infringed their religious rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The Montana Supreme Court struck down the scholarship program entirely in 2018 because it could be used to pay for religious schools. Most private schools in Montana are Christian.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court conservatives lean toward shielding religious schools from suits

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – Conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices signaled sympathy on Monday toward a bid by two Catholic elementary schools in California to avoid discrimination lawsuits by former teachers in a case that could make it harder to hold religious institutions liable in employment disputes.

In more than 90 minutes of arguments heard by teleconference due to the coronavirus pandemic, the justices struggled over how courts can determine when a religious entity must face an employee’s civil rights lawsuit and when it is immune because of protections previously recognized by the high court.

Conservative justices asked questions indicating support for shielding the schools from such litigation. Liberal justices seemed to lean toward the teachers. The court has a 5-4 conservative majority. President Donald Trump’s administration sided with the schools.

A ruling favoring of the Catholic schools could strip more than 300,000 lay teachers working in religious schools of employment law protections and could impact industries including nurses in Catholic hospitals, the plaintiffs said.

Teachers Agnes Morrissey-Berru and Kristen Biel accused the schools of firing them due to discrimination. Morrissey-Berru accused her school of age discrimination. Biel accused hers of discrimination based on disability stemming from breast cancer treatment. Biel died last year after a five-year battle with the disease.

At issue is the breadth of a “ministerial exception” that protects religious organizations from employee suits alleging violations of laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on grounds including sex, race, national origin and religion.

In a 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court recognized the ministerial exception under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom. The exception, meant to prevent government interference with religion, restricts discrimination lawsuits by certain employees if they hold a ministerial role.

The justices in that case left unresolved how to decide when an employee qualifies for this ministerial role, a thorny question that the justices struggled with on Monday.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas offered hypothetical examples such as a chemistry teacher who starts class with a “Hail Mary” prayer, a chemistry teacher who is also a nun and a lay teacher who teaches religion.

“I don’t see what standards a secular court would use to determine which of those is an important … religious duty or function,” Thomas said.

Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she found it “very disturbing” if a person could be fired or refused a job for any reason “that has nothing to with religion.”

Morrissey-Berru sued Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Hermosa Beach after being told in 2015, just before her 65th birthday, that her contract would not be renewed. Biel sued St. James School in Torrance after she said she was dismissed when she requested time off to undergo surgery and chemotherapy for her cancer. Her husband has continued the litigation on her behalf.

Both private schools operate under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Morrissey-Berru and Biel taught their students religion several days a week in addition to secular subjects.

Federal judges concluded that the ministerial exception barred both claims. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently ruled that both lawsuits could proceed.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Netanyahu fate at stake as coalition deal challenged in top court

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s top court on Monday heard challenges to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to secure a governing coalition, with opposition figures arguing a deal on a new unity administration would unlawfully shield him in a corruption trial.

The Supreme Court’s 11-justice panel convened for a second day after hearing separate petitions on Sunday against Netanyahu’s authority to form a government given his indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Rulings are expected by Thursday. Should the court find against Netanyahu on either front, it would likely trigger a snap election – the fourth since April 2019 – as the country grapples with the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz signed an agreement last month to form a unity government under which they would take turns leading Israel after their three, inconclusive ballot runs. They cited the coronavirus crisis in forming the pact.

In power for more than a decade and currently head of a caretaker government, right-wing Netanyahu would serve as prime minister of a new administration for 18 months before handing the reins to centrist Gantz, according to the unity deal.

Netanyahu, 70, would then assume the role of “substitute prime minister”, which some analysts say would exempt him from a law that requires cabinet-level ministers to resign from public office if they are indicted on criminal charges.

Netanyahu’s trial is due to open on May 24. He has denied any wrongdoing and accused political rivals of a “witch-hunt”.

The coalition deal also grants Netanyahu influence over important judicial appointments, which critics argue gives the premier undue sway over the outcome of his own proceedings.

The pact has support from a majority in parliament. But several groups, including opposition parties and democracy watchdogs, petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify the deal, arguing in part that it shields Netanyahu from legal penalties.

Some analysts have said the court, though cast by Netanyahu loyalists as liberal and interventionist, was unlikely to strike down the deal or bar Netanyahu from forming a government.

Responding to the petitions, Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said that while certain aspects of the deal “raise major difficulties”, there were no grounds to disqualify it.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Editing by William Maclean)

In a pandemic-caused first, U.S. Supreme Court hears cases by teleconference

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a break from tradition caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday for the first time will hear arguments in a case not in person but by teleconference – a trademark dispute involving the popular hotel reservation website Booking.com.

The nine justices over the next two weeks are set to participate in arguments in 10 cases, using a dial-in format to combat the spread of the pathogen. In another first, the court will provide a live audio feed, making these the first arguments that the public can hear live. Cable TV network C-SPAN said it plans to broadcast that feed in all the cases.

Rather than the wide-open questioning exhibited during typical cases in the justices’ ornate courtroom, the court has tweaked the format for the teleconference arguments so justices will take turn asking questions in order of seniority.

Justice Clarence Thomas is the court’s longest-serving member, though he typically refrains from asking questions during arguments. The next most senior justice is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a frequent questioner.

The first case is due to begin at 10 a.m. ET (1400 GMT). The justices will hear a bid by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prevent Booking.com, a unit of Norwalk, Connecticut-based Booking Holdings Inc <BKNG.O>, from trademarking the site’s name, contending that it is too generic to deserve legal protection.

The case comes as Booking.com, along with the rest of the travel industry, has been slammed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused tourism and business travel to evaporate worldwide.

The agency is appealing a lower court decision allowing the trademark because by adding “.com” to the generic word “booking” it became eligible for a trademark. The online reservation service filed several trademark applications in 2011 and 2012.

A Patent and Trademark Office tribunal in 2016 rejected those applications, saying Booking.com referred generically to the common meaning of booking lodging and transportation and cannot be used exclusively through a federal trademark registration. Under U.S. law, only terms that distinguish a particular product or service from others on the market can be trademarked.

Booking.com appealed, presenting a survey that showed that 74% of consumers identified Booking.com as a brand name. The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the company last year because the name as a whole is understood by the public to refer to a business.

Booking.com spokeswoman Kimberly Soward said the company is “honored to be a small part of the U.S. Supreme Court history being made this week” as one of the cases being heard by teleconference.

“We remain hopeful the Supreme Court will uphold the decisions of the two lower courts, recognizing the changing landscape of the digital world we live in,” Soward said.

The court will hear arguments on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and the same days next week. The biggest cases to be considered by teleconference are three that focus on the question of whether President Donald Trump can keep his financial records including tax returns secret. Those cases will be argued on May 12.

The Supreme Court building has been closed to the public since March 13 due to the pandemic. The justices have met only via teleconference, and have issued rulings only online.

The coronavirus has proven to be particularly dangerous in elderly people, especially those with underlying medical issues. Three of the nine justices are over age 70: Ginsburg (87), Stephen Breyer (81) and Thomas (71).

(For a graphic on major cases before the Supreme Court, click https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-COURT/0100B2E31KB/index.html)

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington and Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

What is at stake as the Supreme Court weighs the future of immigrant ‘Dreamers’

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide the legality of President Donald Trump’s decision to end a program offering work permits and deportation relief to immigrant “Dreamers” who came to the United States illegally as children.

Trump, a Republican, moved in 2017 to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. His administration argued the initiative of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama was unconstitutional and would not withstand legal challenges.

Several federal courts blocked Trump’s attempt to terminate the DACA program. The case went to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments in November.

The decision will be one of the most-watched of Trump’s presidency. Here is what you need to know about it.

WHAT IS THE DACA PROGRAM?

Obama announced DACA in 2012 after more than a decade of failed efforts to pass legislation in the U.S. Congress that would have provided a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers.

The program offered unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States before age 16 the chance to obtain a work permit and a reprieve from imminent deportation.

Applicants were required to pass a criminal background check to ensure they had not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor. They needed to have completed high school, still be in school or have served in the U.S. military.

The Obama administration said the program would allow immigration officers to focus on higher-priority offenders. Critics called it an abuse of executive power.

WHO IS ENROLLED IN DACA?

About 649,000 people are enrolled, according to the most recent government data. Nine of 10 are immigrants born in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. More than half live in California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida.

The average age of DACA enrollees is 26, slightly more women than men, according to the latest statistics.

A 2017 analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Migration Policy Institute found the top occupations for immigrants in the program were food preparation and serving, sales, office and administrative support, and construction.

WHERE DO EMPLOYERS STAND?

Major U.S. companies support DACA and have hired work-eligible beneficiaries.

In an October brief in the Supreme Court case, 125 companies – including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Starbucks – said ending the program would “inflict serious harm” on employers, workers and the U.S. economy. They were joined by 18 major business associations.

DACA enrollees hold thousands of jobs in the medical field, a point backers have raised during the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Plaintiffs defending the program noted in a Supreme Court brief this month that 27,000 DACA recipients are healthcare workers including nurses, pharmacists and home care aides. Nearly 200 are medical students, residents and physicians, the brief said.

HOW WILL THE SUPREME COURT RULE?

The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June, but could act sooner.

With five conservative justices and four liberals, the court appeared split along ideological lines during oral arguments in November. The conservative majority signaled support for Trump’s termination of the program while liberals said the move would destroy lives of DACA beneficiaries. [L2N27SOC7]

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF TRUMP IS ALLOWED TO END DACA?

The Trump administration has not said how it will proceed if the Supreme Court allows it to terminate the program.

However, a top U.S. immigration official told Reuters in December that DACA recipients ordered removed by an immigration judge would be subject to deportation. [L4N28L3OZ]

(Reporting by Ted Hesson, editing by Ross Colvin and David Gregorio)