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The case of Domineque Ray surprised many people across the country. Ray was convicted of rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, and sentenced to death. And while there may not be too much surprising about a death sentence for rape and murder of a minor, his final appeal strikes a chord with civil rights advocates, regardless of their stance on the death penalty.

Ray challenged the fact that he was not allowed to have a spiritual leader from his faith present at the execution. The state allows a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber, but rejected Ray's request to allow his imam. Initially, the district court struck down Ray's challenge, but on the appeal, the Eleventh Circuit stayed the execution due to the clear Establishment Clause and religious discrimination concerns. Unfortunately for Ray, a five to four SCOTUS majority overruled the stay, and he was put to death.

In the closely watched abortion case out of Louisiana and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, SCOTUS appears to have erred on the side of caution and issued the temporary stay pending their decision on whether to take that matter up on certiorari.

Notably, while the 5 to 4 decision extends the emergency stay of enforcement on Louisiana's law that would impose certain requirements on abortion providers in the state, if the Justices refuse to take the matter up, the stay automatically terminates and the law will then go into effect. Curiously, rookie Justice Kavanaugh issued a dissent, which the other no voting Justices did not sign on to.

The United States Supreme Court has decided to weigh in on the abortion clinic restrictions case out of Louisiana, and due to the urgency of the matter, has issued an administrative stay of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision until February 7.

As the short order issued by the Court on February 1 explained, the stay is due to the timing of action rather than the merits. The filings for the application for a stay in the case had not been received until February 1, and the law would be taking effect on February 4. Rather than ruin the whole Court's weekend, Justice Alito penned an order to give his colleagues a few more week days to consider this controversial topic.

SCOTUS Leaves Transgender Military Ban in Play

With some exceptions, transgender people may not serve in the United States military.

That is the effect of two rulings in Trump v. Karnoski and Trump v. Stockman. A divided U.S. Supreme Court lifted orders from federal judges who had imposed nationwide injunctions on President Trump's ban on transgender people in the military.

In 2017, Trump restricted people from the military who had changed their gender or who seek to change it. Under the Supreme Court ruling, the president's policy will continue.

A pair of cases seeking certiorari to resolve a circuit split, despite involving states choosing to defund Planned Parenthood via Medicaid spending, did not garner enough interest among the Justices to be accepted. Technically, the case is about whether Medicaid provides a private right of action, but Justice Clarence Thomas clearly believes there's so much more, or maybe not, to it.

Justice Thomas, joined by Justices Alito and Gorsuch, published a dissent (scroll to the end), lambasting their colleagues for not doing their jobs to fix the circuit split over a procedural matter. Justice Thomas explains that he disapproves of the other Justices for not taking up the issue because it involves Planned Parenthood and thus is highly controversial and tangentially related to abortion rights.

No, really, he pretty much flat out said that.

Justice Sonya Sotomayor has issued another dissent in a case involving another death row inmate opting for the electric chair over a lethal injection as his preference for execution. And while the ink was barely dry on the page, David Miller was executed.

The impassioned Justice explains in a brief page-and-a-half dissent, that the very idea that Miller's choice was voluntary is a "fiction." She further explains that the inmate should not have been required to show other "available alternative means of his own execution." In a footnote, the Justice quotes another court's finding that "electrocution will unquestionably inflict intolerable pain unnecessary to cause death in enough executions so as to present a substantial risk that any prisoner will suffer unnecessary and wanton pain."

This week, the High Court issued their first opinion of the Fall 2018 term. The case, Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, involved the statutory interpretation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act's 1974 revision which added liability to state and local governments.

At issue was whether that liability existed regardless of the size of the local government, as the ADEA only applies to private employers with 20 or more employees. There is a circuit split as to whether the 20 or more employee requirement applies to state and local governments, or whether the revised statute wholesale included state and local governments as categories covered by the ADEA regardless of size.

In what is being hailed as a victory for net neutrality advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected cert. in the U.S. Telecom Association v. FCC matter.

The case dates back to 2015 and the Obama-era net neutrality policies that were put into place. The telecoms and service providers challenged the law, and failed. And while the Court didn't provide any explanation behind the denial, it's highly likely that the fact that the policies at issue were rescinded by the FCC motivated the justices' decision.

In a lonely dissent, Justice Sotomayor explained that she believes her colleagues made a mistake in not taking up the matter of Edmund Zagorski.

Zagorski became the first person to be executed in the electric chair in five years in this country, and that was due to the fact that the lethal injection couldn't be proven to be painless, given the recent troubles we've all seen and read about. In short, while lethal injection was once believed to be a painless process, it is now understood to feel like being burned alive from the inside out while drowning and suffocating (for as long as 18 minutes).

Given the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, several commentaries have been published questioning whether, or just when, the High Court will take up a case involving abortion.

Currently, there are a few cases that have pending petitions before the justices, but it's believed that the justices are trying to avoid the issue due to how political of an issue abortion is, and how political the recent confirmation hearings were. It's posited that the High Court may want to avoid such partisan issues until it feels that the public's trust in it has rebounded.