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Supreme Court declines to take up DACA, transgender cases

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By Pete Williams  with NBC News Politics
Supreme Court declines to take up DACA, transgender cases

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court opted on Tuesday to stay out of several high-profile legal battles involving transgender military service and DACA.

The court's lack of action means the Trump administration can begin enforcing its restriction on transgender military service, while on DACA the lack of action allows the program to continue for at least another 10-12 months while the issue plays out in the lower courts.

The cases that were not acted on could come back next term. The Trump administration had hoped to get a quick ruling from the high court supporting its end to DACA, which allows children of illegal immigrants to remain in the country.

By either explicitly turning the cases away or delaying a decision on whether to grant review, the court assured that the questions will not be heard during its current term that ends in late June, because the docket is now full. The cases that were not acted on could come back next term.

Following the bruising confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, the justices this term have generally avoided taking on socially divisive issues that would end in votes with the five conservatives lined up against the four liberals.

Last Friday the court signaled it would not take up a court fight over DACA, the Obama-era program that has allowed 700,000 children of illegal immigrants to remain in the US. The court's lack of action means the program can continue for at least another 10-12 months while the issue plays out in the lower courts.

The Supreme Court did grant the Trump administration's request to enforce its transgender ban.

President Donald Trump said in a 2017 Twitter message that he would stop allowing transgender men and women to serve openly and to have the government pay for sex-reassignment surgery. The Pentagon later announced that transgender individuals could stay in the military, provided that they served "in their biological sex" and did not seek gender-transition surgery.

Federal courts in California, Washington, DC, and Washington state issued orders blocking the Trump policy nationwide. They said it likely amounted to unconstitutional discrimination and rejected the administration's claims that military readiness was at issue.

The justices also took no action the issue of whether federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination on the job also apply to sexual orientation. Federal appeals courts are divided on the question.

Some have ruled that in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Congress did not intend to include same-sex bias when it prohibited job discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and other characteristics. But other courts have said discriminating against someone because of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination. Civil rights groups say there's no need to change the law, arguing that it already bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In other action Tuesday, the justices said they would not hear Indiana's effort to revive a state law intended to restrict access to abortion. Passed in 2016 and signed by then-governor Mike Pence, the law prohibited what the state called discriminatory abortions -- those sought because of characteristics of the fetus, including gender, race, or diagnosis of Down syndrome or other defect.

Supporters of the measure said the law responded to medical developments that allow women to choose which child to bear, an option the state said was not contemplated at the time of the Roe v Wade decision. But Planned Parenthood said it was an unconstitutional restriction on abortion rights and lower courts agreed, preventing the law from taking effect.

The Supreme Court also refused Tuesday to hear the appeal of a Washington state high school football coach who lost his job after he refused to stop praying on the field immediately after games. Joseph Kennedy's firing as assistant coach at Bremerton High School in 2015 made headlines nationwide. During a 2016 campaign event, Donald Trump called it "very, very sad and outrageous."

And the court said it would not hear a challenge to a New York City's restriction on transporting handguns outside the city limits. Since ruling in 2008 that the Constitution guarantees a right to keep a handgun at home for self defense, the Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges to other gun laws.