NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 1st of July, 2020. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It. Thanks for joining us! Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two opinions on Tuesday.
First, a victory for the free exercise of religion.
In a 5-4 ruling, the majority justices gave private religious schools more access to state financial aid.
EICHER: Five years ago, Montana gave a modest tax credit to people who donated to a scholarship program. The program made no distinction between secular or religious schools. It was open to all.
The Montana Supreme Court said that violated the state constitution, because families could use their scholarship money to pay tuition at religious schools. Soon after, the state shut down the whole program.
REICHARD: Three mothers with students benefiting from the scholarship argued the state violated their right to free exercise of religion.
The majority justices agreed. The U.S. Constitution reigns superior to state law in matters of free exercise. And parents have the right to direct their children’s religious upbringing.
During oral argument in January, Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall made that winning argument in support of the mothers. Stillwater is the name of one of the Christian schools.
WALL: Everybody concedes that if all the parents in this program had wanted to choose secular schools, there’d be no basis for the state court’s ruling. The scholarship program would still exist. It’s only because some parents said, “I want to send my kids to schools like Stillwater…”
EICHER: The opinion cited the bigoted origins of state amendments that block funding for religious groups. The so-called “Blaine Amendments” came about during a period of anti-Catholic fervor during the 19th century.
The majority opinion says the U.S. Constitution “condemns discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them.”
REICHARD: The four liberal justices dissented, writing that when the state got rid of the entire program, the religious and nonreligious were treated equally. Therefore, no discrimination.
But Justice Samuel Alito quoted French journalist Anatole France in his concurrence. The dissent’s solution, he wrote, is like saying, “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
EICHER: This ruling does not throw out all state Blaine Amendments. It’s more narrow than that, applying to educational funding. The court is apparently chipping-away at the amendments on a case-by-case basis.
In 2017, it threw out Missouri’s Blaine Amendment as it applied to generally available state grants.
School choice advocates cheered Tuesday’s ruling, saying it removes a major obstacle to similar programs in other states.
It’s also the third time in the last 20 years the court has ruled in favor of a school-choice program.
REICHARD: The second ruling is a win for the travel website Booking.com.
The majority eight justices rejected the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s argument that the phrase “dotcom” is too generic to trademark. The high court says “booking” put together with “dotcom” can be trademarked, so long as the public perceives it as a non-generic, brand name.
You can hear the eventual ruling in this from Justice Stephen Breyer during oral argument in May:
BREYER: You can have a trademark that’s an address. 1418 35th street or something. You can have a trademark that’s a telephone number. So why can’t you have a trademark that is a dot-com?
EICHER: Oddly, Justice Breyer was the dissenter. He worries a lot of generic word trademarks will lead to a monopoly of useful and easily remembered domains.
Other businesses such as Wine.com and Cars.com are expected to trademark their names now as well.
Eight opinions remain for the court to hand down before it breaks for the summer.