In March 2020, COVID-19 became a household name in the United States. Due to the contagious nature of the virus, state governments took unprecedented action, issuing stay-at-home orders and mandating remote learning. The federal government offered relief in the form of stimulus payments, increased unemployment benefits, eviction moratoriums, and foreclosure moratoriums on federally backed mortgages. States instituted their own foreclosure and eviction moratoriums to protect landlords and renters. A recent study demonstrated that a higher percentage of Americans relied on government assistance in 2020 than at any other point over the last twenty years.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it instructed jurors that jury nullification is a juror’s willful dismissal of evidence or refusal to apply the law and that the jurors are not authorized to engage in such a practice. State v. Sayles, 244 A.3d 1139 (Md. 2021).
In State v. Sayles, the Court of Appeals of Maryland examined whether Maryland juries are permitted to engage in jury nullification. The Court concluded that while juries may inevitably possess the power of nullification, Maryland juries are not authorized to engage in jury nullification. In a case of first impression, the Court of Appeals reversed the Court of Special Appeals’ holding. The intermediate appellate court held that the circuit court abused its discretion when, in response to several jury notes inquiring about jury nullification, it instructed jurors that jury nullification is a juror’s purposeful rejection of the evidence or refusal to apply the law and that jurors are prohibited from engaging in such a practice. In doing so, the Court established a precedent that will hinder the use of jury nullification as a tool for promoting communal critiques of racial inequality within the Maryland criminal justice system.
The First Amendment provides religion unique but potentially contradictory protections. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”In guaranteeing these bedrock rights, the competing principles of the “Religion Clauses” may conflict. To solve this paradox, the Supreme Court once recognized “there is ‘play in the joints’ between what the Establishment Clause permits and [what] the Free Exercise Clause compels.” A recent decision regarding the constitutionality of state-sponsored scholarship funds flowing to religious schools may have narrowed that gap, further ushering in an age of “‘[F]ree [E]xercise supremacy.’”
II. No Straight Line Between Establishment and Exercise
While ruling that tax exemptions for churches did not violate the First Amendment, Chief Justice Warren Burger first articulated this “room for play in the joints productive of a benevolent neutrality which will permit religious exercise to exist without sponsorship and without interference.” When the Court applies the Religion Clauses, its judgments must turn on whether acts are intended to “establish or interfere with religious beliefs and practices or have the effect of doing so.” But the “complexities of modern life inevitably produce some contact” between government resources and religion.
This year, a number of bills were introduced in Maryland’s House and Senate that addressed immigration and how local law enforcement would handle cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. The purpose of these bills is to make Maryland a safer place for the immigrant community and to build trust between these communities and local law enforcement. One of these bills, House Bill 304—also known as the Trust Act—would prohibit local law enforcement from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status during a stop, search or arrest, and also prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with ICE agents unless there is a judicial warrant against the individual. Another piece of legislation, House Bill 16, also known as the Dignity Not Detention Act, would end local contracts with ICE and prohibit local law enforcement from detaining individuals based solely on federal civil immigration violations under those contracts.
Although House Bill 304 and House Bill 16 have not yet been passed, their introduction and the discourse surrounding them can make a monumental impact on the safety and overall quality of life of innocent immigrants, who have grown more fearful from the increasingly stringent immigration policy in the U.S. Even though many of these immigration bills have yet to pass one or both chambers, there are discussions beginning at the county and city level which indicate that these bills may pass sooner rather than later.
If this change is to occur, many immigrant communities in Maryland may become less fearful of local law enforcement and more open to seeking them out when they are victims of a crime. In particular, undocumented women who are victims of domestic violence may be more comfortable seeking help from Maryland law enforcement if these bills are passed.
Beginning in 2018, the Trump Administration sought to exclude certain non-citizens from being counted in the census. At that time, the Department of Commerce, which administers the Census, sought to add a question to the 2020 Census regarding U.S. citizenship. Multiple states and advocacy organizations sued to stop the addition of this question, and the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump Administration. However, the Administration subsequently issued Executive Order 13,880 requiring that federal agencies share citizenship information with the Census Bureau. Towards the end of Trump’s term, his Administration issued a Memorandum expressing its intent to exclude undocumented individuals from the 2020 Census altogether. Multiple plaintiffs sued to stop this exclusion, and the Supreme Court heard their challenge in Trump v. New York on November 30, 2020. The Court ultimately dismissed the suit, holding the plaintiffs had not alleged an injury that would give them standing to sue because the time for data collection had passed. Once President Biden took office, he signed Executive Order 13,986 reversing Trump’s exclusion of undocumented immigrants from the 2020 Census. However, because the Supreme Court never expressed an opinion on the legal merits of the Trump Administration’s policy, a future administration could easily overturn Executive Order 13,986 and seek to implement the same strategy.