WQOW - The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make decisions on multiple major cases this year, including one that would affect the employment rights of parochial school teachers.
The issue stems from two cases, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel.
In those cases, two Catholic school teachers whose contracts were not renewed sued their schools, claiming discrimination.
One sued on the basis of age. As for Biel, the plaintiff claims the school did not renew her contract after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and requested time off.
The schools are arguing their decision to dismiss the teachers are protected by "ministerial exception," a principle rooted in the First Amendment that says the government cannot interfere in the church's governance.
Eric Kasper, a UW-Eau Claire political science professor, said the teachers are arguing they do not qualify as ministers or clergy members under ministerial exception, so they feel the principle does not apply to them.
"If ministerial exception doesn't apply, then the anti-discrimination laws would be what we would be looking at in terms of litigation in these cases and that these teachers may have a valid claim to be able to sue a school for their dismissal," said Kasper.
Kasper said the ruling of this case could open more questions down the road like, 'How far does ministerial exception extend? Would it apply to any type of administrator in a religious organization? And does it extend to other types of religious employees?'
The U.S. Supreme Court is also set to make a decision that could affect access to abortion.
The case, June Medical Services v. Russo, centers on a Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital near the clinic where they perform abortions.
Supporters of the law say it's intended to make abortions safe for women in case they need urgent care.
However, abortion advocates say those privileges are hard to obtain by design and would make it difficult to exercise abortion rights.
Four years ago in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law from Texas saying requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals would create an "undue burden" on the constitutional right for an abortion.
"You could have the court here in this new case saying that we're sticking by the precedent that we announced four years ago," said Kasper. "They could say we still don't see that there's been a corresponding medical benefit that's been demonstrated by the state to justify this type of obstacle that they're putting in the path of women trying to obtain an abortion."
This is the first abortion case to be argued at the Supreme Court since President Donald Trump's nominees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the bench.
Kasper said other upcoming Supreme Court cases to be on the lookout for relate to the electoral college, obtaining Trump's tax returns, and religion and birth control.