By Guy Page
A trio of high-profile U.S. Supreme Court decisions this week have Vermonters wondering what they will mean for Vermont.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may not forbid government-funded tuition to schools offering religious instruction.
Today, SCOTUS struck down New York’s handgun carry law and upheld North Carolina’s right to require voter ID.
What do these decisions mean for Vermont?
Today’s voter ID decision would only affect Vermont if it had a similar law. It doesn’t – both the Secretary of State and the Vermont Legislature have firmly resisted any suggestions to require voter identification.
The religious school tuition decision overturns a Maine law limiting tuition payments for students with no hometown high school to secular schools. In response to a Supreme Court decision granting tuition to religious schools under some circumstances, the Vermont Senate last year passed S219, a bill with restrictions similar to the Maine law.
S219, sponsored by Senate Education Chair Brian Campion (D-Bennington), “would not use public tuition to support religious instruction, religious indoctrination, religious worship, or the propagation of religious views.” The bill passed the Senate but session expired before the House could take action. It would have likely been resubmitted in 2023, but this week’s Supreme Court decision suggests a change in plans.
What’s not clear yet is whether parents in non-tuition sending towns would be eligible to access public tuition to send children to religious schools.
According to today’s SCOTUS decision on U.S. Rifle & Pistol Association Vs. Bruen, the NY state law “makes it a crime to possess a firearm without a license, whether inside or outside the home. An individual who wants to carry a firearm outside his home may obtain an unrestricted license to ‘have and carry’ a concealed ‘pistol or revolver’ if he can prove that “proper cause exists” for doing so.”
Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court holds that “the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home….Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution.”
Thomas differentiated between the many “shall issue” states where the burden of proof is on the state to deny a carry permit, and the six “may issue” states (NY included) where the burden is on the gun owner to proove his/her suitability and purpose to carry in public.
In Vermont, no permits are needed to carry a legal firearm in public. However, the Legislature this year made hospitals a “no-carry” zone; carrying a gun on hospital grounds is now a violation of state law. Furthermore, Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) has promised to introduce more “gun safety” legislation. He hasn’t been more specific. The SCOTUS decision virtually guarantees that a “may issue” firearms carry permit bill won’t be on his list.