All three branches of the federal government had a busy spring. The U.S. Supreme Court just completed its 2017 term in June with a full-strength bench after spending much of the previous term with only eight justices after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. The vacancy during the 2016 term was prolonged when the Senate refused to consider President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Scalia before the 2016 elections. Ultimately, President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to replace Scalia, and Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate in April 2017. This term had fewer unanimous rulings and far more where the Court was closely divided. Some analysts have described this term as the most conservative since 1935, with many decisions being decided by a 5-4 vote. The completion of this term ended with Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing his retirement. Often seen as a swing vote, Justice Kennedy reliably sided with the conservative justices during this term. As described below, two tribal cases were decided in the final months of the term, and President Trump announced D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his proposed replacement for Justice Kennedy. The Court has recessed for the summer and will reconvene in late September.
Congress is focusing on wrapping up significant pieces of legislation prior to the August recess and will spend much of September focused on fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations bills. Additionally, the Senate will focus its attention on trying to confirm President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court before the October 2018 term begins. Congress is expected to recess for the month of October so that members can focus on the November midterm elections. Democrats are well-positioned to take control of the House of Representatives, and Republicans are fighting to keep their narrow majority in the Senate and potentially expand it. The November elections should be interesting, and the outcomes have been difficult to predict, given the recent trends, as described more below.
Key pieces of legislation that are expected to take up much of the summer congressional calendar include defense bills, both spending and the National Defense Authorization Act; conferencing of the recently passed House and Senate Farm bills; opioid legislation; and reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration Act.
In June, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that the Senate will stay in session for the majority of August, which is usually when Congress is in recess, with only a one-week break during the week of August 6. The August recess was canceled, in part, to process more of President Trump’s nominees and advance FY2019 spending bills before the end of September. The House still plans to recess for the month of August.
After the November elections, Congress will return to Washington, D.C., for the lame-duck session and will likely complete work on any outstanding spending bills that are not passed before September 30. Congress is also expected to unveil a statue of Chief Standing Bear in the Capitol before year’s end.
The executive branch filled more of its senior political vacancies with the Senate confirming Tara Sweeney to be the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior and Jean Carol Hovland as Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services. The next few months will be busy for the Department of the Interior as it continues consultation on its proposed reorganization, potential changes to its land-into-trust regulations and discussions about how to handle drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin states.
IN THIS ISSUE
- Status of New Federal Funding Outlook for FY2019
- Congress Passes Two Versions of the Farm Bill and Heads to Conference
- Comprehensive Opioid Legislation Expected by the End of the Year
- Ponca Chief Standing Bear to Be Honored in the U.S. Capitol
- Recent Trends in Electoral Politics
- Supreme Court Issues Two Tribal Decisions, and Justice Kennedy Retires
- 11th Circuit is First Court to Interpret Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act
- Key Trump Administration Changes Impacting Indian County
- Consultations Begin on the Department of the Interior Reorganization Proposal
- Drought Discussions Restart in Arizona
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