Supreme Court Tackles Abortion, Affirmative Action, Guns

Posted October 15, 2013 in Government Your Personal Rights by

U.S. Supreme Court house

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The U.S. Supreme Court has a busy slate of cases coming in front of it this term, with several that have the potential to have landmark precedential effects on the rights of everyday Americans.

Through the fall and winter the justices will consider cases that touch on campaign finance, affirmative action, abortion, gun rights and public prayer, among other hot-button issues. “The big cases on the docket are all across the board,” says Vikram D. Amar, a professor at the UC Davis School of Law, pointing out that the court still has yet to decide on many of the cases it will take up. “It’s shaping up to be a non-trivial term. We still have to wait to see.”

The high-profile cases the court has agreed to hear so far don’t have one unifying theme, but do have the potential to impact people’s lives bit by bit across a variety of realms.

“If you look at this whole panoply of cases, as I see it the court is methodically going through area by area regardless of precedent or how recently a case has been decided, and reversing those precedents consistent with this court’s ideological agenda,” says Jeffrey S. Brand, professor and chairman of the Center for Law and Global Justice at the University of San Francisco School of Law. “I don’t mean to say the judges aren’t trying to be fair in assessing these, but the activism of the Roberts court and their willingness to dismantle precedent is alarming.”

Among the areas that the high court will consider:

Supreme Court Report logoCampaign Finance: In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court has a followup to the 2010 Citizens United decision in which it decided that corporations have free speech rights to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. The arguments in McCutcheon were held last week, and many observers think the court could take the next step and allow cash to go directly to candidates and political parties, further loosening the restrictions on how money can be used to get people into office.

Jeffrey S. Brand

Jeffrey S. Brand

Affirmative Action: In Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the justices will decide whether a Michigan constitutional amendment passed via ballot initiative to ban the consideration of race in public university admissions violates federal equal protection guarantees. “I think there is a really good chance that with the Schuette case you could see the death knell of affirmative action as we know it, if a state wants to go that route,” Brand says. “You have a court that is undoing decades of civil liberties and equality progress.” Arguments will be held Tuesday

Abortion: There are two abortion cases before the court this term: McCullen v. Coakley, in which plaintiffs have argued that the 35-foot buffer to keep protestors from getting too close to abortion clinics in Massachusetts is unconstitutional, and Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, in which an Oklahoma law banning the use of certain abortion-inducing drugs is at stake. “They’re not the most earth-shattering abortion cases one could imagine, not involving the kind of really aggressive laws that states have been trying to pass, but they’re significant cases,” says Amar.

Public Prayer: Arguments will be heard Nov. 6 on whether a public board can open its meetings with a prayer in Town of Greece v. Galloway. The court will weigh in on whether the official prayers, which are usually but not always Christian, violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Vikram D. Amar

Gun Laws: The justices will also tackle gun laws this term, deciding in United States v. Castleman what level of violence is necessary in an assault conviction for a person to be disqualified from transferring firearms under federal law.

Presidential Appointments: National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, in which the court will decide whether President Obama improperly made executive appointments when Congress may or may not have been in recess, doesn’t sound relevant to the average American at first glance until one considers that the appointments in question are made to a variety of boards and offices that have vast powers to carry out public policy. “The president used recess appointments to fill agencies of different kinds,” says Amar. ”There are practical consequences that cut across the substantive realm.”

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