The Progress Report Banner

SCOTUS Season

Posted on

"SCOTUS Season"

5 Major Supreme Court Cases Coming Up This June

Two years ago, upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Last year, ruling the federal ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, but dealing a major blow to the Voting Rights Act. It’s SCOTUS season again–when the Supreme Court of the United States issues its decisions on the constitutionality some of the most controversial cases of the year.

Ian Millhiser, the Editor at Think Progress Justice, goes into depth about some of the decisions this year that could change America. Here’s our rundown of five critical cases, and head over to the blog for more analysis:

1. Your Boss and Your Bedroom. The most watched case this term is likely to be Hobby Lobby, which raises the issue of whether for-profit company owners with strong religious beliefs can refuse to comply with a federal rule requiring their health plans to cover birth control for their employees. It doesn’t look great for supporters of this rule, as Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote in this case, took issue with the government’s argument and claimed that it could allow a federal law requiring corporations to pay for abortions. Kennedy has a virtually unblemished anti-abortion voting record. However, the question of how the government loses this case is almost as important as if it loses. The argument on behalf of company owners called for a sweeping rule that would allow them to claim exemptions for many other laws. That includes laws banning discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation — as we saw recently with anti-gay “religious liberty” legislation in Arizona only vetoed by the governor after national scrutiny. But it’s not at all clear that the Court, even if they side with company owners, will give them all that they ask for.

2. Recess Appointments. National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning is a case that could effectively eliminate the president’s constitutional authority to temporarily appoint government officials while the Senate is in recess. And it is looking like that is what the outcome will be: in the lower courts, judges split entirely on partisan lines when they considered this issue, but in oral arguments, Clinton-appointed Justice Stephen Breyer said that he could not find anything in the Constitution that will “allow the president to overcome Senate resistance” to a nominee. The big, immediate impact of that ruling would be that President Obama would be defenseless if Republicans capture the Senate and then refuse to confirm anyone that he nominates to any job.

3. Harrassment At Women’s Clinics. McCullen v. Coakley will test the validity of a Massachusetts law that creates a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances to abortion clinics so that no one may enter unless they have legitimate business within the clinic or are just passing through to reach another destination. This law prevents abortion protesters from getting in the way of or intimidating women seeking care within the clinic. Though it is possible that the Court could strike this buffer zone law down while leaving other, similar-but-less-restrictive laws in place, there are probably five votes to eliminate buffer zones entirely if the conservative justices decide to do so.

4. Cell Phone Searches. Police generally must obtain a warrant before they can search a person’s possessions. One major exception occurs when person is lawfully arrested: then, the police may search the person being arrested and anything they find on the person. Since this rule has gone into effect, however, the proliferation of smart-phones has led to individuals having an enormous amount of personal information — text messages, emails, apps with financial information — on their person at all times. Riley v. California tees up the question of if and when the police may search the information contained on a suspect’s smartphone without obtaining a warrant.

5. Public Sector Unions. One legal restriction public sector unions have is that they must bargain on behalf of every worker in a unionized shop — even if a particular worker does not belong to the union. To recoup the costs of bargaining on behalf of non-members, however, the union may charge those non-members what are known as “agency fees.” These agency fees are now under attack in a lawsuit known as Harris v. Quinn. The purpose of these agency fees is to prevent non-members from free-riding off the dues paid by their co-workers who do join the union. Unionization has significant benefits to workers — one study found it raises worker wages by about 12 percent. But without the fees, each individual worker would have little incentive to pay for the collective bargaining services that make these high wages possible.

BOTTOM LINE: The highest court in the land has some important decisions to make this month that could have wide-ranging effects on freedom and equality for many Americans. Stay tuned both here and at Think Progress for updates as the decisions come out.