Five Hot Button Issues to Watch for as the Supreme Court Kicks Off Its Fall Term
The Supreme Court began its fall term on Monday, October 3. Many of the cases the Court has already agreed to hear, and a few it is widely expected to weigh in on, involve politically charged issues that are sure to capture headlines during the 2012 presidential campaign. Here is a brief rundown of the five cases most likely to garner widespread media attention this year.
Check back soon for a list of cases plaintiffs’ lawyers should be following this term and our review of a few cases the media may be ignoring, but which could have important consequences for everyday people.
1. Immigration – Arizona v. U.S.
In July 2010, just one day before SR 1070, Arizona’s strict immigration law was to take effect, a federal district court struck down some of its most controversial provisions – including provisions requiring immigrants to carry their papers at all times and calling for police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other state laws – finding that they were preempted by federal law. In April 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s injunction and the State of Arizona appealed. The Supreme Court has not yet agreed to hear the appeal, but is widely expected to, particularly in light of a recent contradictory ruling allowing even stricter measures under Alabama’s new immigration law.
For the Maribel Hasting’s recent editorial piece for the Huffington Post on the proliferation of state immigration laws in the wake of SB 1070, and the federal government’s efforts to keep control over immigration regulation, see here.
2. Health Care Reform Cases
Some say President Obama is rolling the dice by pushing the Supreme Court to weigh in this term on the legality of the individual health insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act (known disparagingly as ObamaCare). Lower courts are split on whether Congress may require individuals to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. If the Court takes the case, a decision could come next June, right in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign.
For interesting predictions on the voter backlash that is sure to accompany the ruling, whichever party prevails, see Charles Lane’s post on the Washington Post’s Blog.
3. The Death Penalty – Maples v. Thomas
Argued on the second day into the Supreme Court’s new term, this is a disturbing case in which two associates serving as pro bono counsel on a death penalty case left the firm they were working for without notifying the court. The court mailed the decision denying his initial state court appeal to the lawyers, where it went to the law firm’s mailroom and was returned back to the clerk’s office unopened. Upon receiving the returned, unopened notice, the court clerk made no additional efforts to notify the defendant or his counsel of its order. In the end, the deadlines to file a further state court appeal or a federal habeas petition were missed and the Eleventh Circuit held that, under existing law, the lawyers’ fault could be attributed to the client. The case has garnered a lot of attention already, with a number of amicus briefs filed on behalf of the defendant (by the Constitution Project, Cato Institute, Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, NAACP, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Alabama Appellate Court Justices and Bar Presidents and Legal Ethics Professors and Practitioners and the Ethics Bureau at Yale) and the prosecutor (by the State of Texas and the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation).
To view the documents relating to this case, including a transcript of the oral argument, visit the SCOTUS blog here.
4. TV Censorship – FCC v. Fox Television Stations
Is broadcast television a public resource requiring government regulation to protect America’s vulnerable youth, or are restrictions against profanity and nudity outdated in the era of the internet and cable television? Should parents have at least this one safe haven where they can leave the room without fearing their children will be exposed to such content? Does anyone really care if Paris Hilton says the F-word at the Billboard Music Awards? These are questions that will face the Supreme Court as it’s asked, for the first time since 1978, to decide whether the FCC’s policy regarding indecent broadcasts violates the First Amendment right to free speech.
5. Government Surveillance – U.S. v. Jones
In this case, the Court will decide whether the government violated a suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights when it installed a GPS tracking device on his car and tracked his movements without a search warrant for over a month. Those following the case are unsure how it will be resolved. In 1983 the Court held that a tracking device can be used without a warrant for short distances, but in 2001 it held that a warrant was required before police officers could use thermal imaging to see whether a suspect is at home. Touted as the most important search and seizure case the Court has heard in a decade, it will be interesting to see how the Bill of Rights has kept pace with ever-changing technology.
Photo Credit: John H. Kleschinsky