The U.S. Supreme Court Cases To Watch This Fall

Oct 23, 2017

A new term at the U.S. Supreme Court opens with some long-standing debates.  The high court began its legal season on October 1st. Major issues include the drawing of political boundaries, called gerrymandering. Other cases address issues of digital privacy and religious freedom. 

NPR has a comprehensive discussion of many of these cases, found here


GUESTS:

  • Daniel Barrick - News director at NHPR.
  • John Greabe - Professor of Law at UNH Law, with an expertise in Constitutional law.  He writes the Constitutional Connections column for The Concord Monitor. 
  • Jennifer Sargent - Associate professor of writing and rhetoric at Dartmouth College; former law professor, district court judge, and public defender. 

President Trump's Travel Ban

The Supreme Court has canceled a hearing on the travel ban in September, but a new version, blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii this month, is likely to end up in the Supreme Court. 

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

A same-sex couple went to Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2012 to purchase a cake for their wedding reception. The owner, Jack Phillips, offered to sell them a premade cake but would not make a personal cake for their reception. He cited his religious convictions; he also does not make Halloween cakes. 

Phillips argues that his choice not to sell his cake to the same-sex couple is protected by the First Amendment; the couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, represented by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, says this is discrimination.

On The Exchange, John Greabe explained why all eyes should be on Justice Kennedy when this case comes before the Court -- and why the Obergefell decision, which found the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, may have only limited impact on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. 

Justice Kennedy was the author of all of the major decisions recognizing the rights of same sex couples. And in Obergefell, he was at pains to say that we're not deciding in this case that those of religious belief are going to have to see their religious beliefs give way. He did texturally leave in the opinion room to draw a different line. And at bottom, this not a claim of discrimination under the  Constitution. This is a claim of discrimination under state law.

And one of the other things that was left open in the Obergefell  decision was, what is the status of discrimination based on sexual orientation? Yes, they did recognize in the case a right to same-sex marriage but the doctrinal basis for recognizing that right was really left pretty unclear, and I don't think it's fair to say that the Supreme Court has decided that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under the Constitution is to be treated the same way as, for example, discrimination on the basis of race. It's still muddled, and I would say all eyes 

will be and should be on Justice Kennedy, because I think he's likely to be the driver of this decision. 

Read more about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

Gill v. Whitford

Gerrymandering, or manipulating electoral constituencies to favor a party, is up for debate in this case, where the state of Wisconsin is denying that their Republican legislature excessively redrew district lines to maintain their power. 

Read more about this case

Gerrymandering has also been an issue in New Hampshire. Check out this local coverage from NHPR:

"As New Hampshire Shifts to a Swing State, Why Do Legislative Lines Still Favor Republicans?"

"N.H. Senate Kills Bill to Remove Redistricting Authority from State Legislature."

Carpenter v. United States

A suit regarding search and seizure of cell phone records, this case involves a criminal investigation of Timothy Carpenter, whose phone location records were used to connect him to a string of robberies in Michigan and Ohio. 

Jennifer Sargent said on The Exchange: 

Timothy Carpenter has challenged the ability of the FBI  to obtain that type of information about his whereabouts from the telephonic records without a search warrant, without the finding of probably cause to get that search warrant.  This is a dead-on Fourth Amendment search and seizure case. 

As John Greabe explains, some have argued that the eyewitness rule should dispose of the case -- with the cell tower representing the eyewitness. 

The eyewitness rule is that the government, in investigating a crime, can always go to an eyewitness and say, What did you see? And by analogy, that's what the government is doing here. The cell tower is an inanimate witness, but, by using a cell phone, you are handing your information over to a cell phone provider; they are going to collect that information, store that information, and use it for various business purposes. And when you hand information over to a third party, the third party can be asked for that information. 

Read more about this case. 

Janus v. AFSCME

Lead plaintiff Mark Janus and two other state employees in Illinois say that mandatory dues, collected from nonmembers by labor groups, violates their First Amendment rights. 

Read more about this case.