The Supreme Court’s new term is back in session. Congress may always receive the most exposure in the media, but the upcoming Supreme Court year will be one of the most crucial yet in our history. Chief Justice John Roberts’ 2013-14 term will feature cases about reproductive rights, election funding, affirmative action, clean air, and public prayer.
On October 3, People for the American Way, a nonprofit that “is dedicated to making the promise of America real for every American,” hosted a conference call to discuss the upcoming cases and why they matter for civilians. Michael Keegan, President of PFAW, opened the conference call and briefly reviewed the Court’s previous term. During the same term, the Court voted to gut important voter rights that have been in place for years, and also strike down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMA). If the last year signaled anything for this year, it was that the Court could be very unpredictable in its conservative or liberal stance.
Guest speaker Jamin B. Raskin, Professor of Constitutional Law at American University Washington College of Law and Maryland Senator, called the next term an “extremely dangerous” session. He spoke about the upcoming case McCutcheon v. FEC, which people are calling “the next Citizens United”, which allowed for unlimited spending in elections. In this particular case, the Court is being asked to eliminate aggregate federal contribution limits. In order words, individual donors to a party’s candidates and affiliate groups currently have a $123,000 limit, but the Court may vote to erase this measure. Raskin believes that if the Court votes in favor of McCutcheon, it will “demolish the last federal campaign law” and be “an assault on democratic practices,” because corporations would have more opportunities to influence politics.
Another guest speaker, Dahlia Lithwick, spoke to the audience about future cases involving reproductive rights. Lithwick is an award-winning journalist and senior editor at Slate magazine, where she writes a column about courts and the law. There are three major cases involving women’s reproductive rights for this term. In Cline v. Olkahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, the Courts may vote to limit medical abortions according to ambiguous drug safety laws.
In McCullen v. Coakley, a “buffer zone” for anti-choice protestors at health clinics may be determined as an unconstitutional limit on freedom of speech. The Court upheld a “buffer zone” clause where protesters were limited to a certain distance away from the clinic in 2000’s Hill v. Colorado, but the current Court includes more far-right conservative judges and the judges may decide to strike down the law. The third case, the “Hobby Lobby case,” which may not come to the Court this year, will decide whether companies must provide female workers birth control under the Affordable Care Act. Opponents say it goes against their “religious conscious rights.”
Both Raskin and Lithwick feel that the Court seems to be going out of their way to vote over precedent and overturn decades-old cases, adopting a “we know best” attitude. “There is no respect for traditional understanding,” says Raskin. Raskin and Lithwick both agree that the departure of former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the “single most consequential thing” to cause the increasing conservative Court’s attitudes towards the law.
I have only touched on some of the cases coming up this year, and I highly encourage you to investigate the others. No matter your opinion on the issues facing the future Supreme Court cases, the outcome of the decisions will affect our individual civil rights for years to come, and it is our duty as citizens to remain informed about the branches of our government.