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Supreme Court opens with a ‘monumental’ caseload

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Supreme Court
The Supreme Court in autumn.

Monday, Oct. 2 marked the first day of fall term for the Supreme Court of the United States, and the legal field is abuzz with the line-up of cases that will be presented.

Off to an exciting start

Starting off with a bang, the court has already heard two major test cases, and it’s only the third day of the term.

• The court heard consolidated arguments on Monday in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris, and NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA, which will determine whether mandatory class-action waivers and forced arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believes these contracts are akin to “yellow-dog contracts” that place an unconscionable burden on employees, and this outlook appears to have the support of the majority of the court. However, the employers hope that they come out victorious so they — and future employers facing similar suits — do not have to succumb to costly litigation and potentially derail economic growth.

Read about why the U.S. Solicitor General’s office changed sides in Murphy Oil at SCOTUS blog.

• On Tuesday, the court tackled a major question of immigration law. Sessions v. Dimaya will determine how broadly “crimes of violence” should be defined for immigrants. Currently, the definition incorporates any crime that imposes risk on both people and physical property, and the government has relied on this category of crime broadly to evict aliens from the United States. Because the definition is so broad, many immigrants now fall under the umbrella of having “violent criminal convictions” – a designation that can be used to justify outcomes ranging from being denied bond hearings to deportation.

Previous immigration cases heard with the eight justices on the bench were split, so this case hinges on Justice Neil Gorsuch’s swing vote. Another immigration case — Jennings v. Rodriguez — was heard on Tuesday and will also need Justice Gorsuch’s vote to break an earlier 4-4 split ruling.

• Also on Tuesday was Gill v. Whitford, which tackles the legality of partisan gerrymandering. Justice Ginsburg – and many others – believes this case may be one of the most important during this October 2017 session because the SCOTUS ruling has wide-ranging implications nationwide. While Wisconsin does not want the court to intervene in state politics, the justices will have to determine whether gerrymandering skews the state’s political system so dramatically that it becomes an unconstitutional interference with the right to vote. The case has garnered national attention following the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election.

Listen to the folks at Five-Thirty-Eight explain the ins and outs of gerrymandering.

• Later in the term (Nov. 8), the court will hear Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, which concentrates on voting rights pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act. It will examine whether Ohio’s practice of purging its voter roll by canceling voter registrations of anyone who hasn’t voted in the past six years violates the right to vote or the specific provisions of the NVRA designed to protect access to the polls. Many believe this disproportionately burdens the voting rights of certain disenfranchised classes of people, such as the homeless population and some minority groups, by forcing them to register anew in order to vote.

The Trump administration has voiced its support for Ohio’s system which, it argues is within the parameters of the NVRA.

More to Come Later in the Term

In addition to the cases listed above, there are a few that haven’t been scheduled yet but are in line for hearings this fall.

• Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission considers whether a bakery may refuse to sell a cake to a couple planning a gay wedding. The owner of the bakery has argued that his cakes are a form of artistic expression, which the First Amendment protects from coercion (here, coercion by anti-discrimination laws). Colorado has argued that refusal of service based on sexual orientation is blatantly discriminatory under the state’s public accommodation laws.

The case has been hotly contested from its inception. Some believe the case is important in protecting artists’ freedom to create what they want and for whom, but many others believe this case is not about expression at all but about the rights of LGBT people to access publicly available goods and services.

For more on the implications of the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation, see the following news stories:

• The Court will tackle the issue of states’ rights and federalism in is Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. This case will determine whether New Jersey can legalize sports gambling, which is forbidden under federal regulations. New Jersey believes that the federal government has overstepped its bounds, but the United States has argued that it has an interest in preventing the expansion of legal gambling outside of the handful of states where it is currently allowed.

• The Court will also hear a landmark privacy case. Carpenter v. US determines whether cell phone records are protected under the Fourth Amendment.

The government has argued that police should be able to search the contents of a cell phone without a warrant or probable cause because the records are governed by the “third party doctrine.” This rule holds that if a person gives information to someone else, they can no longer have any expectation that the information is “private” and is not protected by the Fourth Amendment In the case of cell phones, everything on the phone has been disclosed to the phone company, so the government argues that it should be able to ask the phone company for the records with no warrant or showing of probable cause.

Privacy advocates have argued that the information stored on a phone is so vast and wide-ranging that adopting the government’s proposed rule would allow massive invasions of privacy wholly unconnected to any criminal investigation. Such an allowance goes too far, they say, and cell phone data should not be treated as if it were a simple call log, for example.

Fun facts

• This term marks the 100th anniversary of the Court opening on the first Monday in October.

• This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Justice Thurgood Marshall joining the Court under Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency. Marshall served from 1967-1991. He was the first African-American justice to join the Supreme Court, and he is also notable in Supreme Court history as having argued the winning side in Brown v. Board of Education.

More information

 

Dayna Maeder Dayna Maeder is a 3L at Florida State University College of Law and Student Editor for the Law Student Division. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Central Florida where she studied English and mass communications, and went on to earn her Master’s in Education. Dayna is a former journalist who edited and wrote articles for Houston Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers and magazines throughout the nation. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, skydiving, playing poker and reading novels. She will be graduating in December 2019.