Leslie A. Farber
Supreme Court Cases to Watch
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
The U.S. Supreme Court began its 2017-2018 term this month, and it could prove to be one of the most significant in decades. The justices will consider cases as diverse as religious liberty (or oppression), immigration, cell phone privacy, voting rights, possibly the President’s violation of the “emoluments” clauses of the U.S. Constitution, and possibly the legality of President Donald Trump's controversial travel ban. Their decisions will have implications both at the national level and right here in New Jersey.
Here are some of the key issues on the docket this year:
The justices will hear Gill v. Whitford, a gerrymandering case that could reshape electoral maps across the country. Democratic voters in Wisconsin are challenging legislative district maps they say were drawn to benefit Republicans. Wisconsin says the challengers have no power to bring the claim and that the issue should be decided by the political branches. The Supreme Court has said that courts can decide these cases. If the justices agree with a lower court ruling that a districting map was unconstitutional, it would impact the way redistricting is carried out in almost every other state.
One high profile case that is not on the docket is a challenge to President Trump’s "travel ban" executive order. The ban bars admission to the United States for individuals from a number of Muslim-majority countries, and challengers argue that it violates the Constitution. Last spring the Supreme Court allowed part of the ban to go into effect, pending appeal, for foreign nationals who "lack any bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States." Scheduled arguments were postponed after the Trump administration issued a new, expanded the travel ban. Now the justices must decide whether to hear the case or send it back to the lower courts.
The Supreme Court will address constitutional protections for immigrants, agreeing to rehear two previous immigration-related cases. Although neither Sessions v. Dimaya nor Jennings v. Rodriguez has direct bearing on the travel ban litigation, both implicate the scope of the government's authority over different classes of immigrants. The cases could provide clues to the justices’ thinking on the travel ban.
Religious Liberty (or not)
One of the most controversial cases of the term involves a Colorado baker’s denial of service to a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs. Colorado has a “public accommodations” state law that prohibits discrimination by retail establishments on the basis of sexual orientation and other categories. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which ruled the baker’s conduct violated the law. Colorado state courts agreed. The Supreme Court will determine if the law is unconstitutional. The Department of Justice filed a brief in September suggesting that forcing the baker to “create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights.”
Cell Phone Privacy
The justices will hear a major case that asks whether investigators need to obtain warrants before asking cell phone companies for data that reveals information about customers’ movements and locations. The case was brought by the ACLU on behalf of two men who were arrested after a string of robberies in Michigan and Ohio. The government's evidence included records from the defendants' phones.
In August, more than a dozen technology companies including Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Verizon Communications called on the Supreme Court to make it harder for government officials to access individuals’ cell phone data. Most courts have held that there is a diminished privacy interest in this area because the information has already been provided to third parties. The case is viewed as an important Fourth Amendment challenge with significant implications for privacy and government surveillance.
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The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.