The Supreme Court Is About to Have a ‘Momentous’ Year

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently said the Supreme
Court’s term that began on Monday would be “momentous,” and
virtually every report agrees: this term will be “one for the history books,”
and central to the “shape the future of

The court, which declined to hear a handful of contentious
cases after the death of Antonin Scalia left it shorthanded,
returned with a docket that will address legal issues as
far-ranging as gerrymandering, workers’ rights, First Amendment
freedoms, and Fourth Amendment rights. The court will wade into
these complex issues with its newest member, Trump appointee
Neil Goursch who is expected to fill the reliably conservative
vote of Scalia, leaving four left-leaning justices and five
conservative justices (including the so-called “swing vote” of Anthony

The Supreme Court opened its new nine-month term Monday when it
heard an hour of arguments about the rights of employees to
bring class-action lawsuits against companies. Reuters reports that today’s
arguments, “focused on whether employers can require workers to
sign arbitration agreements that curb their ability to bring
class-action claims.” In what is perhaps a bit of
foreshadowing, the court appeared deeply divided along
ideological lines though Goursch did not speak. Fundamentally,
today’s case (consolidated from three separate
yet related cases
) addressed whether or not employers can
compel workers to sign class action waivers, “to guard against
a rising tide of worker lawsuits seeking unpaid wages.”

It’s one of a handful of labor-related cases on the Supreme
Court’s docket. In addition to the trio of lined cases, the
court will also hear Mark Janus v. American Federation of
State, County and Municpal Employees
, another
labor-related case that could have a major impact on the
influence of public sector unions. Nearly four decades ago, the
court ruled that public sector unions could effectively require
non-union members to pay a fee to cover the costs of collective
bargaining (essentially, you pay for the benefits you reap,
even if you’re not a union member). That ruling is being
questioned in Janus which asserts that the union’s
demands violate the First Amendment right of free speech.

In another First Amendment case, the court is slated to hear
Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights
At heart is whether or not Colorado’s law, which
prohibts discrimination on the basis sexual orientation,
infringed on the religious rights of a baker who was cited for
violating that law after refusing to bake a wedding cake for a
gay couple. A lower state court found that it did not but the
baker maintains that the antidiscrimination law infringes on
his First Amendment religious rights.

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In addition, the Supreme Court will hear two voting-related
cases, Husted v. Randolph
and Gill v. Whitford. In Husted, the
court will hear Ohio’s appeal of a lower court ruling about
purging voter rolls. Currently, the state removes voters from
rolls after a period of inactivity. The Randolph Institute, a
civil rights group, sued the state over the voting roll
maintenance process, alleging that it violates the National
Voter Registration Act of 1993. A lower court sided with the
state of Ohio, but that ruling was later overturned by a
federal appeals court. In Gill, the Supreme Court will
decide whether or not the Republican-controlled Wisconsin
legislature and governor violated the Constitution when they
gerrymandered the hell out
of the state. Gill could have enormous impact on
American elections and, as the Washington Post
reports, “While the Supreme
Court regularly makes states redraw maps that are found to be
racially gerrymandered, the justices have never agreed on a
standard that would disallow extreme partisan gerrymandering.”

If you haven’t had an anxiety attack yet, the Supreme Court
will also hear what is likely to be one of the most important
digital privacy cases in decades. In Carpenter v. United
, the court will answer whether or not prosecutors
need a warrant to track a persons location through wireless
data. The case stems from the conviction of Timothy Carpenter
for a series of robberies. Prosecutors used Carpenter’s
locations, accessed through wireless records obtained without a
warrant, as evidence in his trial. The ACLU contends that
prosectors’ actions violated Carpenter’s Fourth Amendment

In addition to these landmark cases, the court will also hear
cases on the legalization of gambling courtsey of Chris
Christie and a case that could determine how long noncitizens
can be held without a bail
. Initally, the court was also scheduled to hear a
challenge to Trump’s travel ban, but that case has been
(perhaps temporarily) set aside while the court determines
whether or not the president’s revised travel ban has rendered
the initial challenge meaningless.

It’s going to be an exciting nine months.

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