Controversial Issues Fill US Supreme Court Docket

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The new US Supreme Court term, which began on Oct. 7, 2013, is expected to decide many controversial issues including cases on abortion, gay marriage, Obamacare, affirmative action, public prayer, free speech, religious liberty, property rights, and campaign finance reform.


Justices began hearing oral arguments on Oct. 8 with an examination of campaign finance laws in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The case will determine the constitutionality of aggregate caps on direct contributions from individuals to candidates and political parties in federal campaigns. The plaintiffs, an Alabama citizen and the Republican National Committee, argue that two-year contribution limits to candidates ($46,200) and groups ($70,800) violate freedom of speech protections.

Two cases will touch on abortion. McCullen v. Coakley challenges a Massachusetts law that restricts protests near reproductive health care facilities. Another, Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, questions whether or not states may limit the use of abortion-inducing drugs. The case could potentially modify the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade prohibiting laws that place an “undue burden” on access to abortion.

Justices are also expected to decide whether to hear cases challenging an Obamacare requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception. Some corporations have stated that the requirement violates their right to religious freedom, and cite the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission as the basis for a corporation’s right to free speech.

On the topic of affirmative action, the court will hear Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The case asks whether voters in the state of Michigan were allowed to pass a law in 2006 banning the use of race as a criteria for college admissions.

The court will potentially take up cases on cell phones and privacy rights. The cases, US v. Wurie and Riley v. California, question whether or not police must obtain a warrant to search data on the cell phone of a person under arrest.

Finally, the court may decide Elane Photography LLC v. Willock, which would determine whether private businesses can refuse on personal religious grounds to offer services typically available to the general public. According to CNN, the owners of a photography studio in New Mexico refused to film the 2006 “commitment ceremony” of a lesbian couple, and cited their opposition to gay marriage. The New Mexico state supreme court ruled that the refusal violated New Mexico’s Human Rights Act. 

The Supreme Court’s current term ends on June 30, 2014.

Sources:

Lyle Denniston, “Arguments Next Week Go On,” scotusblog.com, Oct. 9, 2013

Amy Howe, “Thursday Round-Up,” scotusblog.com, Oct. 10, 2013

Lisa Keen, “New Supreme Court Session Could Include Broad Array of LGBT Cases,” keennewsservice.com, Oct. 7, 2013

Adam Liptak, “Justice Take Case on Overall Limit to Political Donations,” nytimes.com, Feb. 19, 2013

Adam Liptak, “Justices Step Up Scrutiny of Race in College Entry,” nytimes.com, June 24, 2013

Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Has Deep Docket in Its New Term,” nytimes.com, Oct. 7, 2013

Bill Mears, “Church and State, Executive Power on Supreme Court Docket,” cnn.com, Oct. 6, 2013

Supreme Court of the United States, “Supreme Court Calendar: October Term 2013,” supremecourt.gov (accessed Oct. 10, 2013)