The five most anticipated cases awaiting a SCOTUS decision next month

May 31, 2013

Supreme Court B&WThe Supreme Court’s current term wraps up at the end of June.  In this post, we’ll be highlighting the five most anticipated cases that the Court will be issuing decisions on next month.

Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.

Opinion below | Oral arguments

What’s it about?

The case is a challenge to an Arizona law enacted in 2004 via popular vote.  The law requires Arizona voters to demonstrate their U.S. citizenship prior to both registering to vote and actually casting their ballots.

The Constitution gives states the authority to dictate “the time, place and manner” of elections, but gives Congress the authority to “make or alter such regulations.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the law, interpreting this constitutional provision as giving Congress an effective veto power over state laws dealing with federal elections.

What’s at stake?

This case isn’t as hotly anticipated as the rest of the cases listed here, but its potential impact is sweeping regardless.  It could resolve questions over who has the ultimate authority to regulate the administration of federal elections – Congress or the states.

If the Court affirms the Ninth Circuit, state voting restrictions nationwide could be in peril, should they conflict with federal regulations – or if Congress decided to specifically take action against such restrictions (e.g. voter ID laws).

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Opinion below | Oral arguments

Posts on this case: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

What’s it about?

Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz (two white women) –claimed that they were denied admission to University of Texas at Austin because of their race.

They filed suit against the University, claiming that its admissions policies – a nearly carbon copy of the policies upheld in 2003’s Grutter v. Bollinger – were unconstitutional since they discriminated based on race.

What’s at stake?

Fisher is widely regarded as a challenge to Grutter, which upheld the use of race in school admissions policies.

A financier of the legal challenge believes that the time is right – i.e. there are enough conservative votes in Fisher’s favor on the Supreme Court – for such admissions policies to be struck down.

After oral arguments, that seems like the more likely scenario.  Just ten years earlier, however, the Court made the opposite ruling, which may make some justices hesitant to completely rule in Fisher’s favor.

If Fisher does prevail, though, the ruling will mark the end of one of the hallmark policies to emerge from the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s.

Shelby County v. Holder

Opinion below | Oral arguments

Posts on this case: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

What’s it about?

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits certain states (those determined by Congress to have a history of racial discrimination in voting) from making any changes to their voting laws and regulations without approval from the Justice Department.

Shelby County, Georgia, a jurisdiction subject to Section 5’s coverage, challenged the constitutionality of Section 5, and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court.

What’s at stake?

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, often labeled “the most successful civil rights law of all time,” could be struck down.

Without it, formerly “covered jurisdictions” would be free to change their voting laws and regulations as they wished, despite how racially discriminatory they may be.  The Justice Department wouldn’t be able to prevent the laws from taking effect; it would only be able to challenge the laws after the fact, and the burden of showing discrimination would be on the Department, not the state (Section 5’s placement of the burden is the other way around).

Shelby County has the same financial backer as Fisher’s, and the symbolism of the Court striking down two strong legal protections that arose from the civil rights era would certainly have significant historical implications.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

Opinion below | Oral arguments

Posts on this case: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

What’s it about?

In 2008, California voters approved  Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to make same-sex marriage illegal once again, after the California Supreme Court legalized it earlier that year.

The law was challenged and eventually struck down by the Ninth Circuit, which found the law to be unconstitutional since its primary purpose was to strip same-sex couples of a right which they had previously enjoyed.

What’s at stake?

There are a number of possible outcomes for this case at the Supreme Court.

It could issue a sweeping decision finding that same-sex couples enjoy the same constitutional right to marriage that opposite-sex couples do – instantly invalidating same-sex marriage bans across the country.

It could reverse the Ninth Circuit and find that Prop 8 is perfectly constitutional.

It could uphold the Ninth Circuit, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage in California once again.

It could find that the Prop 8 supporters don’t have standing, which would vacate the Ninth Circuit opinion and leave the district court’s decision intact – which, because of convoluted procedure, would likely also lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage in California.

Finally, it could just punt the issue by dismissing the case as improvidently granted – which would leave the Ninth Circuit opinion in place and would be the equivalent (with minor exceptions) to affirming the appeals court.

No matter how it rules, the decision would be historic – though clearly some of the possible outcomes would have greater significance in our history books than others.

U.S. v. Windsor

Opinion below | Oral arguments

Posts on this case: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

What’s it about?

New York residents “Edie” Windsor and Thea Spyer were married in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2007; Spyer died in 2009.

Because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, Windsor had to pay $363,053 in federal estate taxes that she would not have otherwise had to if not for DOMA.

Windsor filed suit, claiming that DOMA’s Section 3 – which limits federal recognition of marriage to opposite-sex couples – is unconstitutional.

What’s at stake?

The more obvious issue is whether DOMA’s Section 3 survives.  If it doesn’t, spouses in same-sex marriages will be entitled to the same federal benefits on things like taxes, Social Security, and Medicare that opposite-sex spouses currently enjoy.

The bigger issue, however, is how the Supreme Court makes that decision, should they go down that road.

If the Supreme Court affirms the Second Circuit’s ruling – that LGBT individuals qualify as a quasi-suspect class – the impact across the nation could be significant; such a ruling would mean that any laws that discriminate against LGBT individuals must survive intermediate scrutiny.

Should the Supreme Court closely follow the Second Circuit’s reasoning – that all of the traditional reasons for banning same-sex marriage are insufficient to survive intermediate scrutiny – same-sex marriage bans across the nation would be in serious jeopardy.

As with Perry, however, there are a number of ways that the Supreme Court could rule here, so it’s anyone’s guess how Windsor will shake down.

It will almost certainly, though, be a historic decision regardless.