Supreme Court’s New Term Looks Like Another Bumpy Ride

Carrie Severino Chief Counsel, Judicial Crisis Network
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The Supreme Court has begun to hear the first arguments of its new term. With cases ranging from the death penalty to affirmative action and election law, this term will reveal more clearly than ever which justices are committed to the original meaning of the Constitution and their methods for interpreting it.

In Evenwel v. Abbott, one of this term’s most-anticipated cases, the Supreme Court will consider whether the population used to calculate the size of voting districts should be the total population of the district, the voting-age public, the number of citizens, or the number of eligible voters. Although the Court has long agreed that “one person, one vote” is the standard, this case will determine whether state governments can manipulate redistricting for partisan advantage by including large non-voting populations in certain districts.

The Court will once again consider the University of Texas’s racial preferences for college admissions in Fisher v. University of Texas. This will be the case’s second trip to the Supreme Court after the Court previously held that the lower court had failed to give UT’s admissions policy the “strict scrutiny” the Constitution requires for race-based classifications. Despite that warning, the appellate court still gave UT’s policy a pass. This time the Supreme Court will likely be more explicit about how race can be considered in college admissions.

Does it violate the First Amendment to force a public schoolteacher to pay mandatory union dues even though she opts out of the portion that is used for union political advocacy? The teacher in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is arguing that the union’s collective bargaining with the government constitutes political speech. And it’s a crucial First Amendment principle that the government may not force anyone to support political speech that she disagrees with.

Among the unusually large number of cases concerning the death penalty this term, the most important is Hurst v. Florida, which will determine whether the accused has the right to have a jury determine whether he is eligible for the death penalty in addition to determining actual guilt. Although rulings in favor of criminal defendants are sometimes mischaracterized as “liberal” rulings, the Court’s originalists have led the way in restoring robust constitutional protections for defendants as the Framers intended. Will the Court decide Hurst based on the Constitution or its own precedents?

Numerous federal statutes are at stake in a case called Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which concerns the legal doctrine of “standing.” In general, the Supreme Court has said that a plaintiff must suffer an injury to have standing bring a lawsuit in federal court. But Congress has also granted the right to sue under federal law to many parties that may not satisfy the Court’s test. This case has broad implications for statutes ranging from environmental regulations to government fraud, and also may be significant for Chief Justice Roberts himself, who argued several important cases about standing as an advocate before the Supreme Court.

By themselves, these cases would make for a very interesting term. But there are more interesting cases that may make the cut later in the year: Obamacare challenges, forcing the nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor and others to provide contraceptives, and potentially even a significant abortion case.

Buckle your seatbelts, America. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director for the Judicial Crisis Network and a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas.