Historic Term for the Supreme Court


Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, and voting rights are just a few of the explosive issues on the Supreme Court’s docket this upcoming term. Although the nation has recently been focused on the upcoming presidential election, the Supreme Court has been dealing with a slew of politically divisive issues. Thomas Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog.com, stated that the Supreme Court “will be tackling some of the most difficult legal questions of today. Across the board, probably the biggest term in at least a decade.”

Picking up where it left off after upholding the Obama healthcare mandate in June, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments for the Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case on October 10. The court will decide whether the school’s race-conscious admissions policy has gone too far in rejecting the application of Abigail Fisher, a white high school student in 2008. Experts predict that this case has strong potential to overturn the University of Michigan case of 2006, a national precedent that held that race-conscious admissions policies were constitutional, but quotas were not, in trying to achieve a diverse campus.

Another big question this term is whether or not the justices will decide to grant certiorari to any of the same-sex marriage cases up for consideration. The two big cases in this department are the challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and to California’s Proposition 8. Lower courts have declared unconstitutional a provision in DOMA, which deprives same-sex couples of certain federal benefits such as Social Security spousal benefits. Proposition 8, a 2008 referendum that overturned the state’s support for gay marriage, has also been overturned by lower courts. The stage seems to be set for a landmark ruling on same-sex marriage. For both the affirmative action and same-sex marriage cases, it will be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court gives a “narrow” or “broad” decision – “narrow” meaning the decision holds only for that specific case and “broad” meaning that the decision sets a new national precedent for that issue.

Finally, there a number of challenges to a provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, requiring states with a history of racial discrimination to get advance approval from either the Justice Department or the federal court before changing any voting laws. Cases from Alabama, North Carolina, Texas and South Carolina have confronted this issue, although it is unclear yet whether the Supreme Court will decide to hear arguments. Critics of the provision contend that it is obsolete, and that the federal government is now infringing upon states’ rights. This should be an interesting battle between civil rights and federalism.

Personally, I think the court’s conservative wing will triumph in the affirmative action and voting rights cases, but the liberal wing will come out on top in the same-sex marriage debate. Whatever the case, this is shaping up to be a historic term for the Supreme Court, so stay attuned for future SCOTUS news and analyses.





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