It's the beginning of October, and you know what that means. The kids are in school, there's a chill in the air, and the U.S. Supreme Court is back in black -- robes, that is.
This is the time of year when Justices hear oral arguments for a whole new crop of cases -- eight just this week. While it may seem like a long time to wait for the Supremes to draft their rulings, it is a supremely important job that should not be rushed.
Everyone has opinions, but Supreme Court opinions have the power to resolve legal conflicts, add clarity to existing law, overturn statutes, and create entirely new legal precedents. There's a lot of influence in those black robes.
Interested in learning more about how the Supreme Court of the United States (or as lawyers often call it, "SCOTUS") works? Check out the following resources here at FindLaw.com as part of our "SCOTUS Week" coverage:
- How Does the U.S. Supreme Court Work? from FindLaw's Law and Daily Life blog;
- The U.S. Supreme Court: Overview from FindLaw's Learn About the Law section;
- How Does the U.S. Supreme Court Decide Whether to Hear a Case?, also from Learn About the Law; and
- FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court News and Information Blog.
Now let's take a look at a few high-profile issues on the SCOTUS docket this fall:
1. Campaign Funding (McCutcheon v. FEC)
Turns out, Citizens United was just the beginning. That case eliminated nearly all restrictions on corporate and union contributions to political advocacy groups, opening up the spigots to even more campaign spending in 2012. The petitioner (the party appealing to the Court) in McCutcheon is arguing against another federal law which limits the amount individuals may contribute to candidates and political organizations, such as the Republican National Convention or a Democratic candidate for Senate.
If the law is overturned, then get ready for even more campaign ads in the next general election.
2. Public Prayer (Town of Greece v. Galloway)
In this case, the Court must decide whether the town of Greece, New York, may begin its public town meetings with a Christian prayer without violating the Constitution. Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens challenged the practice as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, arguing that the prayer policy unconstitutionally favored one particular religion. The lower court agreed, but allowed the policy to remain as long as other religions were represented. The town of Greece appealed to the Supreme Court.
This will be the Court's first case involving an invocation (moment of prayer) at public meetings since Marsh v. Chambers 30 years ago. If the High Court agrees with the lower court, or decides that all religious invocations are unconstitutional, then local governments and legislative bodies across the country will be revisiting their public meeting policies.
3. Affirmative Action (Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action)
As you probably know, affirmative action refers to policies intended to boost ethnic and gender diversity in schools and in the workplace, which have always been met with controversy. In this case, the Court must decide whether a state may amend its constitution to ban affirmative action in public university admissions. Michigan implemented a law prohibiting the use of race and gender when making admissions decisions at its public universities; a lower court held the law was unconstitutional.
Should the Supremes reverse that decision, thereby reinstating the Michigan law, it could pave the way for other states to propose similar legislation banning affirmative action policies at public universities.
As often is the case with our highest court, there's a lot at stake this term. Count on FindLaw.com to keep you in the know.