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With Term Coming to a Close, What Does SCOTUS Have Left?

Much like a procrastinating child, the U.S. Supreme Court always leaves the toughest tasks for last. With only three weeks left in the current tern however, some of the most intriguing landmark cases will be decided soon. 

According to SCOTUSblog’s calendar, opinions are expected to be released on June 10, 13, 17, and 24. Those of us who have been waiting to hear the Court’s take on the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex marriage via Prop 8, voting rights, and affirmative action, will soon have answers.

Here are the four major opinions we’re anticipating for the next few weeks:

United States v. Windsor

Heightened scrutiny, rational basis, or standing? The group defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), isn’t a federal organization. The Obama administration has refused to defend the law, as they feel that it is unconstitutional. Does the third-party group have standing to defend a law that both parties agree is unconstitutional?

There are a number of paths that the Supreme Court could take. They could rule narrowly and decide the case on standing. Or they could agree with the Second Circuit and strike down DOMA under heightened scrutiny. Or, they could do so under the rational basis test, as the district court did. Or DOMA could survive.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

Again, standing, narrow holding, or nationwide equality? Much like DOMA, the party defending the law is not a state or federal entity. It is a third-party group that once sponsored Prop. 8, which rescinded gay marriage in California, and which intervened when the state refused to defend the ballot initiative.

Assuming standing, the court could issue the narrow holding that a state cannot rescind a right once it has been granted, as the Ninth Circuit ruled. That means California has gay marriage. Other states’ restrictions on marriage stand. Or, they could issue a more broad decision, perhaps relying upon equal protection arguments, and allow same-sex marriage nationwide.

Shelby County v. Holder

Is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which provides for federal oversight of state and local voting procedures in nine southern states and numerous counties and townships, a relic of our shameful past, or a present-day necessity? The law, which was passed in 1965 after case-by-case litigation failed to stem the tide of prejudicial voting restrictions, was renewed in 2006. Southern states, which are targeted by the law, are unhappy about the federal oversight.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Last week, we asked: is Ret. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s “sunset” finally here? She famously held (or suggested) in Grutter v. Bollinger, that affirmative action would not be necessary in twenty-five years. It’s been ten. UT, like many schools, uses race as a “plus factor” in order to ensure diversity at the university. The ruling be anything from a full rebuttal of Grutter to affirmation of the Fifth Circuit’s opinion, which upheld the policy.

Eagerly awaiting these decisions? As always, we’ll be covering them in-depth, as soon as they are released.

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