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SCOTUS Oral Argument Preview: Week of March 2, 2015

After figuring out what a fish is (and is not), then telling us that anyone, not just dentists, can perform teeth-whitening, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a round of contentious cases dealing with unreasonable searches, drawing legislative boundaries, and -- drum roll please! -- the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

Here's a preview of this week's oral arguments:

Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (Monday, March 2)

This issue is hot, hot, hot! Many states, frustrated over how political the process of drawing legislative districts has become, transferred that power to independent, nonpartisan commissions. Politicians are upset, so some of them in Arizona sued the state's redistricting commission. The Court will address the fairly narrow of question of whether the U.S. Constitution allows a state to delegate district-drawing power to a non-legislative state commission. But it will also have to decide whether the state legislature even has standing to bring the case in the first place.

Ohio v. Clark (Monday, March 2)

From the Ohio Supreme Court, Darius Clark claimed that the state violated the Confrontation Clause by admitting the hearsay statement of a preschool teacher who questioned a 3-year-old with a black eye. "Testimonial" hearsay statements can't be introduced in court, but that only applies to law enforcement. The Court will decide whether a mandatory reporter, like a teacher, is an "agent of law enforcement" for Confrontation Clause purposes.

Los Angeles v. Patel (Tuesday, March 3)

For those of us in criminal law, this is a big one. A Los Angeles city ordinance requires hotel operators to turn over their guest records whenever police ask for them -- and police don't need consent or a search warrant. The Ninth Circuit held that the ordinance was unconstitutional as a warrantless search because it didn't allow the hotel operator to challenge the request in court first; if the operator didn't comply, he could charged with a misdemeanor. The Court will also answer the new question of whether an individual can use the Fourth Amendment itself as a way of challenging a potentially unconstitutional search and seizure statute.

Davis v. Ayala (Tuesday, March 3)

The federal habeas corpus statute allows a prisoner to get federal habeas relief only if a state court has unreasonably interpreted federal law. The California Supreme Court didn't expressly invoke federal law when it found a harmless error in Ayala's Batson claim, but the Ninth Circuit said the California Supreme Court invoked federal law by citing to it.

California asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case on the ground that Ayala's habeas petition shouldn't have been granted because there's nothing for a federal court to review. The state supreme court couldn't have unreasonably interpreted federal law because it only interpreted state law. The U.S. Supreme Court accepted this case and then added its own question, possibly an indication that they will get to the merits of Ayala's claim.

King v. Burwell (Wednesday, March 4)

It's the big one! Once again, the survival of the Affordable Care Act is in the Court's hands. A Republican legal activist group claimed that the ACA's language permits the government to offer tax subsidies for health insurance only in states that have, themselves, enacted state exchanges and not in states served by the federal exchange. The D.C. Circuit Court agreed, but the Fourth Circuit didn't.

Most legal scholars believe the Court won't suddenly make health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans, but hey, you never know what those crazy kids at One First Street will do.

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