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The High Court Is Back! Cases to Watch for the October 2015 Term

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 05, 2015 2:52 PM

The Supreme Court reconvened this morning for the first oral arguments of the October 2015 term. The last term was full of headline-making cases. The Court recognized a fundamental right to same-sex marriage. It upheld Obamacare against another of seemingly endless challenges. It drastically reshaped public signage laws. (Okay, they can't all be sexy cases.)

This term promises to be just as important, if not more. It all starts today. Here are the cases we'll be watching as the term unfolds.

One Person, One Vote: Evenwel v. Abbot

One person, one vote is the bedrock of modern election law. But what constitutes a person? When it comes to creating legislative districts, do governments have to account for the total population including people like felons and non-citizens who cannot vote? Or can it simply base its districting around actual voters, a difficult practice, but one which gives more influence to rural and conservative districts?

This case will have major implications on gerrymandering, electioneering, and politics generally. FindLaw previewed this case last June.

Race-Conscious University Admissions: Fisher II

It's Fisher v. University of Texas Austin time, once again. This case once again looks at whether public universities can consider race as one of many factors in admissions decisions. The litigation has been going on so long that this is the second time the Supreme Court has taken it up -- they punted in 2013 -- and the student applicant suing over admissions has long since graduated college. It may be the death knell of affirmative action in public college admissions.

FindLaw recently looked at the implications Fisher could have on the American college system, as well as the role the then-new Justice Sotomayor had in determining the outcome of the 2013 case.

Death Sentencing: Hurst v. Florida

Who should decide when the death penalty is warranted? Here, a Florida rule requires that judges, instead of juries, decide when a criminal defendant should be sentenced to death. Way back in 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that such sentencing procedures denied defendants of their constitutional right to trial by jury.

FindLaw put together brief preview to Hurst in May.

Obamacare and Contraception: One of Possibly Many?

Under the Affordable Care Act, employer-provided health insurance plans have to provide contraception coverage -- except for certain religious employers, who are exempted. In those cases, a third party administrator provides contraception coverage. But, even that exemption process (it involves sending out a simple form) has been considered too much of a religious burden to some employers, who have challenged the law as a violation of their free exercise of religion. They've lost in circuit after circuit after circuit, until they won in the Eighth Circuit just this past September. We'd be shocked if one of the cases isn't taken up by the Court this year.

We recently discussed the Eighth Circuit's opinion ("maverick" or "crazy," depending on your perspective) and explored the likelihood of such cases reaching the court.

First Things Last: Sovereign Immunity and Spousal Debts

Finally, today's cases are also worth mentioning. The court will hear two hours of oral arguments on sovereign immunity and the liability of spousal guarantors for their other half's debts. They're not exactly the most interesting of cases, but they have plenty of that will interest law nerds. OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs will explore when an entity is an agent of a foreign state for purposes of the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.

In Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore, the Court will examine whether a spouse can challenge a banks requirement that she guarantee her husband's loan. SCOTUSblog describes it as "as simple and straightforward a question of statutory interpretation as a fresh-from-the-court-of-appeals clerk could desire."

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