Today is the first Monday in October, which means that the new Supreme Court term has officially opened. The nine Justices started hearing oral arguments this morning, and their decisions over the course of the next three months, have the potential to redefine the jurisprudence in their respective areas. Get ready…things are about to get pretty technical!
Today marks the first time the Justices will hear oral arguments for this term, which runs from October to June. Arguments continue into April, which means that some of the hot-button cases will not be heard or even scheduled for another few months. Many eyes are fixed on Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, a case about contraception and the Affordable Care Act. The claim made by Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts supplies company, is that the requirement under the ACA (that employers offer contraception coverage under health care plans) violates individual religious liberty. The plaintiff argues that since the owners of the company are devoutly Catholic and are personally opposed to the use of contraceptives, they should not be required to offer coverage to their employees. In June 2013, the Tenth District Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, deciding that the company would not have to pay fines for refusing to offer contraceptive coverage. A request for Supreme Court review of the case was filed (called a writ of certiorari), and the Department of Justice has called for the Supreme Court to review this case. It is therefore possible that we will hear oral arguments this term.
Other important cases to look out for are McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission, Town of Greece v. Galloway, McCullen v. Coakley, and Shuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, as well as National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, in which the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of the President’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
The other cases are in areas in which the Reform Movement has long-standing policy. McCutcheon, being heard tomorrow morning, questions the constitutionality of limitations on candidate and non-candidate campaign contributions. This case is a follow up to the landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, in which the High Court ruled that corporations and labor unions could spend unfettered funds on independent political expenditures.
On November 6th, the Court will hear arguments in Greece v. Galloway, a case that questions the constitutionality of sectarian prayer in the legislature. Our strong position on strict Church-State separation heightens our interest in the case. The Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Women of Reform Judaism signed onto an amicus brief alongside other organizations that represent various religious denominations on the side of the respondent, Susan Galloway. This is the first time in thirty years that the Court will rule on legislative prayer.
Another case of note is McCullen v. Coakley; the inquiry surrounds the question of protesters at abortion clinics. The law in Massachusetts, where this case originated, does not permit protesters within 35 feet of the clinic on sidewalks and public space unless the people protesting are “employees or agents” of the clinic in question. This case could reshape approaches to protests and anti-abortion activism, and is certainly worth following here as it gets scheduled for the docket and argued.
Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action will determine whether there is a violation of Equal Protection Clause if a state amends its constitution to disallow affirmative action in admissions to public universities. The case comes out of a Michigan ballot measure that included government contracting and employment alongside public universities. The Court saw a case last term in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin in which the majority upheld the tenets of affirmative action, while asking a lower court to discern whether the particular program in question is narrowly tailored enough to survive strict scrutiny.
The cases highlighted in this post are only a fraction of the cases that will be reviewed this term. Deuteronomy 16:18-20 teaches us the importance of judges and the guidelines that come with “govern[ing] the people with due justice. These verses also contain the very well-known “justice, justice shall you pursue.” As the Supreme Court opens its new term, we reflect on the vital role of the judiciary in our society, and that decisions handed down are all in the pursuit of justice.