The Reform Movement has long supported religious liberty at all levels of American life, from the Supreme Court to the basketball court, and we are pleased to now be joined in this commitment by the Texas Assocation of Private and Parochial Schools.
Every year a number of landmark cases come before the U.S. Supreme Court. Last term, the Justices delivered headline rulings on Arizona’s immigration policies and on the Affordable Care Act, and tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear Fisher v. the University of Texas, the latest challenge to affirmative action to be heard at the nation’s highest court. Fisher v. UT carries great implications for the civil rights movement as a whole.
This past Monday, as Jews around the world gathered together to celebrate sukkot, a different sort of gathering was occurring at 1 First St. NE in Washington D.C. – the Supreme Court began the first day of their new term. Many crucial cases will be decided this year, including some that relate to issues near and dear to the RAC’s heart. Here are some of the big ones that we’ll be following in the coming months:
Affirmative Action: One of the first scheduled cases this term is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. This case reexamines an issue decided in a 2003 case relating to the legality of affirmative action procedures in college admissions processes. In particular, Fisher deals with a university policy in which UT added a “race-conscious” admissions program in addition to the “Ten Percent Plan” it already had in place.
Translation: the admissions committee came up with a plan where it automatically admitted the top 10% of Texas high school students. This ended up diversifying the student body because high schools and school districts are pretty racially segregated, so more minority students were getting in. However, UT realized that this type of diversity wasn’t the full picture, since many classrooms—in particular, smaller classrooms, which more typically are discussion-based — still weren’t racially diverse, so they added a new admissions plan that University of Michigan had been using under Supreme Court approval. Abigail Fisher’s issue is that a race conscious plan isn’t necessary and shouldn’t be allowed if a race neutral plan is already creating diversity. Still confused? Try this. This is a big case that could, depending on the scope of the Justices’ decision, impact how previous affirmative action rulings are understood and implemented. Countdown to oral argument for Fisher v. Texas is only 6 days!
Gay marriage: Although nothing official has been announced yet, it’s likely that the Supreme Court is going to hear a case on gay marriage this upcoming term. It’s mostly probable that this will take the form of a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines “marriage” for the purposes of federal law and regulation in heterosexual terms. Even if DOMA is struck down, states still won’t have to recognize same-sex marriages, but a positive ruling on a DOMA case would still be a step forward for gay rights activists.
If the Court wants to address gay marriage in a more overt way, it could hear the Proposition 8 case, which also has filed a petition for certiorai (cert) . This case would consider the constitutionality of same-sex marriage—specifically, asking the Court to decide whether California is allowed to take away benefits attained through the right to marry. A decision to hear this case would be more surprising, and also more bold, for the Court. It’s still unclear if these cases will be heard this year—they have, in the lists of cases for this term released thus far, been neither accepted nor declined.
Voting rights: A third crucial category of cases making their way up the appeals ladder pertain to the 1965 Voting Rights Act—in particular Section V, which requires certain states and municipalities to get approval from the Department of Justice before making changes to their voting laws. Opponents of this provision argue that it is unfair for different states to have different laws, and that the areas of concern from 1965 are not necessarily the same areas that are prone to discrimination today. However, in the D.C. Circuit case on this topic, it was clear that there is an ongoing and current need to keep certain states under watch and to require this preclearance process today.
Stay tuned for updates on these crucial cases, as well as the smattering of other issues that will be decided this upcoming Supreme Court term!
In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, colloquially known as DOMA, which forbids the government to extend benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their state of residence. In recent years, there have been a string of legal challenges to DOMA and numerous federal district judges and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit have held that the law is a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Last Friday, the Obama administration alerted the Supreme Court that they would be submitting requests in two new cases concerning the constitutionality of DOMA. These new cases will join the seven cases about equal marriage that are already pending at the Court, six of them involving DOMA and one regarding California’s Proposition 8. Read more…
The last time the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case questioning Roe v. Wade, the seminal, precedent setting case dealing with the issue of abortion, was in 2007 in Gonzales v. Carhart. The Court has been asked in the five years since the Gonzales decision to hear cases meant to redefine reproductive rights across the country, but the Court has not yet granted any of these petitions. Well, another case asking the Court to restrict access to abortion services has been filed and the Court will most likely discuss Personhood Oklahoma v. Barber, et al., at a weekly conference this fall when they return from break.
Last March, supporters of “personhood,” the concept of granting to a fetus the same legal status as a human outside the womb, submitted a ballot measure to state officials in Oklahoma. Measures similar to Question 761 have been placed on ballots across the country and one has already failed in Mississippi. In Oklahoma, Question 761 would alter the state Constitution to redefine a “person” as “any human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being to natural death.” Read more…
This post is the first in a series that will take a closer look at upcoming Supreme Court cases for the 2012-2013 term.
As college freshmen begin moving into dorms and exploring campuses, the stress and anxiety of the admissions process fades quietly away. But for one graduating senior at Louisiana State University, the admissions process at the University of Texas has remained a constant source of attention. Abigail Fisher will graduate from LSU this coming spring, but she has been embattled in litigation since 2008 when she was denied admission to the University of Texas. She alleges she was the victim of an affirmative action program of a type the Reform Movement has generally supported.
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin challenges an affirmative action program at the University of Texas. When Ms. Fisher applied to the University of Texas, the school was operating on the two-tiered admissions system that had been implemented after the Grutter decision: In-state applicants who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class were automatically admitted, and the remaining application pool was evaluated with a “holistic” approach that considered not only test scores, leadership activities, and community service, but race as well. Ms. Fisher had just missed the 10 percent cut-off and was placed in a large pool of applicants vying for just 20 percent of all admission slots. Ms. Fisher claims that her application was rejected in the second tier of admissions because she is white.
In 1975, Texas revised education statutes in a manner that allowed the state to withhold funds for the education of children who did not legally enter the United States and permitted local school districts to charge tuition for educating undocumented students. Public anger over these revisions culminated in a landmark United States Supreme Court case, Plyer v. Doe in 1982.
In an opinion written by Justice William Brennan, the Court struck down the revisions made by Texas to their education statutes and for the first time, extended the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection to undocumented immigrants. The effect of this decision was the education of an entire generation of undocumented students who now, because of the inaction of Congress, cannot pursue an education beyond high school. Read more…