High Stakes at the High Court
The U.S. Supreme Court’s new term may turn out to be its most politically charged in decades. Already on the docket for the nine-month session that roughly coincides with the Presidential campaign are controversial cases including a challenge to the ban on nudity on broadcast TV. The high court is likely to accede to the Obama Administration’s request that it review the 2010 health-care law, which is being challenged by a group of 26 states, and may also agree to hear cases on immigration enforcement and affirmative action.
ON THE DOCKET
The Case: U.S. v. Jones (Civil Liberties)
The Challenge: The court will rule on whether police need a warrant before placing a tracking device on a car to monitor a suspect’s movements. (The Obama Administration says none is required.) The case will mark the first time the high court has considered how the ban on unreasonable searches applies to global positioning systems.
The Politics: Liberals would see a ruling favoring police as a further erosion of civil liberties in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Law-and-order Republicans are likely to support the Administration’s position.
The Case: Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations (Profanity)
The Challenge: The court will decide whether federal regulators are violating the Constitution by imposing fines for on-air profanities and nudity. The case involves expletives uttered on two Fox network award shows and a scene featuring a naked woman on ABC’s NYPD Blue.
The Politics: News Corp.’s Fox and Walt Disney’s ABC have reason for optimism: In the court’s most recent term, the justices ruled in favor of free speech rights in four cases. This case may underscore divisions within the Republican Party between the religious right and the party’s probusiness, anti-regulation camp.
The Case: Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Affirmative Action)
The Challenge: The Supreme Court is being asked to reconsider, or at least limit, its 2003 ruling upholding the use of race as a factor in university admissions for purposes of classroom diversity. The appeal is being pressed by Abigail Fisher, a rejected white applicant to the University of Texas at Austin.
The Politics: Foes of affirmative action—primarily social conservatives—are pinning their hopes on changes in the court’s makeup since 2003. Sandra Day O’Connor, author of the earlier ruling, stepped down in 2006. Her replacement, Samuel Alito, voted with the majority in a 2007 decision that placed new limits on public school integration efforts.
CASES THE HIGH COURT MAY TAKE ON
The Case: Arizona v. U.S. (Immigration)
The Challenge: The case stems from the Obama Administration’s challenge to a landmark 2010 Arizona law requiring local police officers to check the immigration status of people stopped for questioning. Arizona is seeking to overturn a ruling from a federal appeals court that blocked the law from taking effect on the grounds that it interferes with the national government’s authority over immigration policy.
The Politics: The impact of the court’s decision will go beyond Arizona, as five other states have enacted similar laws in recent years. A decision striking down the law would put the onus on Obama and the Democrats to show that the federal government can stop illegal immigration.
The Case: Multiple lawsuits (Health Care)
The Challenge: The Administration, along with a group of 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business, wants the court to rule on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. At issue is the law’s requirement that individuals either purchase health insurance or pay a fine.
The Politics: A ruling declaring the law unconstitutional would be a big loss for the Obama Administration and turn the court itself into a campaign issue. A ruling upholding the law would burnish the President’s leadership credentials while fueling Republican calls for a legislative repeal.