This post was researched and written by our news blog writer and pro bono attorney, James Ryan McNelis, J.D., M.P.A.
On October 4, 2010, the Supreme Court convened for a new term, and swore in a new Justice, Elena Kagan, who was confirmed by the Senate this past summer. This next term has the prospect of seeing the Court become more ideologically divided. On the top of the agenda are cases that will likely greatly impact individual rights.
A. Freedom of Speech
The Supreme Court has decided to hear two cases concerning freedom of speech, the first being Snyder v. Phelps, Docket No. 09-751. In this case, the rights of military funeral protestors will be considered. The court will determine whether such protesters are protected by the First Amendment in their actions, or whether they are legally liable for invasion of privacy or intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Freedom of Speech rights will also be at the bar when the Court hears Schwarzenegger, Gov. of California v. Entertainment Merchants, Assn., Docket No. 08-1448. At issue is a California statute that prohibits the sale of violent video games to persons under the age of 18. The law applies where a reasonable person would find that the violent content appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors, that it is patently offensive to prevailing community standards as to what is suitable for minors, and that it causes the game as a whole to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors. The challengers contend that this law is unconstitutional on its face, because it is too vague under the First Amendment, and the lower courts ruled in their favor, enjoining enforcement of the law.
B. Informational Privacy
The Supreme Court will also hear NASA v. Nelson, Docket No. 09-530. Here, NASA, as an employer, instituted a comprehensive background investigation into the employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. The Ninth Circuit issued an injunction prohibiting the government from (1) asking whether the employee had received counseling or treatment for drug use; and (2) asking references for “any adverse information” about the employee. The Ninth Circuit based its decision on a constitutional right to informational privacy. The Supreme Court will need to determine whether the employee’s right of informational privacy prevents employers from such questioning.
C. Establishment Clause
The Supreme Court will also have to revisit the line between Church and State, by hearing the case: Arizona Christian School Tuition Org., v. Winn, Docket No. 09-987. This case was allowed to be heard while a similar Arizona case was declined, as they both concern the Arizona Tuition Tax Credit. This tax credit permits parents to earn a full tax credit by donating money to school tuition organizations that award scholarships to students who attend private schools. Most such organizations require that to qualify for scholarships, the student must attend a religious school. This tax credit was challenged by Arizona taxpayers, who the Ninth Circuit ruled, had standing under the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court will have to consider whether such standing was appropriate; and if it is, also whether the tax credit program is constitutional.
D. Equal Protection
In Flores-Villar v. United States, Docket No. 09-5801, whether US citizenship laws unconstitutionally discriminate on gender will be considered. The challenger who was born in Tijuana, Mexico, has a 16-year-old American citizen as a father, which does not entitle him to US citizenship, but he would be entitled to citizenship if his mother was an American citizen. The question presented is whether the Court’s decision in Nguyen v. INS, 533 U.S. 53 (2001) that permits gender discrimination in citizenship laws on a biological basis violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
E. Other Issues
Other issues facing the Court are a possible appeal to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell injunction and also a challenge to the Proposition 8 decision, both impacting the civil rights of the gay/lesbian community. There also is the possibility that one of the suits challenging the Federal Healthcare Reform Law could reach the Supreme Court; but to date, all such challenges have been dismissed in their various Federal District Courts.
Lastly, the health of Ruth Ginsburg has been a looming issue, as she has battled both pancreatic and colon cancer, and is currently 77 years old. It is widely speculated that Justice Ginsburg would prefer to retire while a Democratic President holds office, thus it is likely she would step down before the 2012 election.
For More Reading: Supreme Court Term Offers Hot Issues and Future Hints