The Supreme Court’s term started on Monday, and it’s going to hear hugely political fights over prayer, rich campaign donors, abortion, and the power of the president of the United States.
Its last couple of terms, the Supreme Court heard hot-button disputes over gay marriage, a landmark civil rights law, affirmative action, and, of course, Obamacare. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told The New York Times this summer that those cases were “heady, exhausting, challenging.”
Then she pointed to a huge pile of briefs and said the court will hand down major decisions yet again this term. Irving Gornstein, the executive director of Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute, suggested to The Times that this year could be even bigger than last.
“This term is deeper in important cases than either of the prior two terms,” Gornstein told The Times.
Here are the game-changers to watch out for:
1) Obamacare 2.0 — The Supreme Court is almost certain to take up a dispute over the part of Obamacare that forces businesses to pay for insurance that covers 100% of employees’ birth control. Hobby Lobby and other businesses say the contraception mandate violates their religious beliefs, and if they win their fight the high court could give corporations the right to religious freedom.
2) National Labour Relations Board v. Noel Canning — This case will determine when the president of the United States can make so-called “recess appointments” of senior officials without Congressional approval. These appointments happen when Congress is on a break and can be a useful tool for the executive to bypass Washington gridlock.
Supreme Court veteran Carter Phillips has told BI it’s the most important case this term. Here’s what he had to say in an email:
“It is a very interesting constitutional problem involving the fundamental relationship among the branches of the federal government and a practice that has been around a long time. If unconstitutional it will probably mean the end of recess appointments, which makes it a landmark political change. If constitutional it means there will be many more of them and that will have enormous political implications as well.”
3) McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission — Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon is on a mission to get rid of the overall cap on individual campaign spending during an election cycle. Advocacy group Democracy 21 has warned that getting rid of that cap could bring us back to “the same kind of huge contributions that constituted legalized corruption and resulted in the Watergate scandals in the 1970s.”
4) Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice — The Supreme Court will hear a dispute over an Oklahoma law that limited the ability of doctors to prescribe an abortion drug called RU-486. The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse has written that she believes several justices spotted this case and plan to use it as a “potential vehicle for saying something bigger about abortion and its regulation.”
5) Greece v. Galloway — Greece, N.Y., a small town upstate, opens its city council meetings with a regular prayer, but a federal appeals court said that’s not ok because the prayers are mostly Christian. Now the Supreme Court will decide whether “legislative prayer” violates the separation of church and state. Slate’s Christopher Lund has pointed out that the Obama administration is defending Greece’s opening prayers as perfectly Constitutional, putting Obama on a side traditionally held by conservatives.
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