Litigation

6 Politically Charged Cases the Supreme Court Will Hear Next Term

Religious Liberty: Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

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The Supreme Court will finally hear the case of the baker, Jack Phillips, from Colorado who, citing religious grounds, refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins. The original incident occurred in 2012. Phillips, a Christian and the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, claimed that his religious beliefs gave him a waiver from anti-discrimination laws—because the first Amendment protects his freedom of speech and religion. Craig and Mullins, on the other hand, claim that Phillips’ objection violates Colorado’s anti-discrimination law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. This case has been relisted eleven times for the highest court’s consideration before being accepted.

Travel Ban: Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project

In June the Supreme Court unanimously allowed a limited version of Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from six countries from entering the United States to go into effect. When the Court reconvenes in October, it will hear arguments concerning the president’s executive authority and alleged religious discrimination. Trump’s travel ban is ninety days long so that his administration can evaluate and amend the vetting process. If Trump keeps his travel ban to the promised ninety day period, the Supreme Court may not have to try this case by the time October rolls around.

Partisan Gerrymandering: Gill v. Whiteford

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The Supreme Court will be considering whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutional. In particular it will be examining the case of a 2011 Wisconsin map, and whether gerrymandering favored one party over another. Previously, a federal court ruled that this map was illegal and violated equal rights protections by aiming to keep Republicans elected. The Supreme Court usually doesn’t touch electoral map cases, but in recent years some of these maps have become extreme in their attempts to favor one party—often Republicans. The upcoming October case could become a landmark decision setting a precedent for how maps can be drawn in future elections.

Voter Registration: Husted v. A. Phillip Randolph Institute  

Ohio’s voter registration list practices are being challenged as a violation of two federal laws—the National Voter Registration Act (1993) and the Help America Vote Act (2002). When a voter hasn’t voted for two years, Ohio will send a confirmation notice. If the voter doesn’t respond and still does not vote, he will be removed from Ohio’s registration list after four years. The voter will have to reregister if he later chooses to vote. The case is being brought by a Black trade union, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. The A. Phillip Randolph Institute claims that this practice hurts black populations and is a form of voter discrimination. Husted claims that Ohio, along with other states, has been sued for not maintaining or updating their lists, so being sued for maintaining Ohio’s list conflicts with previous litigation. Jon Husted is running for governor of the state in 2018 as the Republican nominee.

Cellphone Data: Carpenter v. United States

The Court will decide whether police need a search warrant to access historical data from cellphone companies. The case specifically deals with location data stored by wireless carriers. In 2011, Timothy Carpenter, organized a series of robberies and his cellphone data was used against him in court which led to a 116 year prison sentence. Using the location data, the police were able to determine if Carpenter indeed was close to the scene of the crime at the time it happened. Carpenter asserts the use of his cellphone records without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment.

Sports Betting: Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association

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New Jersey wants to legalize gambling on professional and collegiate sports. Chris Christie, the state’s governor, is challenging a federal law,—the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act—that bans sports betting in all states except Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon. The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to reject this appeal (despite President Trump’s support for sports betting in past years). Christie hopes sports betting will jumpstart the state’s economy in the wake of Atlantic City’s decline. However, the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB have all brought legal action against Christie for this proposal. If New Jersey wins, many other states may try to introduce sports gambling into their local economies too.