Five Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions to Watch

In the 2017-2018 term, the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will hear several major cases with national implications

Topics in this term's major cases include technological privacy, religious freedom, anti-discrimination laws, immigration and the President, sports gambling and political gerrymandering, among many others. The Court's deliberation on these cases will begin in the coming months but the discussions surrounding them have been going on for years, and will continue long after the decisions are made. Before the end of this term, the Court will have heard something close to 70 cases, chosen from an average of 7,000 petitions. Here are five of the most important cases to follow.


Carpenter v. United States

There's a good chance you're reading this article on your mobile phone. That smartphone is smart enough to track your location and tell you the weather, the best restaurants within a mile and movie times in the area. Now, the Court will decide if the government is allowed to retrieve your phone's location data from service providers without a search warrant. Timothy Carpenter, convicted of aiding and abetting a series of robberies in 2011, argues that the government's seizure of his cell phone's location records without a search warrant violates the Fourth Amendment. In United States v. Jones, the Court decided that tracking a car with its GPS falls under the Fourth Amendment. And 2014's Riley v. California case concluded that searching a cell phone taken during an arrest requires a search warrant.

Based on these decisions, it follows that Carpenter's case will also fall under the Fourth Amendment. It is an important decision to watch, nonetheless. Though it specifically concerns the 127 days of location data used in the case, it has implications for the future of data privacy and government surveillance.

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Already one of the most-covered upcoming cases, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission pits religious freedom laws against anti-discrimination laws. Colorado's civil rights law protects citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The baker at Masterpiece Cakeshop argues that the Colorado government cannot force him to say something on his cakes that disagrees with his personal beliefs. He calls his cakes forms of artistic expression and, therefore, extensions of the free speech protected by that always-tricky First Amendment. The opposing lawyers think the anti-discrimination laws outweigh the First Amendment in this case and prohibit the business from refusing its customers based on their sexual orientation. Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger writes, "Petitioners have a First Amendment right to pick their message but not to choose their customers based on sexual orientation." The Court faces a difficult task in merging the jurisdictions of separate laws.

Gill v. Whitford

The Court looks to answer several questions in this case about the possibility and legality of political gerrymandering in Wisconsin following a redistricting plan introduced in 2011. A federal court rejected the plan on the grounds that it allows Republicans to unfairly benefit their party in future elections. Often, federal courts had to draw the state's maps after the legislature could not agree on one. The challengers to the plan, led by Whitford, argue that, when Republicans won control of the state under a Republican governor in 2010, they deliberately boosted their own party's chances in future elections by hampering Democratic voter districts. Lower courts admitted that politics inevitably play into the redistricting process but that, in this case, the plan was unquestionably and intentionally biased. The Supreme Court must decide whether to allow political gerrymandering as a precedent for other states or to side with the challengers in opposing a state legislature.

Christie v. NCAA

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's name remains on this case in which New Jersey seeks to allow sports gambling which opponents argue must remain illegal under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992. Cunningly, this act doesn't prohibit states from legalizing sports betting (which would violate the anti-commandeering doctrine of New York v. United States) but merely prohibits repealing the ban on sports betting that has been in effect in New Jersey and most states for decades. Congress is not allowed to override state jurisdiction over the activities of its citizens. The NCAA argues that PASPA does not do this. But New Jersey believes that, if Congress were allowed to prohibit sports gambling in this way, they would also be allowed to override states' decisions on other, more dangerous issues.

Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc. & Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris

These three cases have been consolidated into one case that asks for a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of mandatory arbitration clauses for new employees. As much as 50% of the country's worker contracts now include mandatory arbitration clauses, forcing workers to give up their right to participate in class action lawsuits against their companies. The Court's decision will also affect the range of protections of the National Labor Relations Act (1935), which says, "…protection by law of the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively safeguards commerce from injury, impairment, or interruption . . . by restoring equality of bargaining power between employers and employees." Pushing against this is the Federal Arbitration Act that maintains the validity of signed arbitration clauses. Though these cases began as lawsuits for unpaid overtime, they will have implications for employer-employee contracts, the enforceability of arbitration clauses and employees' right to engage in concerted activities related to the workplace.
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