After last year's blockbuster cases involving gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court gathers on Monday to start work on the new term's cases, which cover campaign finance, abortion, affirmative action, and more. Despite the government shutdown, the court will forge forward on opening oral arguments for these cases.
Case: McCullen v. Coakley
Dates: No date set yet.
Basic Facts: A Massachusetts law creates a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, within which political protests from non-clinic workers are not allowed.
Major issues at stake: The case is a mix of first amendment free speech rights and abortion questions. In Hill v. Colorado (2000), the court by a 6-3 vote upheld a similar Colorado law because it was "content neutral," i.e. it did not explicitly favor pro-choice or pro-life protestors. Now, the challengers argue that allowing clinic workers to speak within this buffer zone, but restricting all others, means that only the clinic's point of view will be heard, thereby restricting the opponents' free speech.
Campaign Finance Limits
Case: McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission
Dates: Arguments begin tomorrow, Oct. 8.
Basic Facts: Supported by the Republican National Convention, Shaun McCutcheon is challenging the constitutionality of the aggregate limits on political contributions, which currently makes $48,600 to candidates and $74,600 to parties the maximum possible donation in any two-year election cycle.
Major issues at stake: McCutcheon would like the limitations thrown out because he argues the limits violate free speech, as the court has long found political spending to be equivalent to speech. On the other hand, the intention of donation limits are to democratize political support, so that rich individuals cannot have too much influence on an election. The 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo upheld the constitutionality of those limits, but that precedent will now be put to the test. Slate's Richard Hasen compares McCutcheon v. FEC to Citizen's United in its implications for opening political contributions to the wealthy few, and writes that this one "will be big—or huge." The Hill's Stephen Spaulding suggestively asks, "Will the Supreme Court make it easier to bribe politicians during the midterm elections?"
Case: Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action
Dates: Arguments begin next week, Oct. 15.
Basic Facts: Michigan voters approved a law that prohibited the use of race in admissions decisions at state universities.
Major issues at stake: Facing a similar case last term, the court decided to "punt" on a decision regarding admissions and affirmative action. Those seeking to overturn the voter-approved law argue that eliminating race from admissions puts an extra hurdle in front of questions of race — as opposed to other admissions questions, like legacy students — thereby violating the 14th amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The law's supporters argue that eliminating race is, on its face, race-blind and therefore cannot violate Equal Protection.
Separation of Church and State
Case: Town of Greece v. Galloway
Dates: Arguments begin next month, Nov. 6.
Basic Facts: Monthly town board meetings in Greece, New York open with a prayer from a community member, and an overwhelming number of those prayers have been Christian in nature.
Major Issues at Stake: Galloway's side argues that hearing Christian prayers represents an establishment of religion in a government setting. Under the First Amendment's rule that "Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of religion," the court has ruled that religious prayers are not allowed if they "endorse" a specific belief, but the town of Greece argues that the standard for banning religious speech should be if it "coerces" people into believing it, SCOTUS Blog explains. Notre Dame Law School professor Richard Garnett explained in more detail to ABC News:
"At the heart of this case," he said, "is whether the court should stick with a relatively bright-line rule that treats legislative prayers as presumptively permissible, given their long use in our country, or whether the court should move to more of an all-things-considered inquiry that treats such prayers like Christmas displays and the like."
(Photos via Associated Press)