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Focus on the Courts: New Supreme Court Term

Focus on the Courts: New Supreme Court Term

This past Monday, as Jews around the world gathered together to celebrate sukkot, a different sort of gathering was occurring at 1 First St. NE in Washington D.C. – the Supreme Court began the first day of their new term. Many crucial cases will be decided this year, including some that relate to issues near and dear to the RAC’s heart. Here are some of the big ones that we’ll be following in the coming months:

Affirmative Action: One of the first scheduled cases this term is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. This case reexamines an issue decided in a 2003 case relating to the legality of affirmative action procedures in college admissions processes. In particular, Fisher deals with a university policy in which UT added a “race-conscious” admissions program in addition to the “Ten Percent Plan” it already had in place.

Translation: the admissions committee came up with a plan where it automatically admitted the top 10% of Texas high school students. This ended up diversifying the student body because high schools and school districts are pretty racially segregated, so more minority students were getting in. However, UT realized that this type of diversity wasn’t the full picture, since many classrooms—in particular, smaller classrooms, which more typically are discussion-based — still weren’t racially diverse, so they added a new admissions plan that University of Michigan had been using under Supreme Court approval. Abigail Fisher’s issue is that a race conscious plan isn’t necessary and shouldn’t be allowed if a race neutral plan is already creating diversity. Still confused? Try this. This is a big case that could, depending on the scope of the Justices’ decision, impact how previous affirmative action rulings are understood and implemented. Countdown to oral argument for Fisher v. Texas is only 6 days!

Gay marriage: Although nothing official has been announced yet, it’s likely that the Supreme Court is going to hear a case on gay marriage this upcoming term. It’s mostly probable that this will take the form of a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines “marriage” for the purposes of federal law and regulation in heterosexual terms. Even if DOMA is struck down, states still won’t have to recognize same-sex marriages, but a positive ruling on a DOMA case would still be a step forward for gay rights activists.

If the Court wants to address gay marriage in a more overt way, it could hear the Proposition 8 case, which also has filed a petition for certiorai (cert) . This case would consider the constitutionality of same-sex marriage—specifically, asking the Court to decide whether California is allowed to take away benefits attained through the right to marry. A decision to hear this case would be more surprising, and also more bold, for the Court. It’s still unclear if these cases will be heard this year—they have, in the lists of cases for this term released thus far, been neither accepted nor declined.

Voting rights: A third crucial category of cases making their way up the appeals ladder pertain to the 1965 Voting Rights Act—in particular Section V, which requires certain states and municipalities to get approval from the Department of Justice before making changes to their voting laws. Opponents of this provision argue that it is unfair for different states to have different laws, and that the areas of concern from 1965 are not necessarily the same areas that are prone to discrimination today. However, in the D.C. Circuit case on this topic, it was clear that there is an ongoing and current need to keep certain states under watch and to require this preclearance process today.

Stay tuned for updates on these crucial cases, as well as the smattering of other issues that will be decided this upcoming Supreme Court term!

Published: 10/04/2012

Categories: Social Justice, Civil Rights
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