Opinion

Five Important Cases to Watch in the New Supreme Court Term

09_25_2015_supreme_court
Interns with media organizations run with the decision upholding the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court in Washington on June 25. Voting rights, public employee unions, racial preferences in college admissions and sentencing in death penalty cases are just a few of the big issues coming up in the Supreme Court's 2015-2016 term. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

This article first appeared on The Daily Signal.

The Supreme Court’s last term was one for the history books, with high-profile cases involving Obamacare and gay marriage.

The next term may not attract the same level of attention from the media and general public, but the justices will consider a number of important issues. Voting rights, public employee unions, racial preferences in college admissions and sentencing in death penalty cases are just a few of the big issues coming up in the 2015-2016 term.

1. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

This is Abigail Fisher’s second trip to the Supreme Court in her challenge to the university’s use of race in college admissions decisions. In Fisher I, the Court ruled that the lower courts were too deferential to school administrators and they must look at actual evidence and not rely on school administrators’ assurances of their good intentions. Given the history of this case, the university may be facing an uphill battle.

2. Evenwel v. Abbott.

The Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause includes a “one-person, one-vote” guarantee. The plaintiffs in Evenwel challenge the constitutionality of the Texas legislature’s use of total population in drawing the state Senate’s districts, arguing that this violates “one person, one vote” by significantly diluting their votes compared to neighboring districts with large populations of illegal aliens. The Court has previously said states are free to choose which population to use in drawing district lines, unless it would otherwise violate the Constitution.

3. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Can public employee unions require non-members to pay their “fair share” of the costs of collective bargaining? The Supreme Court said “yes” in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), but recent cases have called into question continuing validity of that decision due to concerns about impinging employees’ free speech and associational rights. A group of California teachers are calling on the Court to overrule Abood, arguing that public-sector collective bargaining is political speech and compelling them to subsidize that speech violates the First Amendment.

4. Hurst v. Florida.

The Court will review Florida’s bifurcated death-penalty sentencing scheme, which requires a judge to find one or more aggravating circumstance in order to impose the death penalty. A death-row inmate argues that findings of fact—such as the existence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances—are for a jury, not a judge, to decide in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Ring v. Arizona (2002). Florida maintains that Ring requires only that the jury decide whether there are sufficient facts to make the defendant eligible for the capital punishment.

5. Kansas v. Carr and Kansas v. Carr.

In two consolidated cases from Kansas, the Supreme Court will consider whether the Eighth Amendment requires separate sentencing hearings for defendants who were tried together. Brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr were charged, tried, convicted and sentenced together for a crime spree that included robbery, carjacking, torture, rape and murder. The state court vacated their death sentences, finding that the Constitution guarantees a right to individualized sentencing.

In addition to these and around 30 other cases that the Court has agreed to take up, the justices may also grant review in cases out of Texas and Mississippi dealing with requirements for doctors who perform abortions and one or more of the challenges to the Obamacare mandate that religious employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor facilitate access to health care that includes abortion-inducing drugs and devices for their employees.

Elizabeth Slattery is a legal fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. Read Slattery’s research here. This article first appeared on The Daily Signal.

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