Supreme Court opens blockbuster session

It's the first Monday in October, which means the Supreme Court will open its session today with some important cases on the docket.

Cases touching on civil rights, free speech, presidential power, redistricting, and privacy rights will be heard as well as a case involving mandatory union fees and possibly other First Amendment matters.

The Hill:

It will be Justice Neil Gorsuch's first full term on the bench. He joined the court in April after a bitter, partisan battle over the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Court watchers also say this term could be Justice Anthony Kennedy's last. Long the court's pivotal swing voter, Kennedy was rumored to have been considering retirement last spring. 

"There's only one prediction that's entirely safe about the upcoming term," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said recently while speaking at Georgetown Law School, "and that is it will be momentous."   

Ginsburg is guilty of understatement.  Here are a few of the cases that will be considered by the court:

Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project; Trump v. Hawaii 

Some argue the Trump administration has already won the fight over its travel ban. The court in June agreed to reinstate the 90-day ban on nationals from six majority-Muslim countries that had been blocked by lower courts.

The justices, however, carved out an exemption from the ban for people who have a "bona fide" relationship with a person or entity in the U.S.

The challengers, including the state of Hawaii, are pushing the court to find the ban, which expired on Sept. 24, unconstitutional. They argue Trump used nationality as a proxy to uphold a campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

... Gill v. Whitford

The justices have agreed to wade into the controversial issue of partisan gerrymandering — the process of drawing voter districts to increase the political power of one party over another. 

The case centers on Wisconsin's 2011 legislative map, which was drawn by the state's Republican-controlled legislature. A lower court struck down the map as unconstitutional last year.   

A group of Democratic voters claim Republicans divided Democrats among districts so they fell short of a majority. Other Democratic voters were packed into districts their party's candidate was already sure to win, they say. 

... Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission 

The case centers on Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and argues he can't be forced to do so under the state's public accommodations law. That statute prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers based on their sexual orientation.  

As a Christian, Phillips says he strives to honor his faith in all aspects of his life, including his art and his cakes. Creating a custom wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding ceremony, he argues, would violate his First Amendment rights.

The justices will decide whether Phillips's religious objections prevail over the state law.

Also on the docket is a case involving cell phone privacy.  Do the cops have the right to obtain location data from your phone without your permission?  The justices will decide that case, which has far-reaching implications for privacy of other devices as well.

The narrow conservative majority is no guarantee that these cases will be decided in ways that benefit individual freedom.  But there is a chance that some of these cases will expand the notion of personal liberty, setting boundaries on government power that is desperately needed.

It's the first Monday in October, which means the Supreme Court will open its session today with some important cases on the docket.

Cases touching on civil rights, free speech, presidential power, redistricting, and privacy rights will be heard as well as a case involving mandatory union fees and possibly other First Amendment matters.

The Hill:

It will be Justice Neil Gorsuch's first full term on the bench. He joined the court in April after a bitter, partisan battle over the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Court watchers also say this term could be Justice Anthony Kennedy's last. Long the court's pivotal swing voter, Kennedy was rumored to have been considering retirement last spring. 

"There's only one prediction that's entirely safe about the upcoming term," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said recently while speaking at Georgetown Law School, "and that is it will be momentous."   

Ginsburg is guilty of understatement.  Here are a few of the cases that will be considered by the court:

Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project; Trump v. Hawaii 

Some argue the Trump administration has already won the fight over its travel ban. The court in June agreed to reinstate the 90-day ban on nationals from six majority-Muslim countries that had been blocked by lower courts.

The justices, however, carved out an exemption from the ban for people who have a "bona fide" relationship with a person or entity in the U.S.

The challengers, including the state of Hawaii, are pushing the court to find the ban, which expired on Sept. 24, unconstitutional. They argue Trump used nationality as a proxy to uphold a campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

... Gill v. Whitford

The justices have agreed to wade into the controversial issue of partisan gerrymandering — the process of drawing voter districts to increase the political power of one party over another. 

The case centers on Wisconsin's 2011 legislative map, which was drawn by the state's Republican-controlled legislature. A lower court struck down the map as unconstitutional last year.   

A group of Democratic voters claim Republicans divided Democrats among districts so they fell short of a majority. Other Democratic voters were packed into districts their party's candidate was already sure to win, they say. 

... Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission 

The case centers on Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and argues he can't be forced to do so under the state's public accommodations law. That statute prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers based on their sexual orientation.  

As a Christian, Phillips says he strives to honor his faith in all aspects of his life, including his art and his cakes. Creating a custom wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding ceremony, he argues, would violate his First Amendment rights.

The justices will decide whether Phillips's religious objections prevail over the state law.

Also on the docket is a case involving cell phone privacy.  Do the cops have the right to obtain location data from your phone without your permission?  The justices will decide that case, which has far-reaching implications for privacy of other devices as well.

The narrow conservative majority is no guarantee that these cases will be decided in ways that benefit individual freedom.  But there is a chance that some of these cases will expand the notion of personal liberty, setting boundaries on government power that is desperately needed.

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