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Prall: Supreme Court’s October Surprises

BY JACOB PRALL | OCTOBER 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Supreme Court will face some of the biggest decisions of the recent decades in its fall term this year. All the heavy-hitters have come out for the occasion: health care, religious expression, voter laws, First Amendment rights in the digital era, and more. This massive stockpile of cases is the court’s own doing; it has dodged these problems for years. It appear it is finally willing to give a judgment.

The judicial branch wields tremendous power in the U.S. government, though it was not designed to do so. The Supreme Court gave itself the power of judicial review in Marbury v. Madison, a decision that made the justices of the Supreme Court the most powerful unelected officials in the United States.

All right, with the history lesson out of the way, let’s look at the docket. The constitutionality of states banning gay marriage was finally in the court’s court (where the ball has been since the Defense Of Marriage Act). Sometimes, I forget we live in a land where the gay community is legally stigmatized. I’d like to say I live in a land that doesn’t openly discriminate at the highest levels of government. But I can’t say that yet. On Monday, the court decided to let same-sex marriage laws in such states as Virginia and Utah stay as they are, putting off a ruling on their constitutionality for all 50 states.

The constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, on the other hand, is being challenged again. Though ruled constitutional under the Taxation and Spending Clause of the Constitution last year, it has been brought back for another round in the ring. Will it survive like Rocky Balboa in Rocky II or get beaten down like Rocky Balboa in Rocky? Either way, those of us who like health insurance are in for another wave of uncertainty.

A little on the obscure side, the issue of religious expression by prisoners is up for discussion, all because a man wants to grow a beard for his particular sect of Islam. The most interesting part of this case, however, is the prosecution’s precedent, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a landmark decision earlier this year in which the Supreme Court ruled birth control isn’t health care and that corporations may practice religious expression. Probably not the intended consequence the religious right had in mind when fighting Obamacare, but an absolutely fascinating repurpose that will affect approximately 1 percent of U.S. adults nonetheless.

Last year, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voter’s Rights Act, a piece of civil-rights legislation passed in 1964. The purpose of the act was to stop black voters in Southern states from being disenfranchised. Fifty years later, rampant gerrymandering everywhere has been used to disenfranchise large portions of minority voters. This being a major threat to democracy, the decision was an unpopular one and is under review.

Then there’s every lawmaker’s nightmare, the digital age. Copyright infringement, theft, broadband-traffic control, and invasion of privacy are all new problems that old solutions cannot handle. Keep your eyes peeled for a decision that could change your Facebook surfing habits forever.

That’s a lot of meat for this Supreme Court’s October term sandwich. We’ll have to wait for the justices to chow down, a nation united in anticipation. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait till judgment day.


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