Hajin Cho / Gavel Media

Examining the Cases SCOTUS is Set to Decide This Term

Since Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation last year, the Supreme Court has handed down many impactful decisions on issues, from vaccines to immigration. However, the 2021-2022 term will be the first with the still relatively new 6-3 conservative majority, meaning that for many Americans, this will be a term to watch. From abortion rights to gun control, the Supreme Court has a jam-packed docket for the upcoming months, with many important cases. 

 

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Argued on Dec. 1, the justices heard arguments on a 2018 Mississippi abortion law that challenges the landmark 1973 abortion case Roe v. Wade. The Mississippi law prohibits abortions after 15 weeks—before the fetus is viable—making exceptions for medical emergencies. Both liberals and conservatives have anxiously awaited this case, which will determine the fate of abortion access in the United States. At its heart, the case comes down to the constitutionality of a ban on abortions before a fetus is viable. Dobbs v. Jackson could potentially have enormous ripple effects across the country and it will be interesting to see how the new conservative majority will impact an abortion rights case.

 

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen

On Nov. 3, the Supreme Court heard a major Second Amendment case, one of the most prominent and potentially impactful gun rights cases since the 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which ruled that citizens could keep firearms in their homes. New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen will attempt to challenge a current New York law which states that in order to obtain a concealed carry permit, a citizen must prove that they have “proper cause,”such as a need for self-defense. The petitioners in this case, Robert Nash and Brendan Koch, were denied the right to carry a concealed handgun under this New York law, and filed suit claiming that their Second Amendment rights had been violated. This high stakes gun rights case will decide whether the New York state law is unconstitutional, but, more broadly, whether citizens have the right to carry guns outside of their homes, an expansion of District of Columbia v. Heller.

 

Carson v. Makin

The Supreme Court heard Carson v. Makin, a religious freedoms case, on Dec. 8. Back in 2018, two families in Maine sued the state over the state-backed tuition assistance program, allowing families to receive financial support to send their children to private high schools in areas where there are no public high schools. The Carson and Nelson families were denied tuition assistance because they planned to send their children to Christian high schools, so the state argued that they would not provide the funding when religious education would be involved. The basis for this case is the 2020 ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, in which the Court said that the state cannot exclude families from state sponsored aid based on the religious affiliation of the school to which they send their children. The basic question the Supreme Court will be answering here is whether or not Maine’s law violates the free exercise and equal protection clauses of the Constitution.

 

United States v. Tsarnaev

On Oct. 13, United States v. Tsarnaev was argued before the Supreme Court. As many Bostonians and Americans in general may recall, Tsarnaev, along with his brother, carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and as a result was sentenced to death in 2015. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in 2020 overturned the death sentence, instead sentencing Tsarnaev to life in prison without parole, citing issues with the jury selection and testimony about Tsarnaev’s brother that potentially violated his constitutional rights. For many in Boston, seeing Tsarnaev’s name back in the news brings back memories of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Additionally, the Court’s decision on whether or not he should ultimately be sentenced to death could have implications on future capital punishment cases with respect to jury selection.

 

United States v. Zubaydah

On Oct. 14, the Supreme Court heard a case about state secrets, its first case surrounding Guantanamo Bay in more than 10 years. The precedent case for this was United States v. Reynolds, which ruled that the state-secrets privilege was constitutional, meaning the government does not have to release certain information for litigation if it could potentially threaten national security. Abu Zubaydah, an associate of Osama bin Laden, brought this case to the courts after being detained at Guantanamo Bay for the last 15 years and after being held at CIA detention facilities in Pakistan and Poland. While being held at CIA black sites abroad, interrogators used so-called “enhanced interrogation” tactics on Zubaydah, the main source of his complaint. He desired investigation into the CIA. When he tried to subpoena CIA subcontractors, the U.S. government withheld information, citing the state-secrets privilege. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, citing the fact that the materials wouldn’t have caused harm to national security. The larger implication behind this case is that the Court will be deciding the extent to which the government can invoke the precedent set in United States v. Reynolds and keep certain information a secret, potentially hiding important information from the public.

Can usually be found listening to The Strokes or Taylor Swift. Spends far too much time eating ice cream or rewatching the same 3 TV shows and would probably rather be at the beach right now.

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