Supreme Court’s fall term kicks off with docket full of landmark cases

The U.S. Supreme Court returned to work on Monday, Oct. 2, for its fall session where decisions will be made on potentially landmark cases that were previously delayed following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

With the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch however, the court is again at full strength and has placed multiple contentious cases on the calendar back to back.

Some of the issues being decided include international travel bans, immigration, gerrymandering, religious liberty, and cell phone privacy.  With precedent being set by the Trump administration, the possibility of constitutional litigation is being taken into consideration as well, which would make the session even more momentous.

“There’s only one prediction that’s entirely safe about the upcoming term, and that is it will be momentous,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

One example is the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where small business owner Jack Phillips refused to make a cake honoring the marriage of a same-sex couple.

Lower courts all ruled it was discriminatory to refuse the couple, but Phillips is arguing at the Supreme Court level that his First Amendment rights are being violated.

Phillips claims it is against his religious beliefs to participate in the ceremony by baking the cake and the First Amendment protects his right to refuse. Plaintiff’s counter the defendants are attempting to use the Constitution to protect their right to discriminate.

Another case, Carpenter v. United States, deals with the question of obtaining a warrant to collect cell phone tower data. Specifically, law enforcement officials used cell phone information to track the movements of robbery suspects to prove they were at the scene of the crime.

Privacy advocates are concerned with how such a practice could be exploited by the government to track an individual’s location. How this case is decided will set a precedent for many questions being raised with the advances in personal technology.

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, the court heard oral arguments for Gill v. Whitford, regarding disagreements over Wisconsin congressional maps that were allegedly drawn to favor Republican candidates. Arguments over gerrymandering have been brought up before and this case’s decision will set a precedent for future questions.

Jennings v. Rodriguez was reheard by the court regarding immigration enforcement laws. The case also deals with President Trump’s travel ban. This case, and previous cases where no decision was met, will decide the government’s authority on immigration in unique cases that are not directly involved with the travel ban.

The Supreme Court’s 2017–2018 term will end in late June. With the major landmark cases being decided this session, it is safe to say this will be the most contentious session the court has seen in recent years.

In addition to the actual cases, there is always speculation at the beginning of a court’s session regarding potential retirements. This year, speculation has primarily revolved around Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s most moderate member who turned 81 over the summer.


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