SCOTUS 2012-2013 Preview

To kick off the day, here’s a quick preview of the Supreme Court’s upcoming term, which begins Wednesday, October 3.

With half the term’s cases scheduled, here are some of the big cases that are already on the docket, and a few the Court court take up later.

Affirmative Action
October 10, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Revisiting affirmative action in higher education, a decade after Sandra Day O’Connor’s fifth vote upheld it in Grutter v. Bollinger. The conventional wisdom says that the Court, with Alito sitting in O’Connor’s seat, rules the practice unconstitutional.

Human Rights
October 3, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum

Fascinating case in which Royal Dutch and its Shell subidiaries (the American companies) are accused of helping the Nigerian government torture a dozen and kill Nigerians protesting against the companies’ oil exploration. What’s being decided is whether a US court can effectively rule on human rights violations a domestic company has committed abroad.

Capital Punishment
October 9, Tibbals v. Carter; Ryan v. Gonzalez

Both of these cases deal with a state’s responsibility to halt the appellate review of capital punishment cases while a defendant is mentally ill. For now, this is the only case on the court’s docket that deals with the death penalty.

Civil Liberties/Surveillance
October 29, Clapper v. Amnesty International

The Court reviews the United State’s ability to wiretap Americans when they’re abroad. In 2008, Congress expanded the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which previously regulated only domestic surveillance. Since then, we’ve been able to spy on our own wherever they go.

Doggie sniffing
October 31, Florida v. Jardines; Florida v. Harris

The Court decides whether it violates the Fourth Amendment provision against illegal searches for a trained narcotics dog to sniff around a house or car for drugs without a warrant. Dogs in question are Franky and Aldo, respectively.

Potential SCOTUS cases (Should the Court take them up)

Same-Sex Marriage

Several Defense of Marriage Act cases are working there way through the courts, most notably the May Massachusetts federal court decision that struck down the law. A lower court in California has also struck down Prop 8, the state’s ban on gay marriage, so that case could get heard too.

Voting Rights Act

Several states (Texas, South Carolina, Florida) have recently had voting laws struck down by the Department of Justice, thanks to the provision of the Voting Rights Act that mandates many of the ex-Confederate states have their voting laws “pre-cleared” by the federal government. If the Court decides to take up any of the resulting state challenges to the VRA, it could rule pre-clearance unconstitutional. Sidenote: I’d argue that pre-clearance isn’t broad enough. Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and other northern states that don’t require pre-clearance have passed Voter ID laws no problem. Welcome to the era of Jim Crow North.

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Simon van Zuylen-Wood

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.