From fundamental questions concerning representation and democracy to answering challenges to accessible and affordable health care, the Supreme Court has a full docket of potential landmark cases this year touching on criminal justice, the economy, health care, immigration, and voting rights. Here, we lay out some of the biggest cases, and questions, facing the court this year, with an eye toward how young people stand to be helped–or hurt–by the court’s decisions.
Find short overviews of some of this term’s blockbuster cases below, and click through for more in-depth analysis of what the court’s decisions might mean for you.
This term, the Supreme Court’s docket includes a larger-than-normal assortment of Eighth Amendment cases, which covers cruel and unusual punishment. In Hurst v. Florida, the Supreme Court is tasked with answering a question of who holds the power to determine whether a defendant’s mental state qualifies him or her for the death penalty. Specifically, the case asks the court to decide if the power should lie in the hands of the jury or the judge.
Foster v. Chatman, which has been in the adjudication process since 1986, serves as a follow-up case to the landmark Batson v. Kentucky decision when the Supreme Court ruled that potential jurors could not be struck from the jury simply because of their race. Despite the clear-cut ruling, Batson left many unanswered questions—namely, what standards or criteria make a reason for striking a juror race-neutral. Foster v. Chatman raises that very question.
In another death penalty case, Kansas v. Gleason and Kansas v. Carr, the Kansas State Supreme Court’s decisions to overturn two death penalty sentences are up for review. The Supreme Court will determine if, based on procedural missteps rather than substantive ones, the Kansas State Supreme Court was right to overturn the death sentences of Gleason and Carr.
At issue in Montgomery v. Louisiana is whether an earlier Supreme Court decision involving sentencing lengths, Miller v. Alabama, must apply retroactively. In Miller v. Alabama, the court struck down the practice of handing out automatic life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of murder. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the court will decide whether this decision applies to juveniles convicted before Miller.
In Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez, the court has the ability to severely curtail the utility and power of class-action lawsuits as a tool for people to collectively sue large entities. If the court does decide to weaken class-action lawsuits, today’s young people may not be eligible to receive settlements like generations before them did unless they are the first to file a suit. This in turn could make it more difficult to hold large corporations accountable for their actions.
Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin involves affirmative action in the college admissions process. Plaintiff Abigail Fisher, who is now in her late twenties, sued UT Austin on the grounds that she was discriminated against during the admissions process because she is white. Though the Supreme Court has consistently upheld affirmative action policies, this case exposes race-conscious admissions policies across the nation at risk once again.
An important set of labor union protections are under fire in the upcoming Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: agency fees, alternatively called “fair share” fees. Agency fees ensure employers can hire union and non-union employees alike, provided non-union employees pay into the collective bargaining from which they benefit regardless of membership. Should the court rule agency fees unconstitutional, public sector unions may be gutted of operational funding and those who stand to benefit the most from organized labor representation, Millennials, will be left with fewer financial protections.
Class action suits may prove far harder to litigate if the Supreme Court favors the plaintiff of upcoming case Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo. The case grapples with two main questions: whether individual differences are relevant in certifying a lawsuit class instead of statistical techniques that presume that all class members are identical; and whether, as Tyson Foods asserts, all members of a class action lawsuit have to prove they suffered the same injury for the class to be certified. Ruling in favor of Tyson Foods would further empower corporations at the expense of the population at large, creating greater barriers to justice.
In 2013, Texas passed HB2, placing four new restrictions on access to abortion, including: a requirement that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic, a ban on abortions past 20 weeks post-fertilization except in cases of severe fetal abnormality or life endangerment to the woman, restrictions on the use of medical abortion or the abortion pill, and a requirement that all clinics meet standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), including those that only provide the abortion pill. Various women’s health-care providers recently asked the Supreme Court to review certain provisions of the law, citing the undue burden it places on women seeking abortions. Should their challenge fail, the second most populous state in the country may only have eight clinics left providing abortions for the state’s approximately 12.5 million women.
While it’s not certain, it’s incredibly likely the Supreme Court will weigh in on a dispute among Circuit Courts of Appeal as to whether religious non-profit organizations are “substantially burdened” by existing Department of Health and Human Services policy regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At issue for these cases is the most-litigated section of the ACA, a mandate that women who are part of group insurance plans provided by their employers be able to access contraceptives for no additional fee. If heard, this case could affect all people seeking contraceptive care as well as the majority of LGBTQ anti-discrimination litigation.
Although the court has yet to add a specific case to its docket concerning immigration, many experts expect it to address President Obama’s executive actions creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) programs. The programs are currently under review by lower federal courts. If the court takes on the programs, the nearly 1.5 million young people eligible for DACA, 3.7 million parents eligible for DAPA, and all the children of DAPA-eligible parents could be affected.
Drawing upon a challenge to 2013 Texas Legislature’s plan for local Senate districting policies, Evenwel v. Abbott poses fundamental questions of representation and democracy. Though the case may create complex consequences, it centers on one simple question: when determining representation and drawing up districts, should total population be taken into account, just the eligible voting population, or only registered voters? Experts believe the court’s decision could negatively impact immigrants, minority groups, and young voters, particularly the Latino population in Texas, by drawing more representation to rural areas and away from urban areas.