Supreme Court Opens Fall Session – Major Decisions Loom


There’s no question quite as newsworthy as the “Obamacare” decision rendered during the last session, but a new session of the United States Supreme Court begins in earnest on Monday (October 1st) and, as usual, there are several major cases to be heard and adjudicated.

In no particular order, the court will hear and rule on a case filed by the University of Texas that challenges racial quotas in admission standards, at least two cases involving the legality of police K-9 use in obtaining search warrants, the Constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as decisions on several challenges to provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

In 2006, Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation extending for 25 more years a critical piece of the Voting Rights Act.  It requires states and local governments to get advance approval either from the Justice Department or the federal court in Washington before making any changes that affect elections.

A separate appeal asks the justices to sustain California’s Proposition 8, the amendment to the state constitution that outlawed gay marriage in the nation’s largest state.  Federal courts in California’s ninth district have struck down the amendment, but the ninth circuit appeals court is the most reversed court in the nation, so this matter will be one that’s closely watched.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gives President Barack Obama a hug.  November 6th could signal the end of her judicial career. Photo by Saul Loeb

Here are the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, with their age, the president who appointed them, and when they took their seats on the high court.

• Chief Justice John Roberts, 57, appointed by President George W. Bush, September 2005

• Justice Antonin Scalia, 76, President Ronald Reagan, September 1986

• Justice Anthony Kennedy, 76, Reagan, February 1988

• Justice Clarence Thomas, 64, President George Bush, October 1991

• Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79, President Bill Clinton, August 1993

• Justice Stephen Breyer, 74, Clinton, August 1994

• Justice Samuel Alito, 62, George W. Bush, January 2006

• Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 58, President Barack Obama, August 2009

• Justice Elena Kagan, 52, Obama, August 2010

While the cases may not be as major as “Obamacare”, the court itself may provide some headlines – especially as to its own makeup.

The combination of age and major health issues have plagued Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for several years.  November 6th might very well signal that it’s time for her resignation from the high court based primarily on health.  Should President Obama win re-election it would be a very convenient time for her to step aside, knowing that Obama would try to replace her with an equally liberal justice.

Should Mitt Romney win on November 6th, her decision would be compounded for the opposite reason.  Romney would undoubtedly nominate a more conservative candidate but, depending on the makeup of the U.S. Senate, confirmation might be next to impossible.  If the Senate is controlled by Democrats it could be a very long time before any nominee is confirmed.  Even at that, the court would be left without it’s strongest liberal Justice.

Should Republicans assume control of the Senate, Obama’s choice of nominees would surely be affected, as well.  Another strong liberal nominee – like Sotomayor and Kagan – would be dead on arrival in a Republican Senate.

Justice Ginsburg’s liberal interpretation of law is often cited as one of the primary reasons the court is so politically fractured.  While others might waver slightly, Ginsburg can be counted on as a “sure thing” by the liberal faction.  Her vote is totally predictable.

Along with the presidential election, we’ll be paying close attention to the high court’s docket for the Fall session.  As many as 75 cases are expected to be heard.