This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court nationalized marriage equality, upheld Obamacare, and rejected challenges to civil rights protections. And when the high court begins its new term on Monday, it’s poised to tackle several more major controversies in American life.
Here are five big questions facing the court this fall:
1. What does “one person, one vote” actually mean?
Think each person’s vote counts equally? Not necessarily. This fall, the court will hear two cases probing whether Congress should base districts on how many voters live there, or by the overall size of the population.
The distinction has political consequences. For instance, what if the court determines that districts with large non-voting populations deserve more power when their overall population is larger? It could either benefit Democratic-leaning districts with large immigrant or youth populations, or it could help Republican-leaning districts in areas with large prisons, full of non-voting inmates.
2. Can prosecutors lawfully remove every black juror from a black defendant’s capital trial?In American courts, lawyers can remove potential jurors for essentially no reason – but not for a bad reason. It’s allowed so lawyers can strike potential jurors they believe will be unfair. But, lawyers are legally barred from removing her based on her race.
This term, the court will hear a case regarding new evidence that shows the prosecution in a capital trial removed every black juror based on race. The legal question before the court this fall is whether that new evidence – written notes showing prosecutors singling out every black juror – should impact the trial’s outcome.
The issue is one of four death penalty cases the Court will hear this term.
3. Can public unions charge fees to all workers?
The court will hear a challenge to unions that conservative activists have pushed for years. The question: Should public unions should be legally barred from collecting bargaining dues from employees who are not in the union?
Current precedent leaves the decision up to each state. With its ruling, however, the court could essentially create a national ban.
4. Who is guilty of insider trading?
In November 2010, FBI agents marched into three elite hedge funds in a crackdown on insider trading. The firms ultimately closed, and prosecutors from the Obama Justice Department obtained convictions and jail time for two executives. It was a key victory in a period when many have criticized lax enforcement on Wall Street – but it didn’t last.A federal court overturned both convictions and dismissed the indictments, ruling that prosecutors failed to prove the defendants were directly involved in the transfer of inside information. The solicitor general – the Obama administration’s lawyer before the Supreme Court – is now asking the court to review the case and reinstate the convictions. While the particulars of insider trading law can be arcane, the case looks like a political priority for the White House – with potentially far-reaching consequences on Wall Street.
5. Can states enact new medical rules to close abortion clinics?
One of the most contentious cases likely to hit the court turns on strict rules that Texas enacted for its abortion clinics. The new rules required clinics to secure “admitting privileges” for separate hospitals and to achieve strict building standards.
Proponents say the requirements are for safety, while critics argue it’s another back-door attempt to limit abortion. Half of the state’s 41 clinics had to close in response, although the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the law in June, a move suggesting it is likely to hear the case this term.