What Big Decisions to Expect from the Supreme Court this Summer

Crime, Education, Family/Kids, Politics, Rights

supreme court - squareDecisions on the following high-profile Supreme Court cases are expected any day now. Issues at stake include rights surrounding gay marriage, admissions policies at state universities, and Section 5 of The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Hollingsworth v. Perry: Gay Marriage Rights in California

Quick facts:

  • Full title: Dennis Hollingsworth, et al., Petitioners v. Kristin M. Perry, et al.
  • Plaintiff(s): Include Dennis Hollingsworth of ProtectMarriage.com and people affiliated with Campaign for California Families, groups that oppose gay marriage. (Plaintiffs were previously defendants in lower court cases.)
  • Defendant(s): Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, two same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in California in 2009. (Defendants were previously plaintiffs in lower court cases.)
  • Supreme Court granted certiorari: Dec. 7, 2012
  • Supreme Court heard arguments: Mar. 26, 2013
  • What the judgment could mean: A judgment in favor of the defendants would mean California’s constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage is invalid, and same-sex couples would again be allowed to marry in California. The decision could affect just California, or could have broader, country-wide implications.

In May 2008, the California Supreme Court declared that statutes limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples were unconstitutional, and as a result same-sex couples were legally allowed to marry in the state of California. Shortly afterwards, in a November 2008 ballot initiative coinciding with the 2008 presidential election, “Prop 8” won, barring same-sex couples from getting married through an amendment to the state constitution. (Same-sex marriages that took place before Prop 8 won were still valid.) The proposition’s validity was challenged immediately, and for the past five years the case in various incarnations (it was previously Perry v. Schwarzenegger and Perry v. Brown) has gone through the California court system.

United States v. Windsor: Federal Benefits For Same-Sex Couples

Quick facts:

  • Full title: United States v. Edith Schlain Windsor, in Her Capacity as Executor of the Estate of Thea Clara Spyer, et al.
  • Plaintiff(s): The United States (previously a defendant).
  • Defendant(s): Edith Windsor (previously a plaintiff), who married partner Thea Spyer in 2007 in Canada.
  • Supreme Court granted certiorari: Dec. 7, 2012
  • Supreme Court heard arguments: Mar. 27, 2013
  • What the judgment could mean: A judgment for the defendant would mean that same-sex couples legally recognized at the state level would be given the same benefits at the federal level that opposite-sex couples have.

When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was required to pay $363,000 to New York State, where they were residents, in federal estate taxes (a.k.a. “death taxes”). Had their marriage been recognized, she would have not been required to pay the taxes. In Windsor v. United States, Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, was found unconstitutional. The outcomes of this case and of Hollingsworth v. Perry are expected to have a large impact on gay rights.

Fisher v. University of Texas: Affirmative Action in State University Admissions Policy

Quick facts:

  • Full title: Abigail Noel Fisher, Petitioner v. University of Texas at Austin, et al.
  • Plaintiff(s): Abigail Fisher, an undergraduate in 2008 when she first brought suit against the University. Rachel Michalewicz was a plaintiff in the original case but withdrew as plaintiff in 2011.
  • Defendant(s): University of Texas at Austin.
  • Supreme Court granted certiorari: Feb. 21, 2012
  • Supreme Court heard oral arguments: Oct. 10, 2012
  • What the judgment could mean: A decision in favor of the plaintiff could mean the end of affirmative action in public universities.

Fisher and Michalewicz sued University of Texas at Austin in 2008 after being denied admission, saying they were denied on the basis of race (both plaintiffs are white). The Supreme Court must rule that the admissions policy at UT-Austin is inconsistent with Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 case that ruled 5-4 in favor of allowing public universities to use an applicant’s race as a component of criteria for admission. Overruling Grutter v. Bollinger might mean public universities would no longer be allowed to factor in race at all, which some believe would lead to more white and Asian students, and fewer black and Hispanic students. Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case, likely because she was involved with the case as Solicitor General.

Shelby County v. Holder: Jurisdictions Affected by Section 5 of The Voting Rights Act of 1965

Quick facts:

  • Full title: Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et al.
  • Plaintiff(s): Shelby County of Alabama
  • Defendant(s): Eric Himpton Holder, Jr., U.S. Attorney General
  • Supreme Court granted certiorari: Nov. 9, 2012
  • Supreme Court heard arguments: Feb. 27, 2013
  • What the judgment could mean: A judgment in favor of the plaintiff would mean jurisdictions affected by Section 5 would no longer need clearance from the DoJ to change certain voting procedures.

Section 5 of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that the Department of Justice “preclear” any efforts to change certain voting procedures in certain jurisdictions. These jurisdictions include Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and parts of Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, and Texas, as well as a handful of counties and townships in other states. The purpose of requiring the “preclearance” is to prevent the changes in voting from discriminating based on race, color, or language minority group. Shelby County, Alabama is fighting against the 2006 decision to reaffirm Section 5 for itself and other jurisdictions affected by the law.