At precisely 10:00 a.m. Monday morning, the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will enter the burgundy draped, gold-trimmed courtroom, to begin the 2011-2012 term of the nation’s highest court. As the Justices enter, all persons in attendance stand. The Justices also stand as the Marshal of the Court chants, "The Honorable Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable Supreme Court of the United States are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court!"
The High Court will be deciding a number of potentially “landmark” cases this term; not the least of which is the battle over President Obama’s scheme for health care reform, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Although it isn't even officially on the docket yet, the groundwork for action by the High Court on the matter has been laid by both sides, with the federal government and a number of states asking the justices to deal with two different cases that have been working their way through the 4th and 11th Circuit Courts of Appeal.
The various litigants in the healthcare challenge cases will have the rest of this month to submit briefs to the Court, which will then officially decide whether or not to hear the case. Oral arguments will probably be heard early next year, and the Court should issue its ruling by the end of June; right in the middle of the presidential campaign.
Already on the Court’s docket this term are, among other topics, gun laws, immigration, racial preferences, and separation of church and state:
Dirty words on television. In the case of FCC v. Fox Television, the Court is set to hear a dispute involving the power of the Federal Communications Commission to punish broadcast television stations for showing brief nudity or failing to bleep dirty words during prime time programming.
Church vs. State. In the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC and Cheryl Perich, the Court will be asked to rule on the First Amendment's separation of church and state, where a former teacher at a Lutheran elementary school sued the church-run school for alleged disability discrimination and retaliation. School officials argue that the lawsuit is barred under the "ministerial exception," a legal doctrine which blocks employment-related lawsuits against religious organizations filed by employees who perform important religious functions.
Is Jerusalem in Israel? In Zivotofsky v. Clinton, the high court will wade into a clash between Congress and the executive branch over a sensitive matter of foreign affairs — the disputed status of Jerusalem. When Menachem Zivotofsky, a US citizen, was born in Jerusalem, his mother applied for a passport for her infant son and asked that the place of birth be recorded as Jerusalem, Israel. When the State Department refused, the parents sued to enforce the federal statute.
Strip searches. In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Court will decide whether the government has the power to order the routine strip search of persons detained by law enforcement regardless of how minor the offense or any individual assessment of his or her likelihood to be carrying a weapon or contraband.
GPS tracking. In United States v. Jones, the justices will decide whether the Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement officials to install a GPS tracking device on a suspect's car to conduct continuous round-the-clock surveillance without first obtaining a judicially-authorized warrant.
A number of other significant cases are scheduled to be heard this term, involving such controversial issues as:
- Same-sex marriage laws, and the Defense of Marriage Act.
- Whether the Second Amendment protects a right to carry a gun in public places for self-defense.
- Whether the use of racial preferences in university admissions programs is unconstitutional.
- Whether Arizona's tough immigration law, SB 1070, is preempted by federal statutes and the more gentle policy positions embraced by the Obama administration.
- Whether large crosses erected on public roadsides in Utah and a Ten Commandments display in an elected judge's courtroom in Ohio violate the separation of church and state.
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