It's that time of year again, when we turn to the Supreme Court with bated breath every week to see what decisions the nine-person panel will hand down that promise to change the legal landscape of the nation.
Of the dozens of cases the high court has yet to decide, several will have far-reaching implications affecting laws ranging from search and seizure to Obamacare to abortion protests.
Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby
This is by far the most highly anticipated Court decision of the season, following up last year's 5-4 ruling on the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
At issue is whether employers, in this case Hobby Lobby, can refuse to comply with a federal law requiring companies to provide birth control to employees. The crafts chain store is challenging part of Obamacare, saying that Hobby Lobby's family ownership and strong religious backing mean that the mandate is a "burden" to its exercise of religion. Conestoga Wood Specialties, a company owned by Mennonites, has also sued over the mandate, claiming that it violates its First Amendment rights to religious freedom. The company also says the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law signed by President Clinton.
Supporters of the contraception requirement are pessimistic about the upcoming ruling, fearing that swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy's objections during oral arguments were an ominous sign for the decision ahead. Those on the left also fear that a sweeping ruling about so-called religious liberty may lend legitimacy to future laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation.
National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning
President Obama was frustrated in 2012 when Senate Republicans blocked his nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces federal labor laws. So, he started to fill slots on the board using a tool the executive branch has historically relied on: appointing people during a Senate recess, thereby avoiding a Senate vote. But some people say his actions may have been unconstitutional.
Washington state-based company Noel Canning was in a labor dispute with a local union in 2012. The NLRB, operating with recess-appointed members, ruled in favor of the union. Now, the company is objecting to the legitimacy of the board.
The Constitution allows the president to "fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate." But interpretation is key here.
Both liberal and conservative justices seemed to disagree with the government's reasoning during oral arguments, which means that Obama's recess appointments—and rulings by the NLRB—may be at risk.
Riley v. California
Previous court rulings allow police to search a person without a warrant when he or she is arrested. But this case hinges on whether information on suspects' cell phones can be used against them.
In 2009, David Riley was pulled over by police for an expired license plate, and officers took and searched his phone. Information and photos found on the phone led police to link Riley to a shooting and an attempted murder, eventually resulting in his conviction. In the second case before the Court, U.S. v. Wurie, the police were able to use photos and phone logs on Brima Wurie's flip phone to gather more evidence against him in a 2007 drug case.
McCullen v. Coakley
Massachusetts state law currently allows for a 35-foot buffer zone between protesters and reproductive health care facilities. The selective law is being challenged by "compassionate counselor" Eleanor McCullen, who claims it violates her free speech rights. Historically, protests outside of abortion clinics have led by to violent attacks, including bombings. Supporters of the law say that overturning the state law could lead to public-safety hazards.
A Supreme Court ruling from 2000 is also at stake. Back then, the Court upheld a Colorado law that prohibited protesters from approaching within 8 feet of people outside clinics without their consent.
This article appears in the June 5, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.