The 4 Supreme Court Cases to Watch This Summer

Over the next few weeks, the high court will hand down rulings that could affect things such as Obamacare and protests outside abortion clinics.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
June 4, 2014, 1 a.m.

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.

The Su­preme Court has already handed down de­cisions on cam­paign fin­ance and in­ter­na­tion­al treat­ies, but here are some more to watch.

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.

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.

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