The Heart Of The Political Debate

Controversial Supreme Court cases will impact many across the country.

Controversial Supreme Court Cases Will Impact Many Across The Country

We are facing a monumental year of Supreme Court cases that will impact the lives of workers, unauthorized immigrants, students, women, and more. It is the nature of the high court to only decide the most controversial and important questions of constitutional law. But many of the cases that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this term demonstrate that the Court is threatening to become a political institution and could buck decades of precedent to rule against progress. There’s a lot at stake, so we broke down some of the key points for each of the biggest cases to come:

  • Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: In this case, the court could impose a right-to-work standard for all government employees. This threatens to undermine economic security, especially since workers earn less in right to work states and research indicates the middle-class share of income has declined as union membership has declined. If unions are undermined, workers and the whole middle class will suffer.
  • United States v. Texas: In this case, the Supreme Court will review the injunction—from former President George W. Bush-appointed U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen and upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—that is currently blocking President Obama’s DAPA and expanded DACA initiatives. Judge Hanen’s injunction was influenced by conservative lawmakers in 26 states who filed lawsuits against DAPA and expanded DACA. The stakes in this case are huge: DAPA and expanded DACA will help nearly 5 million people, and blocking these initiatives costs the United States $8.4 million every day.
  • Fisher v. University of Texas: This is actually the second time the Court has heard Fisher, which questions the constitutionality of the University of Texas’s affirmative action program. This case was brought by Abigail Fisher, a white student who believes the University of Texas denied her admission in 2008 because of her race. In its 2013 Fisher decision, the Court avoided taking a strong stance on the issue and asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reexamine the case. The Fifth Circuit ruled again in favor of the University of Texas’ affirmative action policy, bringing the case back to the Supreme Court this session. We have already heard oral arguments in this case, during which many were shocked and disgusted as Justice Scalia argued that students of color are being “pushed into schools that are too advanced for them” because of affirmative action policies. If this Court finds in Abigail Fisher’s favor, it could undermine affirmative action and erode diversity in higher education.
  • Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole: This case will address two significant restrictions, passed by the Texas legislature, on Texas women’s access to legal abortions. These restrictions—which are already enacted in Texas—further undermine Texas women’s ability to make decisions about their lives and health, especially since there are already only 17 clinics open in the massive state of Texas. If the Texas legislature’s restrictions are upheld, the door would be open to states passing any law to restrict abortion access just so long as they say it’s related to women’s health.
  • Evenwel v. Abbott: This case has the potential to force redistricting of the entire country and change the racial and ethnic balance of congressional delegations. The plaintiffs in Evenwel are asking the Court to change the way district lines are drawn within a state. If they prevail, non-voters, such as children, will no longer count when states draw these lines. In states such as Texas, where there is are large Latino communities, the Evenwel plaintiffs’ rule will effectively transfer power away from these Latino communities and toward white voters. Overall, the plaintiffs in this case essentially argue that people who can’t vote don’t deserve representation in government.
  • Zubik v. Burwell: Just like Hobby Lobby v. Burwell in 2014, the plaintiffs in Zubik are attempting to restrict access to contraception for their employees. In Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that employers who object to birth control on religious grounds could refuse to include contraceptive coverage in their employer-provided health plans, even though federal rules required them to do so. Now, in Zubik, employers want to restrict contraceptive access even further, even though birth control is critical to women’s health, equality, and economic security. Despite what the plaintiffs in Zubik think, the facts are that women, not bosses, should be able to make these personal health care decisions and employers should not be able to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.

The Center for American Progress hosted a panel today to discuss the upcoming cases in greater detail. Check out the full event here.

BOTTOM LINE: The stakes for this year’s Supreme Court term are high. As Neera Tanden said at this morning’s event, “the Court has the potential to place itself at the heart of the political debate.” Not only will the Supreme Court’s term impact the lives of everyday Americans, it also has the potential to result in a dramatic, conservative shift in the law and an expansion in the Court’s role.

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