Despite the federal government shutdown,the court has had no furloughs and is operating at full capacity. This means it has enough money to pay its employees.
The court’s website says it will continue to conduct its normal operations through Oct. 11. If the shutdown goes beyond that date,the court will post an update.
The following cases are some of the many controversial and ground-breaking topics the court will discuss,according to legal and Supreme Court experts.
On Tuesday,the court will hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission,a Republican challenge to the amount of campaign contributions an individual can give to federal candidates and state and local party committees.
Shaun McCutcheon,a businessman from Alabama,and the Republican National Committee are challenging the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s aggregate limits during a two-year election cycle. Federal law caps the amount an individual can give to a candidate to $48,600 and $74,600 to a political action committee.
McCutcheon wants to make individual contributions to a number of candidates and party committees that are within the limits for individual contributions,but his total would exceed the overall contribution cap – $123,200.
If the court rules in favor of McCutcheon and the RNC,it would overturn Buckley v. Valeo,a 1976 decision in which the court upheld an aggregate contribution ceiling because it prevented corruption or pass-through contributions,in which someone gives a third-party money to donate.
This case could be as important to campaign finance laws as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,which allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money independently of political candidates’ campaigns.
On Oct. 15,justices will hear about whether an amendment to the Michigan Constitution barring affirmative action at state universities and colleges violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The case is Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.
In 2006,Michigan passed Proposal 2,which amended the state constitution to prohibit affirmative action and instead mandates equal treatment.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said people in Michigan agreed affirmative action should not be used in deciding which students to admit to its universities.
Those who opposed Proposal 2 argued it discriminates against minorities by denying them “equal access to the tools of political change.”
In 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger,the court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action plan. In Fisher v. University of Texas,the court ruled earlier this year in favor of the university’s affirmative action admission policy.
Chemical Weapons Treaty
When Carol Bond found out her husband had impregnated one of her friends,she wanted revenge.
Bond,who worked for a chemical manufacturer,attempted to poison her friend by spreading toxic chemicals on her mailbox,car door handles and house doorknobs. Her attempts to poison her friend failed.
She was prosecuted under the Chemical Weapons Act,and her case has already made two trips to the Supreme Court.
On Nov. 5,in Bond v. United States,Bond’s lawyers will argue against Congress’ power to implement the Chemical Weapons Treaty in ordinary poisoning cases and that the federal government overstepped state and local law enforcement to prosecute her.
The lower courts relied on Missouri v. Holland,which upheld the authority of the federal government to ratify any international treaties,despite the 10th Amendment,which reserves to the states any powers not directly assigned to the federal government.
Paul D. Clement,a partner at Bancroft PLLC and a former U.S. Solicitor General,is one of the lawyers representing Bond.
At the Heritage Foundation Supreme Court Preview discussion,Clement said the lower courts relied on a case with a narrow understanding of treaties.
Because there is such a broad understanding of what a treaty can do,Clement said Congress may “have additional authority that it wouldn’t otherwise have if the treaty hadn’t passed.”
Church and State
On Nov. 12,the justices will hear oral arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway. Two residents of Greece,N.Y.,are accusing the town of violating the First Amendment Establishment Clause,because town meetings open with Christian prayers.
The majority of those offering prayers were Christian,even though the town did not control which religions could offer the prayer.
In 1983 in Marsh v. Chambers,justices upheld a prayer to start the day for the Nebraska legislature because of states’ longstanding prayer traditions.
The town argues it didn’t violate the First Amendment as long as the town doesn’t use the prayer to advance or disparage a particular religion.
Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardeners Citizens in Action questions if government involvement in redeveloping blighted neighborhoods is permitted under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 if it has a disparate impact on racial minorities.
Members of the town council in Mount Holly,N.J.,decided to buy rundown homes,repair them and sell them back to the previous owners as market-rate housing. A group of residents sued,arguing that the new housing had an adverse impact on minorities. The residents claimed they would not be able afford the fixed-up homes.
David Savage,who covers the Supreme Court for the Los Angeles Times,said at a Supreme Court Preview discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,that the Fair Housing Act does not normally cover discriminatory effects on minorities when it comes to mortgage lending or city lending policies.
What’s interesting about this case is the poor people whose homes were bought out were about 75 percent black or Hispanic. The group was able to sue because they could say the new housing had a racial discriminatory effect on them.
“What kind of a system would say it’s OK to discriminate against poor people and drive them out of town and that’s fine and that’s not affected by federal law at all?” Savage said.
The court will hear oral arguments Dec. 4.
National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning has the potential to limit the president’s appointment powers.
In January 2012,President Barack Obama appointed nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while the Senate was not meeting regularly. Every three days,one Senator would call the Senate into pro forma session and quickly recess for the day.
Obama made the appointments because Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm his nominations.
The Constitution grants the president the right to make appointments while the Senate is in recess. By convening every three days,the Senate argued it was not in recess and the president did not have the right to make recess appointments.
John P. Elwood,a partner at Vinson & Elkins LLP and a speaker at The Heritage Foundation Supreme Court Preview session,explained the problem.
“The House wouldn’t give the Senate permission to go out,and so the House Republicans said,‘Ha,we are going to force you into pro forma sessions to keep Obama from making recess appointments,’” Elwood said.
A year later,the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the recess appointments as unconstitutional.
Article II Section 2 of the Constitution says,“The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate.”
The court is also reviewing whether the president may only appoint people to jobs that come open when the Senate is in recess,or if he could appoint people to jobs that opened up while the Senate was in session.
The Supreme Court will hear from anti-abortion activists,not about the rights of unborn children,but rather about the First Amendment rights of activist to picket in front of abortion clinics.
The case,McCullen v. Coakley,comes from seven anti-abortion demonstrators who oppose Massachusetts’ 2000 law that sets a 35 foot buffer zone around reproductive health-care facilities that perform abortions to separate patients from protesters.
The protesters argue that the law violates their First and 14th Amendment rights.
Their brief argues,“The law restricts the speech of only those who wish to use public areas near abortion clinics to speak about abortion from a different point of view.”
In 2002,the the Court upheld a Colorado law that barred protesters from getting within 8 feet of patients entering abortion clinics.
Reach reporter Zahra Farah at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.