With the death of Antonin Scalia comes an imbalance of power between liberalism and conservativism at the nation’s highest court.
Scalia’s death occurred only months before an array of cases on controversial social issues were to be heard by the Supreme Court.
As compiled by IJ Review, here are five cases that will be as the court’s discretion.
1. Affirmative Action
In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the court will consider the university’s use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions and the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment.
The University of Texas at Austin fills 75% of its freshman class by accepting anyone from the top 10% of a Texas high school graduating class. But it also reserves 25% of slots for students with special skills or qualities, including race and ethnicity.
A white applicant who claims she was not admitted because of her race brought the case against the university.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has twice allowed the university’s plan to move forward, but the Supreme Court sent the case back for further review under the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment.
In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the court will review a landmark 2013 Texas law that imposes new rules for abortion clinics and abortionists.
The case challenges two aspects of the law:
- A requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their office;
- That abortion facility meet the same health and safety standards as other ambulatory surgical centers.
The question the court faces is the standard of “undue burden,” by which state-imposed restrictions on abortion have been adjudicated since 1992.
A four-to-four tie would allow the Texas law to stand.
- Contraception Mandates
The Affordable Care Act requires employers offering health care plans to include contraceptive coverage. Churches and other religious organizations are technically exempt from this rule, but the parties bringing Zubik v. Burwell to the court, most famously the Little Sisters of the Poor, object to the exemption process.
In Zubik v. Burwell, the nuns and other religious groups maintain that signing a release from contraception coverage offered by the Obama administration still forces them to facilitate the distribution of contraception, which is against their religious beliefs.
The court will consider whether the process does indeed violate the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
- Public Sector Unions
Previous court decisions have ruled that although public employees who don’t join a union cannot be required to pay for the union’s political activities, they can be charged fee to cover the cost of other activities like negotiating wage rates.
But in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the court willconsider whether or not to overturn those past precedents.
The question is two-fold:
- Does it violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech for unions to require non-members to subsidize any union activity; and,
- To what extent are a union’s activities — everything from negotiating wage rates to endorsing political candidates — political?
The plaintiffs argue in essence that all of the union’s activities are political.
In 2014, President Obama announced work permits and “deferred deportation” for 5 million people who illegally immigrated to the United States as children, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).
The policy is being challenged by Texas and 25 other states in United States v. Texas.
A federal district judge in Texas said the order violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a statue that determines how federal administrative agencies may establish regulations. A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court upheld that ruling.
In the event of a 4-4 tie, the court only has two options. They can either allow the ruling of the lower court stand, or set aside the case for re-argument when Scalia is replaced.
It’s unlikely that Obama will be able to appoint a liberal Justice during the remainder of his Presidency, but in the meantime, we’re still at a disadvantage at the Court.