US court tack­les so­cial is­sues

Lesotho Times - - International -

WASH­ING­TON — The nine jus­tices of Amer­ica’s Supreme Court are set to wade into con­tentious so­cial mat­ters in their new term which be­gan on Mon­day, in­clud­ing af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, union pow­ers and vot­ing rights, and could add ma­jor cases in­volv­ing abor­tion and birth con­trol.

The court’s work on those hot­but­ton is­sues in its term that ends next June will un­fold dur­ing a US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, mean­ing the jus­tices could find them­selves at the cen­tre of the po­lit­i­cal de­bate be­fore the Novem­ber 2016 elec­tion.

The jus­tices, five ap­pointed by Repub­li­can pres­i­dents and four by Democrats, of­ten di­vide along ide­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal lines on press­ing so­cial is­sues.

The court’s last term ended in June with rul­ings le­gal­iz­ing gay mar­riage na­tion­wide and re­ject­ing a con­ser­va­tive chal­lenge to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health­care law, ac­tions praised by lib­er­als. But court ob­servers ex­pect the court’s five con­ser­va­tives to pre­vail in most of the big, closely di­vided cases this term.

They say that un­like in the gay­mar­riage and Oba­macare rul­ings, the con­ser­va­tive bloc is less likely to lose the court’s reg­u­lar swing vote, Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy, on cases in­volv­ing race, unions and vot­ing.

In a ma­jor bat­tle over the fu­ture of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion in col­lege ad­mis­sions, the jus­tices for a sec­ond time will con­sider a law­suit brought by Abi­gail Fisher, a white ap­pli­cant who was de­nied ad­mis­sion to the en­ter­ing class of 2008 at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin.

Af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion is a pol­icy un­der which racial mi­nori­ties his­tor­i­cally sub­jected to dis­crim­i­na­tion are given cer­tain pref­er­ences in ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment.

Con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists back­ing Fisher would like af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion thrown out en­tirely. Civil rights groups and the Obama ad- min­is­tra­tion sup­port the pol­icy to bring greater di­ver­sity to cam­puses and the Amer­i­can work force.

The jus­tices also will hear a case brought by con­ser­va­tives that could weaken pub­lic sec­tor unions, a chal­lenge by non-union pub­lic school teach­ers who say Cal­i­for­nia’s re­quire­ment that they pay the equiv­a­lent of union dues vi­o­lates their free speech rights.

Some teach­ers ob­ject to the decades-old prac­tice of al­low­ing pub­lic-sec­tor unions to col­lect fees, as long as this money does not get spent on po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, from work­ers who do not want union rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Repub­li­cans of­ten take aim at pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor unions, which gen­er­ally align with Democrats.

VOT­ING RIGHTS The Supreme Court also will hear two vot­ing rights cases brought by con­ser­va­tives chal­leng­ing how elec­toral dis­tricts are drawn in Texas and Ari­zona. Wins for the plain­tiffs could ben­e­fit Repub­li­cans in fu­ture elec­tions.

In the Texas case, the jus­tices will de­cide whether ur­ban, of­ten His­panic vot­ers get too much vot­ing power be­cause of the way state leg­isla­tive dis­tricts are drawn in a case that could end up giv­ing more clout to ru­ral Repub­li­can vot­ers.

The Supreme Court has not ruled on abor­tion since 2007 but that could change this term. This fall, the jus­tices are due to de­cide whether to hear a chal­lenge to a Repub­li­can-backed Texas law re­strict­ing abor­tion ac­cess that abor­tion providers con­tend is aimed more at shut­ting clin­ics than pro­tect­ing women’s health.

The jus­tices also will de­cide whether to rule on reli­gious ob­jec­tions to the re­quire­ment for con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age un­der Obama’s health­care law. They also may get a chance to weigh in on Obama’s ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions, op­posed by con­ser­va­tives, aimed at shield­ing mil­lions of il­le­gal im­mi­grants from de­por­ta­tion.

It is less cer­tain whether the fight over the Obama’s im­mi­gra­tion ac­tions will reach the court in time for it to be de­cided in the cur­rent term.

A se­ries of con­ser­va­tive rul­ings in the new term could play into the hands of Democrats come elec­tion time, ac­cord­ing to Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute scholar Nor­man Orn­stein. “When­ever you get a se­ries of rul­ings that go against you, it will get peo­ple more charged up,” Orn­stein said.

The jus­tices main­tain they are not be­holden to po­lit­i­cal sen­ti­ment.

John Roberts, in an in­ter­view early in his ten­ure as chief jus­tice, told C-SPAN: “I think the most im­por­tant thing for the pub­lic to un­der­stand is that we are not a po­lit­i­cal branch of gov­ern­ment.

They don’t elect us. If they don’t like what we’re do­ing, it’s more or less just too bad.”

Pres­i­dent Barack obama

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