June is the final month of the Supreme Court’s annual term before the summer recess begins. Over the next few weeks, the Court will make decisions on 13 major cases. Among the issues up for debate are same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act, and religious freedom.
Although the Supreme Court’s decisions will mark a major victory or defeat for each case, former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says that the Supreme Court should not have more power than the other two branches of government.
"We're not bound by what nine people say in perpetuity,” Santorum told NBC’s Meet the Press. “We have an obligation and a right in a free society to push back and get our Congress and our President, and rally the American public, to overturn what the Court wants to do."
During Al Jazeera America's Sunday night segment "The Week Ahead," Del Walters spoke to Kurt Flehinger, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney, and to Tejinder Singh, an attorney at Goldstein and Russel and a contributor for the SCOTUSblog.
Obergefell vs. Hodges deals with the issue of same-sex marriage, and whether or not the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment requires individual states to allow it, as well as, recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed out-of-state.
Lisa Stark reports that there are currently 37 states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex couples to marry. Attorneys for Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee are arguing that marriage eligibility should be determined by the states and their voters. Opinion is often split along party lines, with Republican presidential candidates stating that marriage should only between a man and a woman.
Flehinger says, “When it comes down to issues of constitutional rights, these are rights that apply to individuals who are claiming that they have a fundamental right to marriage. Gay Americans are saying it’s available to us as well. They’re saying that the state has an obligation, if it’s going to confer a benefit called marriage to anybody, it has to do it for everybody.”
“There is no prospect that the Supreme Court will strike down laws permitting same-sex couples to get married,” says Singh. “There is a prospect that if the Supreme Court says the Equal Protection Clause doesn’t require recognition of this right, then judicial decisions that came out that way will be revisited. There is some precedent from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals saying that once a marriage has been fully performed, it’s then unconstitutional to break it apart.”
Another closely-watched case is King vs. Burwell which could deliver a huge setback to the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.” The law offers subsidies to people who need help paying for health coverage, requiring them to buy it through an exchange established by the state, but only 14 states have set up their own exchanges. Four plaintiffs are claiming that the subsidies in the remaining 36 states are illegal, putting health insurance subsidies for about 7.5 million Americans at stake.
Singh says that “the ultimate outcome of this case will turn on a relatively technical issue of statutory interpretation. I think everybody agrees that Congress meant to extend subsides to everybody. It’s just not clear whether the text Congress enacted actually accomplished that goal.”
Flehinger agrees, adding that the case is before the Supreme Court simply because of politics.
In the case of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) vs. Abercrombie & Fitch, an employee of the retailer has admitted to not hiring 17-year-old Samantha Elauf in 2008 after assuming she was Muslim and would want to wear a headscarf. The company has a no-headwear policy, and claims it did not have direct knowledge of Elauf’s religion. Lower courts have ruled in favor of Abercrombie & Fitch.
“The government takes the position that employers really have to inquire and make sure they are extending proper accommodations, but the employer takes the position that employees have to put them on notice because they don’t want to be having awkward conversations during job interviews about whether someone is religious or not,” says Singh.
Singh adds that Justice Samuel Alito says the employer should make their employees aware of their policies, and then allow the employees to bring up any personal issues with them.
Flehinger says the concern is, “Who has the obligation to raise the issue in the interview?” He adds that “a lot of employees would feel uncomfortable to come forward [with their religious practices], because they feel they raise would the specter of being discriminated against, and employers don’t want to be accused of discriminating by raising what could be seen as an objective, overt symbol of religion.”
There are other important cases up for debate that are being followed closely. Glossip vs. Gross looks into whether the use of the drug Midazolam violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Walker vs. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans looks at whether or not the 1st Amendment protects controversial messages on specialty license plates, such as the use of the Confederate flag image. Michigan vs. the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will decide if the EPA has the authority to force coal and power industries to sharply reduce hazardous emissions. The City of Los Angeles vs. Patel will decide if requiring motel owners to keep guest registries for police inspection violates the 4th Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.