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Monday, October 1, 2012

SCOTUS Poised for a New Term

The last time we saw our SCOTUS, it announced an historic decision in the Obamacare case on the last day of the term.  The new term opens today with some weighty cases selected for arguments during the term and a possible new alignment among the Justices.

This term SCOTUS will likely decide cases on same-sex marriage, affirmative action in higher education, the Voters' Rights Act, and a collection of tort cases testing the limits of the Class Action Fairness Act.

Same Sex Marriage.  The Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] is a federal law that only recognizes traditional marriage, for purposes of a variety of federal benefits and other employment-related rights, as between a woman and a man.  The First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, MA, has invalidated portions of the Act; both sides have appealed these decisions to the SCOTUS.

In addition to the DOMA cases, a more ambitions same-sex marriage case from California's 9th Circuit, Perry v Brown [formerly Perry v Schwarzenegger], seeks to establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  Recently, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated publicly that this case could be considered by the High Court toward the end of this term.  If so, it will be a polarizing case, much like the Obamacare drama, with equally significant implications.

Affirmative Action.  The case of Fisher v University of Texas will likely replace the University of Michigan Law School case as the seminal decision on affirmative action.   In the UM Law case, the High Court allowed race to be considered as a factor in the admissions process.  The Texas case, due to the present make-up of the Court, could abolish racial preferences as a factor in the college admissions process.

The case involves a student that narrowly missed the automatic admission of high school students in the top 10% of their class; she was then rejected on the basis of the Texas admissions scheme which has racial make-up of applicants as a factor in the University's admission criteria.  Whether the Texas scheme passes constitutional muster will be decided by the SCOTUS; they may mess with Texas.

Voters' Rights.  Another case to receive much attention is the one challenging the long-standing Voters' Rights Act from the civil rights era.  One portion of the 1965 law requires federal court review of any changes in the election procedures of states once known for bigotry; the South.

In recent decisions leading up to the present group of cases now before the SCOTUS, Chief Justice Roberts has invited Congress to revisit the law, as he has noted that our nation is far different today than when the legislation initially passed in the mid-1960s, but Congress has not taken the bait.

Several lawsuits that have arisen in this election cycle challenge the redistricting and voter registration portions of the Act on constitutional grounds.  

Class Action Torts.  Didn't tort reform sweep the country throughout the 1990s?  Apparently, not in every state.  In several cases up for decision in this term, the SCOTUS will decide the scope of the federal procedural rule on the certification of a class of litigants; class action tort suits

At issue is the Bush-era Class Action Fairness Act, designed to make the filing of "frivilous" lawsuits in state courts more difficult by allowing a mechanism to bring such suits into federal court.  The federal courts arguably have stricter evidentiary standards.  One of the cases involves Comcast and its domination of the market in the Philadelphia area.

Another class action case, from Arkansas, challenges the practice of an insurance company of allegedly "short-changing" its customers on valid claims.  The plaintiffs, a class of insureds, stipulated to damages less than five million dollars specifically to avoid removal of their case to federal court.  Apparently, Arkansas' state courts are famously "plaintiff-friendly" and the plaintiffs' bar has been out there forum shopping.

These and other cases will keep SCOTUS very busy this term as our jurisprudence will deepen and thicken on many vital issues that concern us all.  Stay tuned to the Law Blogger for regular updates.

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