Newest Supreme Court cases: a mixed bag

The Supreme Court is gearing up for an unprecedented set of cases, from racial preference in college admissions to drug-sniffing dogs. Other potential proceedings include appeals to gay marriage and the Voting Right Act.

The Court heard Fisher v. University of Texas on October 10, which could redefine affirmative action. Abigail Fisher, a 22-year-old Caucasian graduate of Louisiana State University, claims that her rejection from the University of Texas at Austin four years ago was based on race, not merit. The University maintains that its affirmative action program is necessary to create a diverse “critical mass” of students on campus.

 

In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the court will look at whether Shell aided the Nigerian government to kill and torture its own citizens who protested oil exploration in the country. A key question is whether the case belongs in a US court at all. The answer to that depends on the interpretation of an obscure statute established by the First Congress in 1789 that allows foreigners to bring civil suits into U.S. courts. Under the Alien Tort Statue (ATS) foreign citizens can bring a suit to United States courts if it involves an action “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” Hiroshi Nakazato, a BC professor of International Law, believes the case will limit the use of ATS: “The Court will likely make it harder for human rights activists to be able to use ATS at all, not because of ideological reasons (i.e. because the court is center-right), but because ATS is such an odd application of universal jurisdiction, as it stands.”

Hearings over the warranted use of drug-sniffing dogs will begin around Halloween this year. In one dispute, the court will specifically look at what constitutes a search. This is in response to an instance when a dog was brought to a house to sniff out marijuana. Another dispute questions a dog’s credibility as a drug-sniffing animal because of a traffic stop search which uncovered methamphetamine ingredients in a pickup truck.

On October 29, the court is also set to hear [about] constitutional challenges to the latest version of the Foreign Surveillance Act. The court will decide whether lawyers, journalists and human rights groups are entitled to lodge complaints in the federal court. These groups argue that the act permits the United States to eavesdrop on overseas communications and as a result they will become targets of surveillance.

The Court’s decisions in these cases will set precedents for future votes, so they will be closely scrutinized. Its decisions may be predictable, or they may shock the public, as the upholding Obamacare did.

 

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