Progressive Issues on Trial as Supreme Court Bangs its Gavel

Last Monday marked the beginning of a new term for the Supreme Court of the United States after a three month long break in sessions. Two years after upholding the controversial Affordable Care Act and one year after striking down California’s Proposition 8 and parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court has yet another docket full of cases that will have huge consequences for a variety of progressive issues.

Image via Ipankonin/Wikimedia Commons.

Image via Ipankonin/Wikimedia Commons.

Controversial topics such as campaign finance, affirmative action, contraception and abortion, and state endorsed prayer are just some of the issues that the Court will see this term.

The first of the major cases to be heard by the Supreme Court is the case by McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. In a similar case in 2010, Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court ruled that, by the First Amendment, donors and corporations could give unlimited amounts of money as long as these contributions were made to groups independent of the campaign.

The latest case now focuses on whether to keep or do away with limits an individual can spend on campaign contributions directly to candidates and political parties during an election cycle. The two major factors weighing on the Court regarding this case are corruption and equality.

The Supreme Court has its own gavel...bang! Image via Roger Sayles/Flickr.

The Supreme Court has its own gavel...bang!
Image via Roger Sayles/Flickr.

Siding with McCutcheon could lead to bribery and corruption of politicians by individuals who may not have the interests of the country in mind. Should the justices decide that monetary contributions are forms of speech under the first amendment, as they did in Citizens United, there is an enduring implication that wealthier individuals have more speech than poorer individuals.

The next major case on the schedule for the Supreme Court is Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. This case deals with Michigan’s state law that bans affirmative action in public college admissions. The constitutionality of such affirmative actions measures will have major implications on college campuses across the country and could become a particularly touchy issue on a campus as homogeneous as Boston College.

Image via Pine/Wikimedia Commons.

Image via Pine/Wikimedia Commons.

On Nov. 5, the court will hear Town of Greece v. Galloway, which focuses on whether public prayer held before a town meeting violates constitutional separation of church and state. In recent years, the Court has proven to be far more accommodating to religious institutions due, in part, to the influence of Chief Justice Roberts.
Closer to home, McCullen v. Coakley debates whether a Massachusetts law which prohibits protestors from blocking the path or entrance of clinics that offer abortions violates the free speech rights of these protesters. According to several experts, this is the case that is most likely to lead to a reversal of past Court decisions.

In particular, it appears that former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s decision that prohibited laws placing an “undue burden” on women’s access to abortion is at most danger. This case comes after Boston College faced controversy last spring when the school closed down an unofficial operation to distribute free contraceptives to students from dorm rooms throughout campus.

After two years of major decisions, it might be expected that the Supreme Court take a break from its recent media notoriety. However, it appears that this next term is set to have historic consequences on a variety of progressive issues.

Featured image via David Berkowitz/Wikimedia Commons.

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