Five U.S. Supreme Court Decisions to Watch in 2013


Currently all eyes are turned to Congress and the President to see if something will be done about fiscal responsibility, immigration policy, tax reform, unemployment, and gun control. In April, all eyes will turn to baseball. But let’s look at June, when all eyes will turn to the Supreme Court. Last summer, America paid careful attention to our highest court. That’s because the justices were deciding the fate of Obamacare, and Chief Justice Roberts surprised us all by holding that the law is constitutional.

Americans should keep a close eye on the Court in 2013 as well. Here are five decisions to expect:

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1. Fisher v. University of Texas – The Court will decide whether colleges can consider race as one factor in the admissions process. Hubbell’s Prediction: The Court will severely limit affirmative action as we know it. The decision will spark a plethora of new lawsuits and protests. Watch for Justice Kennedy to write the majority opinion.

2. Shelby County v. Holder – The Court is revisiting the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It requires states with a history of discrimination against minority voters to get permission from the federal government before they change their election laws. Section 5 is the most effective tool against discriminatory election laws (like voter ID laws and discriminatory district maps). Without it, we would have seen much more aggressive attempts to marginalize black and Latino voters in the last election. Hubbell’s Prediction: Roberts disappoints his supporters again by joining the liberal minority to uphold Section 5’s constitutionality.

3. Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics Inc. – The Court could decide whether biotech companies can patent genes. The case turns on two Myriad Genetics patents for genes that show whether women have an increased chance of getting breast or ovarian cancer. Cancer groups say allowing companies to patent “products of nature” could interfere with research into potential cancer cures. The cures for many illnesses and conditions affecting human health possibly lie with genetic research. How the court decides the fundamental question of patentability will have enormous implications for this kind of research. Hubbell’s Prediction: The court will issue a very narrow opinion upholding patents, but leaving open the critical questions for a later day.

4. U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry – The Court is hearing two gay marriage cases this year: a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and a challenge to California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8. If the court overturns DOMA, American gay couples will get the same federal tax, immigration, and health care benefits that straight couples enjoy. Hubbell’s Prediction: The Court will decide DOMA is unconstitutional, but will allow states to define marriage. The decision will disappoint all parties. There is a wild-card factor that is difficult to measure – The Catholic background of many of the judges. I’m not sure how this will play out.

5. Maryland v. King – The Supreme Court will decide whether a suspect’s DNA sample can be taken without a warrant. Many Supreme Court watchers consider this the most important and overlooked case of the term. The decision could determine the validity of a lot of federal and state laws allowing for DNA testing of arrestees, and also set precedent on the privacy each of us has in our DNA. Hubbell’s Prediction: Real surprise here. Scalia joins with liberal justices to severely limit DNA testing.

These are hardly all of the landmark cases that will be decided this term, but hopefully it will give you a flavor for what’s on tap. One last Hubbell Prediction: Justice Ginsburg will not resign this summer, disappointing those who want Obama to have a chance to appoint a younger justice.