2016 at the Supreme Court: As Political as the Election

The U. S. Supreme Court

It raises its head about the same time each year causing all kinds of consternation and debate. No, I’m not talking about the groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. I’m talking about the Supreme Court of the United States and its last-minute rush to issue significant decisions in June and July of every year. This year’s decisions will be especially explosive not just because they will land during the middle of a presidential election year, but also because of the politically and emotionally charged issues that will be decided. Let’s take a look:

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Union Dues:

UnionBefore the court is a California case where an Orange County teacher asserts that the requirement that she pay a “fair share fee” to the teacher’s union even though she opposes the union and refuses to join it violates her right under the First Amendment.

A finding on her behalf could level a huge blow to similar laws in more than twenty states and drive a stake in the heart of public employee unions around the country.

Voting Rights:

Every ten years we have a census, and, based on the census, congressional and state legislative districts are drawn, rather creatively in some states I might add. But each district is at least supposed to represent more or less the same number of people. That could change.

The court is hearing an appeal from the state of Texas that argues these districts should represent roughly the same number of eligible voters rather than counting all people including children, immigrants ineligible to vote and prisoners.

If the Court agrees with Texas the ruling will have a major effect in states with large populations of immigrants including California, Florida, New York and Illinois and will change state legislatures throughout the country.


The Obama administration is appealing rulings in Texas and the Fifth Circuit that block the implementation of its effort to shield from deportation over five million immigrants. The Obama proposal would have shielded immigrants who have lived in the country for at least five years and have a child who is a citizen or legal resident.

If the Court agrees to hear the appeal it will be a major test of the president’s power to change immigration policy without the approval of Congress.

Immigration is already a politically charged issue and whatever way this case goes, expect it to be at the forefront of the fall campaign.


abortion_debateTexas wants to enforce two regulations that would force a majority of the state’s abortion clinics to shut down. One regulation requires clinics to use only doctors with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. A second requires abortion facilities to match the standards of an outpatient surgical center.

The Court may decide this case on the narrow grounds of whether these regulations protect the health of women or hinder reproductive care by drastically reducing access to a safe and legal abortion. However lingering in the background is the larger question of whether abortion is a constitutional right that overrides state attempts to limit the procedure, or whether it is a limited right subject to restriction.

Could this be the case where the Roberts court revisits Roe v. Wade?

Abortion, Immigration, Voting Rights and Unions—Sounds like topics for a Presidential debate doesn’t it? Campaigns detest last minute surprises and courts normally try to avoid making decisions that influence elections—save one decision titled Bush v. Gore. Nonetheless, the Roberts Court this summer has the potential to throw a few curve balls into an already absurd and hard to figure out presidential election year.