Three Low-Profile Supreme Court Cases that Could Make High Impacts on Everyday Lives


Three Low-Profile Supreme Court Cases that Could Make High Impacts on Everyday Lives

Sep 12th, 2017 3 min read
Elizabeth Slattery

Legal Fellow and Appellate Advocacy Program Manager, Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Elizabeth Slattery researches and writes on the rule of law, separation of powers, civil rights, and other constitutional issues.
From October to April, the justices will hear roughly 70 cases — and several promise to be blockbusters. iStock

The Supreme Court’s next term starts in three weeks. From October to April, the justices will hear roughly 70 cases — and several promise to be blockbusters.

High-profile cases such as those dealing with President Trump’s travel order or the baker who refuses on religious grounds to make custom cakes for same-sex weddings are sure to make headlines. But here are some under-the-radar cases that could have huge impacts on Americans’ everyday lives.

If you carry a cellphone, police can track your whereabouts simply by requesting the data from Verizon, AT&T and other service providers. In Carpenter v. United States, the justices will ponder whether this warrantless seizure of cellphone location records violates the Fourth Amendment.

The court frequently evaluates how police may take advantage of rapidly changing technology. In the past decade, it has ruled against tracking a suspect’s car with a GPS device and required police to obtain a warrant before viewing data — call log, contacts, etc. — on the cellphone of someone they’ve arrested.

In Carpenter, the government argues that police may use cellphone location records because the Fourth Amendment offers no expectation of privacy regarding information shared with third parties. But does it matter that, for all practical purposes, cellphone users have no choice in giving up these records? The courtwill decide.

For a half-century, most states have barred sports betting. Recently, however, cash-strapped states have contemplated legalizing sports betting as a way to create jobs and generate revenue. But a federal law stands in the way.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 prohibits states from repealing their existing bans on sports betting. New Jersey passed a state constitutional amendment legalizing sports betting at casinos and racetracks in 2012. The state argues that this “ban on repealing bans” violates the 10th Amendment’s anti-commandeering principle, which prohibits the federal government from forcing states to enact laws regulating the private conduct of their citizens in service of federal priorities.

In Christie v. NCAA, the Supreme Court will look at whether the 1992 law violates the 10th Amendment and whether states have the green light to legalize betting on sports. New Jersey maintains that, if the law stands, the federal government could override states’ decisions whether or not to legalize other conduct, such as concealed carrying of handguns, working on Sundays or recreational use of marijuana.

The typical American gives little thought to legislative redistricting, but it affects everyone come Election Day. Following each census, state legislatures get to work drawing up political district lines. In some states, the federal courts have been heavily involved in the redistricting process, striking down legislatures’ plans and adopting their own.

The challengers in Gill v. Whitford argue that Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting plan, approved by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature, was drawn to pack Democratic voters into a small number of districts. This, they say, “wastes” Democratic votes in districts where they enjoy a supermajority and makes the party less competitive elsewhere. A less-cynical explanation is that like-minded people tend to live near one another, and Democrats are often concentrated in urban areas.

The Supreme Court has said courts lack the authority to decide political gerrymandering claims, such as this, because the political branches are better suited to resolve disputes raising political questions. Under this view, the challengers’ solution would be to capture a majority of the legislature and draw more favorable district lines. Will the Supreme Court enter the political thicket or leave such political questions to state legislators?

These are just three of the important cases the Supreme Court will hear this term. They may get edged out of the headlines by the cake baker and the travel ban, but the court’s rulings in these and many other cases to be heard this term will directly affect the lives of people across the country.

This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times