today in black history

December 13, 2017

Human rights activist Ella Baker is born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1903.

Supreme Court Roundup

POSTED: October 07, 2008, 12:00 pm

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The first Monday in October marks the beginning of a new term for the United States Supreme Court. Every year at this time, the Court sets its docket of new cases. Interestingly enough, the most noteworthy thing about this upcoming term appears to be the number of uninteresting cases. Supreme Court justices have the ability to choose the cases they will decide through a process called certiorari. This term, the justices appear to be playing it safe. Perhaps they are motivated by the political season and do not want to create a political wedge issue by moving highly controversial cases to the docket. Perhaps it reflects the temperament of Chief Justice John Roberts, who has shown restraint in moving too fast with hot button issues. In any case, there are no spicy cases that the politicos can rally around.


That is not to say that there are no important cases on the docket. On the contrary, there are several cases which figure to be important to Black America and the entire country. Here’s a quick rundown of the Court’s work for this term.


Employment

In the case of Crawford v. Nashville and Davidson County, the Court will decide if employees are protected from being fired under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act simply because they cooperate with an internal investigation of sexual harassment. Though it is a sexual harassment matter, the holding of the Court will clearly apply to racial discrimination and harassment.


The Court will also deal with questions of pregnancy discrimination as they determine whether or not Title VII requires that an employer restore female employees benefits lost when they took pregnancy leaves prior to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. That case is AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen.


Criminal Procedure


In Herring v. United States, 07-513, Bennie Herring was arrested on an alleged outstanding warrant. The warrant, however, had been recalled and was no longer valid. During a search of his car, a pistol and methamphetamine were found. The Court will decide the question of whether the Fourth Amendment requires suppression of evidence seized when the information that gave rise to the search was incorrect and was provided negligently by another law enforcement agent. This is a fact pattern that occurs with great frequency in the Black community and the holding of this case will impact hundreds of criminal defendants


Another search issue arises in the matter of Arizona v. Gant, 07-542, where the Court will decide if the Fourth Amendment requires that an officer must show a threat to his safety or a need to preserve evidence in order to search a car without a warrant after the occupants have been arrested. This case, too, is a high impact cases and will have an immediate impact on the state of criminal procedure in America.


First Amendment


There is at least one case with overtones of religious freedom and freedom of expression. Pleasant Grove City Utah v. Summum, 07-665, involves a little known religious group called the Summum who believe that when Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, God also handed down the “Seven Aphorisms” of Summum. Pleasant Grove had already allowed the erection of a monument with the Ten Commandments that was donated by a local civic group in a municipal park. The Summum contend that the first amendment to the Constitution compels the city to accept their proposed monument displaying the Seven Aphorisms. When the City rejected that notion, the Summum sued. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Summum. That decision, however, is in conflict with several other Circuit Courts. As such, the Supreme Court has stepped in to clear up a circuit split.


Communications


In FCC v. Fox Television Stations, 07-582, the Court will tackle on-air vulgarity. The question is whether the FCC has the ability to sanction broadcasters for “fleeting expletives”. This case stems from a 2002 episode in which Cher uttered an on air epithet. Previously, only repeat offenders were sanctioned by the FCC. The FCC created a policy of sanctioning for one time offenses that Fox has argued is both arbitrary and capricious.


Pre-emption


The new word for this term is pre emption. Pre-emption simply means that some matters are so inherently national, as opposed to local, that the federal law applies. As such, states cannot pass laws that override the federal law. In the matter of Altria Group v. Good, 07-562, the Court will deal with the question of whether consumers can sue cigarette manufacturers for falsely advertising so-called “light” cigarettes as less dangerous. The cigarette companies, however, say that the federal cigarette labeling act allows the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to regulate cigarette labeling. This is a huge case for the cigarette companies. They are being sued in virtually every state and if they are successful before the high court, those suits specifically related to advertising would disappear.


Voters Rights


What would the political season be without a voting rights case? This term, a North Carolina case, Bartlett v. Strickland, 07-689, has that distinction. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, says that states cannot impose any voting qualification or prerequisite that impairs on account of race or color, a citizen's opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of his or her choice. The question in the Barnett case is whether or not a racial minority group that is less than 50% of that district’s population has standing to make a claim under the voting rights act. The decision does not figure to have immediate impact on Black Americans.


Of course, always looming is the distinct possibility of a major shift on the Court. John Paul Stevens is almost ninety years old and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seventy nine. The next President has the potential to shape the legal landscape of this country for at least two decades.

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