The Supreme Court’s 2013 grand finale: Three big decisions

National Constitution Center

By the time the Supreme Court justices leave for their summer vacations, they will have issued rulings that will define the future of voting rights, gay rights, and affirmative action. As we wait for the cases to come out, here is a brief synopsis of their key issues.

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Shelby County v. Holder: Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires some states (mostly from the South) to obtain pre-clearance from the Department of Justice for any shifts in the districting of their elections.

This was designed to ensure that minorities got adequate representation, but the question before the court now is whether the pre-clearance requirement is a violation of the 10th Amendment and an over-extension of federal authority.

To a large degree, the case turns on how the justices view racial progress in the South with arguments involving questions of how far the South has come since the suppression of minority voting rights during segregation. The case could have broad implications for voting rights.

Hollingsworth v. Perry: This case challenges the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.  The proposition passed in 2008 to amend the state constitution to limit marriage to same-sex couples. The case challenges the proposition on equal protection and due process grounds.

Significantly, Governor Jerry Brown refused to defend the constitutionality of the law, which opened up a standing question for the group seeking to defend it.

The partnership of long-time Supreme Court litigators David Boies and Theodore Olson, who litigated on opposite sides of Bush v Gore, has attracted a lot of attention in the case.

United States v. Windsor: This case challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Second Circuit has ruled in the case that the law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, perpetuates “discrimination” against gays and that the law is unconstitutional when subject to intermediate scrutiny.

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After the decision in the Second Circuit, the Department of Justice decided to stop defending DOMA because they believed it was unconstitutional.

That opened the question for the justices whether the court even had jurisdiction because the government wasn’t defending the law.

Fisher v. University of Texas: Abigail Fisher was denied admission to the University of Texas in 2008. She alleges that she wasn’t admitted, as a Caucasian, because the University of Texas uses race as a factor in university admissions in a way that the court allowed in 2003 in the case of Grutter v Bollinger.

The case could end affirmative action at public universities and many universities have filed amicus briefs siding with the University of Texas.

Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case because of her involvement at the Solicitor General’s office. A 4-4 vote would result in the upholding of the 5th Circuit’s decision supporting the Constitutionality of the University of Texas’s program.

In all of these cases, the decision will have far-reaching implications for Americans and our shared constitutional order. While the justices set out for their summer vacations, we’ll be bringing you expert analyses of the decisions in these cases and what they mean.

Sam Kleiner is a student at the Yale Law School.

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