Monday, October 3, 2011

First Monday in October

I am (expletive deleted)-deep in research papers right now, so not a lot of time to blog. But it is worth noting that SCOTUS begins its term this morning, and as Adam Liptak notes, the focus is less likely to be on civil or business matters, and more likely to zero in on hot button social, criminal justice, and first amendment issues.

The Supreme Court, which has been focused in recent terms on the rights of corporations and on curbing big lawsuits, returns to the bench on Monday with a different agenda. Now, criminal justice is at the heart of the court’s docket, along with major cases on free speech and religious freedom.

The shift in focus toward criminal and First Amendment cases will soon be obscured if, as expected, the justices agree to hear a challenge to the 2010 health care overhaul law. That case promises to be a once-in-a-generation blockbuster.

In the meantime, the justices will hear an extraordinary set of cases that together amount to a project that could overhaul almost every part of the criminal justice system.

The court will decide whether the police need a warrant to use advanced technology to track suspects, whether jails may strip-search people arrested for even the most minor offenses, whether defendants have a right to competent lawyers to help them decide whether to plead guilty, when eyewitness evidence may be used at trial, and what should happen when prosecutors withhold evidence.

The eyewitness case alone will probably resurrect the ghost of Troy Davis, among others.

The court will continue its intense engagement with the First Amendment. In one, the court will rule on whether the government may ban swearing and nudity on broadcast television. In another, the justices will decide for the first time whether there is a “ministerial exception” to employment laws that allows religious institutions to discriminate in ways others employers cannot.

The health care case is not the only juggernaut looming on the horizon. In the next term or two, the court may well address same-sex marriage, affirmative action and illegal immigration. For now, the justices are focused on criminal cases, especially ones concerning the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a fair trial.

Good times. As usual, we'll be watching and reporting (assuming we ever get out from underneath these papers).

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