Landmark Decisions Expected This Coming SCOTUS Term

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By Rachel Alexander, a senior editor at The Stream, Oct. 4, 2017

Rachel AlexanderThe U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to decide several major controversial cases this term. Oral arguments began on Monday. The court faces more landmark cases than usual because the justices postponed contentious cases after Justice Antonin Scalia died. They did this to avoid 4-4 decisions.

With new justice Neal Gorsuch, the court has back its balance between the left-leaning and right-leaning justices. Justice Anthony Kennedy is the moderate swing vote, he has been lurching to the left. He’s now the most liberal of any centrist justice since the mid-1960s.

Kennedy has become the most liberal of any justice holding that centrist position since the mid-1960s.

Kennedy is 81. There are rumors he may not serve out Trump’s term. If so, Trump could replace him with a conservative. That would tip the balance on the court to the right. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the most liberal justices, may also retire. She is 84.

Here are some of the most interesting cases that will be decided.

Christian Baker Refusing Services for Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies

The high court has agreed to hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals found that Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. Phillips had refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. He said he was exercising his freedom of expression, which is protected by the First Amendment.

Swing vote Justice Kennedy tends to side with freedom in such cases — except when they involve LGBT issues. In those cases, he usually sides with the LGBT movement against the individual trying to exercise his conscience.

Swing vote Justice Kennedy tends to side with religious freedom cases except when they involve LGBT issues like this one.

Deporting Immigrants for Violent Crime

James Dimaya, a legal resident, was deported for committing nonviolent burglaries. The government classified the crimes as “crimes of violence.” Immigrants can be deported for them.

In Sessions v. Dimaya, Dimaya challenged the description “crimes of violence” as unconstitutionally vague. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Oral arguments began this week.

Denying Immigrants With Criminal Records Bond Hearings

Alejandro Rodriguez, a permanent legal resident, was convicted of two misdemeanors. The state held him in custody for three years without a bond hearing. Immigrants with criminal histories, which includes misdemeanors, are prohibited from obtaining bond.

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The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction in the case, Jennings v. RodriguezIt requires bond hearings for detained immigrants every six months. Oral arguments began Tuesday.

Forcing Public Workers to Pay Union Fees

A state government worker in Illinois claims that labor rules requiring him to pay union dues violate his First Amendment right to free speech. He disagrees with the union’s positions, some which have caused financial problems for the state.

Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31 only deals with public sector unions. It does not address unions in the private sector. The high court deadlocked 4-4 last year on a similar case. With Gorsuch now on the court, the decision is expected to come down against the unions.


In Gill v. Whitford, SCOTUS will decide whether gerrymandering should be legal. The practice involves the redrawing of voting districts to give the party in power an electoral advantage. Democrats in Wisconsin sued the state. They claimed the practice gives Republicans an advantage in the state legislature.

The state says it’s a federalism issue. It contends that the federal government has no business deciding. Oral arguments began on Tuesday. Kennedy likely holds the swing vote. He seemed to indicate by his questions that he will rule against the practice.

Purging Voting Rolls of Inactive Voters

In November, the court will hear Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. It will decide whether the state of Ohio can remove inactive voters from voter rolls. The state sends notices to voters if they fail to vote for two years. After four more years of inactivity, it removes their voter registration.

The Obama administration sided against the state. The Trump administration switched sides, defending the state.

Warrantless Access to Cellphone Location Data

A man convicted of multiple robberies asserts that his Fourth Amendment right to privacy was violated when the government obtained his cellphone location data without a warrant. The data revealed that he was at the location of the robberies.

Current law states that the government must obtain a warrant to obtain cellphone communications. However, police don’t need one to retrieve cellphone records. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the robber in Carpenter v. US.

Forced Arbitration Clauses

Another case SCOTUS began considering this week involves a labor dispute. In Epic Systems Corp. v Lewis, workers tried to sue a Murphy Oil USA gas station in Calera, Alabama. However, their employment contracts said they had to participate in individual arbitration first. They say the arbitration is too expensive and prohibits them from pooling their funds to hire an attorney.

The lower courts have split over enforcing these clauses. Federal agencies have as well, pitting DOJ lawyers against the National Labor Relations Board.

One of the biggest cases SCOTUS was expected to hear this term may not come up. SCOTUS set aside arguments over President Trump’s travel ban for now, since the revised ban may make the challenge moot.


Rachel Alexander is a senior editor at The Stream. She is a political columnist and the founder and editor of Intellectual Conservative.

She is a regular contributor to Townhall, the Selous Foundation for Public Policy ResearchThe Christian Post and Right Wing News. She frequently appears on TV and news radio as a conservative commentator, and hosted a radio show on 960 KKNT in Phoenix and then on UStream

She is a recovering attorney and former gun magazine editor.She previously served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arizona, corporate attorney for Go Daddy Software, and Special Assistant/Deputy County Attorney for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. As co-president of the UW Political Science Honor Society, she obtained degrees in Political Science and History from the University of Washington, followed by a law degree from Boston College and the University of Arizona. 

She was ranked by Right Wing News as one of the 50 Best Conservative Columnists from 2011-2016 and is a recipient of Americans for Prosperity’s RightOnline Activist of the Year award.

Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC