SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — In the past year or so, the Supreme Court has presided over some monumental cases and made some equally important decisions. The Affordable Care Act, gay marriage, and voting rights are some of the most notable issues they’ve handled.
University of San Francisco Law Professor Julie Nice helps us preview and understand the upcoming session of the Supreme Court in this week’s In Depth. She joined USF’s faculty in 2009 and her expertise is in constitutional law.
Campaign contributions, race, religion, and reproductive rights are some of the upcoming issues the high court will struggle with, but not all the issues will be as headline grabbing as those, though they still have some significant implications.
With campaign contributions we probably remember the Citizens United ruling that decided it was not constitutional to limit expenditures especially by corporations and unions. The takeaway was that corporations were viewed as people. Now the case the court will be taking up has to do with individuals and their contributions to campaigns. Currently the law places a cap on the amount an individual can place, whether it is on a single candidate or if the individual wants to spread it around among several candidates.
“This court is obviously not particularly receptive to the notion that there should be limits in our campaign financing scheme,” said Nice.
She explained that the court seems to have the notion that all this money in politics is essentially the equivalent to speech or allowing contributors to put their money where their mouth is. “Obviously if it’s about money then there’s an advantage to people and entities with more money as opposed to those with less and whether that’s going to skew our politics is something that’s deeply troubling.”
There are cases that will go before the court that will affect not only reproductive rights, but women’s rights as well. A lot of the various state laws that are restricting abortion are in the pipeline to get to the Supreme Court. “Those who oppose reproductive rights are hoping eventually to have either chipped away so completely at Roe v. Wade that the fundamental right of a woman to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy could eventually perhaps be overturned.”
Nice said it’s being made more difficult and that obstacles are getting in the way of the process of getting an abortion. “In effect, the right [to abortion] has been undermined.
In their last session the Supreme Court issued two rulings on gay marriage. It’s been huge. The court has now issued a trilogy of gay rights decisions, all authored by the swing vote, California’s own Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Kennedy thought about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and concluded its primary purpose and effect was really just to demean and stigmatize gay people and that it wasn’t a legitimate reason for a law.
Interestingly enough, and this goes back to reproductive rights, a lot of the opposition to the Affordable Care Act has to do with providing contraception to employees under a health insurance program.
“People who happen to have strong religious beliefs, who own their own businesses, for profit-businesses (Hobby Lobby being one of the most prominent examples) are arguing that they should not be forced by the federal government to provide mandatory contraceptive coverage in their insurance policies for their employees.”
Essentially they want an exemption from the federal Affordable Care Act mandates with regard to contraception coverage.
With regards to the make up of the court, Nice commented that the replacement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor by Justice Samuel Alito has been one of the biggest changes. “The loss of Justice O’Connor’s moderate voice and what she brought to the gender decisions is very different with Justice Alito. That’s always been the case throughout history. Who’s on the court does matter.”
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