U.S. Supreme Court Lineup: Union Dues, Affirmative Action, Voting Rights on Docket, Retirements Possible

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Constant questions about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's retirement

[Supreme Court Beat]

The U.S. Supreme Court began its new term on Oct. 5 amidst intrigue and controversy. Voting rights, affirmative action, union dues, and criminal justice cases are on the 2015 docket which is also the 10th anniversary of the highly criticized Roberts Court. There may even be retirements as the Court positions itself for the next President of the United States.

As the 2016 presidential election looms over the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts was ridiculed as not being conservative enough by Republican conservative presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas). Roberts, a conservative himself, fell out of favor with Republicans when he voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the jewel in the crown of President Barack Obama and most Democrats.

This term the Court may rule on abortion issues and push for extended religious accommodation leaving no role for employers in purchasing insurance for employees that provides contraceptives.

The Court has decided a voting rights case every term since President Obama took office. This term, Arizona wants to construct districts based on the number of eligible voters as opposed to the number within the general population. Arizona would exclude children, non-citizens, and convicted felons when deciding voting districts for local elections. This districting formula would benefit White residents who are more often both citizens and eligible to vote.

Urban communities, although larger, would have a few geographically large districts because in-eligible voters would not be counted when carving out the district, which would result in many small powerful primarily White districts.

Affirmative Action returns to the docket. Fisher vs. Texas is a so-called "reverse discrimination" case brought by a White student who claims that race should not be even one of a long list of factors a college admissions committee takes into account.

Fisher was not admitted into the University of Texas based on an admissions policy that took the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class. Race was one factor in the second-chance admissions policy. The Court demanded that Texas find a way to include diversity without using race. That new admissions policy will be reviewed this term.

There are six death penalty cases and several cases involving the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. Last term, the Court rejected an appeal by death row inmates who argued that lethal injection with substituted drugs violated their eighth amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Procedure issues, and not the legality of the death penalty itself, will be decided.

Rebecca Friedrichs, a California teacher, has challenged her required payment of union dues to support collective bargaining. The Court has already ruled that unions could not require employees to pay into their union's political activities. Now, certain teachers want to opt-out of paying for collective bargaining activities. Justice Samuel Alito, of New Jersey, has been a staunch critic of unions. He has ruled against unions in every case presented to the Court. This case against the California Teachers Association could result in a loss in union dues needed to finance labor's political voice in the upcoming election.

The Court's Spring docket is not complete. Nor has the question of Spring retirements been resolved. Two progressive Justices are asked constantly about retirement.

Justice Stephen Breyer is 78 years old while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 82. 

Gloria J. Browne-Marshall is an associate professor at John Jay College in New York City. She is a legal correspondent covering the U.S. Supreme Court and major legal cases. Gloria is the author of "Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to present."

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