The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to break some new ground in its next term, and will tackle some controversial, ground-breaking and widely followed issues that have been percolating in the lower courts in recent times.
One is the application of the federal anti-discrimination laws. Specifically, does the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex in employment extend to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and transgender status.
Lower courts have been split on these issues, and now the Supreme Court has decided to hear cases that will determine these formative issues, granting certiorari to hear three such related cases in the coming term.
It seems hard to believe that it was 10 years ago that the Supreme Court decided the Second Amendment case of District of Columbia v. Heller, wherein the court determined for the first time that there is a constitutional right to possess and maintain a functioning, loaded handgun for personal protection within the home.
Next term, the court is poised to decide the constitutionality of the city of New York’s ban on transporting a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun across city limits to a home outside the city or a shooting range in another city.
In a Kansas case, the court has agreed to determine whether it is a constitutional violation for police to conduct a traffic stop of a motor vehicle based only upon information that the person to whom the vehicle was registered has a suspended license, with nothing more in the way of information to support the traffic stop, such as observing the commission of a traffic offense, or any indication that the registered owner is actually the one operating the vehicle.
This case is likely to have far-reaching implications on how police operate in the field in basic, routine traffic enforcement situations.
The court has also granted certiorari to hear a case to decide whether a religiously neutral, generally available student aid program unconstitutionally violates the First Amendment clause that prohibits establishment of religion because it permits students the option of using the government benefit to attend religious educational institutions.
In Missouri state courts, the federal criminal system, and in most all states, a unanimous verdict of all of the jurors that hear a case is necessary to sustain a conviction in a criminal prosecution.
Not so in Louisiana, where only 10 of 12 jurors must agree to sustain a criminal verdict in a non-capital criminal case.
Is this a violation of the Constitutional right to trial by jury under the Sixth Amendment, and does that apply to a state court criminal prosecution under the Fourteenth Amendment?
This the Supreme Court has agreed to decide, in a case that may vastly change the way business is done in the state courts of Louisiana in criminal cases.
In all but four states, it is a defense in a criminal prosecution if the defendant can establish that due to a proven mental disease or defect the defendant is unable to understand and appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, commonly known as the “insanity defense.” Kansas in one of four states that has abolished this defense. Next term, the Supreme Court will address whether this violates the Eighth Amendment in the Bill of Rights.
Stay tuned, as the Supreme Court is ready to break some new and controversial ground next term.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.