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Upcoming Supreme Court decisions will affect daily American life


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After more than a year off, due to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court is beginning a new term. The cases on the docket are far-reaching and of great consequence to the ordinary American. Some of the most important ones include digital privacy rights, worker’s rights to collective action, political redistricting and, last but not least, whether ‘religious freedom’ means businesses can discriminate based on sexual orientation. The decisions in each of these cases will be, to quote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of ‘momentous’ consequence, and the effects on daily life will be immediate. The Court has a real opportunity to uphold core American values, and hopefully it will.

Perhaps the most timely and consequential case coming up is Carpenter v. United States. The case, in which Timothy Carpenter will argue that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the government, will answer an important question that the digitization of society has created: do people have any reasonable expectation to privacy in the age of cellphones? The government was able to convict Carpenter of robbery based largely on location records provided by his phone company.

The Court will have to decide whether this was truly private information that should have required a warrant, or if Carpenter (and, by extension, all other Americans) essentially surrendered his right to privacy when agreeing to the terms of service of a cellular provider. The case brings back the debate that occurred when Apple refused to unlock an iPhone for the FBI back in February of this year, and could fundamentally change the way the Fourth Amendment protects us in modern society.

The next case likely to grab the nation’s attention is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This case has resurrected the debate on whether the constitutional rights to free speech and religious freedom mean that businesses open to the public can deny service to gay and lesbian patrons. The case could finally settle this matter and uphold the basic American tenet that no person should be discriminated against when the Court hears it. Lower courts have all ruled in favor of the Commission (representing the gay couple who were denied service), giving hope to those that believe in equal treatment for all.

Finally, the Roberts Court will hear a case that has the potential to reshape American elections, literally. In Gill v. Whitford, Wisconsin Democrats will argue that redistricting that took place after the current legislature came to power is an egregious example of political gerrymandering that violates the constitution. The Wisconsin Legislature, dominated by the Republican party, gerrymandered districts that essentially guaranteed their party victories in coming elections.

The Court has not ruled specifically on this subject before, partly thanks to the need for a ‘workable standard’ against which to judge unconstitutionality. But this case is essential to the integrity of American democracy; if politicians of either party are allowed to continue reshaping electoral districts to guarantee their positions of power, democracy will become nothing more than a sham.

The Supreme Court is an essential feature of our republic. The cases on its docket for this term serve as effective reminders of this. Hopefully, the Court will uphold our basic constitutional and moral values in its decisions. They’ll affect our lives for years to come.

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Upcoming Supreme Court decisions will affect daily American life