It’s that wonderful time of year again! Flowers are blooming, young love is burgeoning, and the United States Supreme Court is preparing to make several hugely important rulings in the coming months. The Supreme Court’s spring is traditionally the time during which the justices make rulings on the larger cases of the term.
In 2013, several of the hot button issues that have been driving national politics over the last decade are expected to be addressed by the Supreme Court. This includes decisions relating to same-sex marriage, affirmative action, and voting rights.
Among the two cases that are expected to have a dramatic effect on the rights of same-sex couples across the United States, the first is the well-known California Marriage Protection Act, commonly referred to as Proposition 8, which was enacted by voters in 2008. The controversial proposition, which defines marriage in the state as between one man and one woman, dramatically split residents of the state and was challenged just as soon it was approved. Lower courts have struck the legislation down as unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court heard the case on March 26.
The second case focusing on same-sex marriage is a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted in 1996. Only a portion of the act is being challenged, Section 3, which specifically defines marriage as between one man and one woman in the eyes of federal administrative bureaus and agencies. President Barack Obama has spoken out against this legislation, saying that it excludes same-sex couples from thousands of federal statutes, programs and benefits that are provided to heterosexual married couples.
United Press International reports that during the hearings, the justices seemed to be siding against both Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
A ruling is expected to determine the fate of affirmative action as well. Affirmative action is the controversial policy in which government run schools and universities give preference towards students of minority ethnicities. The policy was challenged by two students who were rejected by the University of Texas at Austin, and feel that they were not given preference because they were white. The initial case was heard by the Supreme Court on October 10, and Justice Elena Kegan recused herself based on her involvement in the case as U.S. Solicitor.
The case Shelby County, Ala, Vs. Holder will determine whether Congress exceeded its constitutional authority by re-enacting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, which restricts the ability of certain localities to make changes to their voting policies without federal approval. The law, which only affects 16 states in the Southern United States, was initially created to counteract the voting laws which made it difficult (if not impossible) for recently freed black slaves to vote in the years following the Civil War. The debate over the issue is whether the restrictions on these states are unfair. However, supporters of the bill fear that by removing the restrictions, certain areas may try to reinstate the restrictions placed on black voters.
The current Supreme Court takes a recess at the end of June, so decisions in these cases and more are expected in the next few months. The Supreme Court has a tradition of handing down decisions on controversial topics like these shortly before the summer recess.