Today is the first Monday in October, the traditional start of the Supreme Court term. While we have yet to see as many blockbuster constitutional cases on the docket as we did last term—which, despite the high profile 5-4 splits in McDonald v. Chicago and Citizens United actually produced fewer dissents than any in recent memory—we do look forward to:
- Two big free speech challenges, one over a statute prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors, another the offensive protesting of a fallen soldier’s funeral;
- An Establishment Clause lawsuit against Arizona’s tax credit for private tuition funds (an alternative to educational voucher programs);
- Regulatory federalism (or “preemption”) cases involving:
- safety standards for seatbelts;
- an Arizona statute regarding the hiring of illegal aliens; and
- the forbidding of class-arbitration waivers as unconscionable components of arbitration agreements;
- Important ERISA and copyright cases;
- A case examining privacy concerns attending the federal government’s background checks for contractors; and
- A criminal procedure dispute regarding access to DNA testing that may support a claim of innocence.
Cato has filed amicus briefs in several of these cases—and in various others which the Court may decide to review later this year—so I will be paying extra-close attention.
Perhaps more importantly, we again have a new justice—and, as Justice White often said, a new justice makes a new Court. While her confirmation was never in any serious doubt, Elena Kagan faced strong criticism (including from me) on a variety of issues—most importantly on her refusal to “grade” past Court decisions or identify any specific limits to government power. The 37 votes against Kagan were the most ever for a successful Democratic nominee, which is emblematic of a turbulent political environment in which the Constitution and the basic question of where government derives its power figure prominently.
Given Kagan’s political and professional background, it is safe to assume that she’s not the second coming of Clarence Thomas. And because she replaces the “liberal lion” Justice Stevens, her elevation from “tenth justice” (as the solicitor general is known) to ninth is unlikely to cause an immediate change in issues that most divide the Court—particularly because she is recused from nearly half the cases this term. She could, however, add an interesting and nuanced perspective on a variety of lower-profile issues. Only time will tell what kind of justice Kagan will be now that she is, seemingly for the first time in her ambitious life, unconstrained to speak her mind.
Here’s to another interesting, varied, and (hopefully) liberty-enhancing year!