YourABA November 2011 Masthead

U.S. Supreme Court: What’s on docket, forecast on coming cases

A panel of analysts and reporters who cover the U.S. Supreme Court met on Sept. 19 to talk about the hottest issues the high court faced last year and to predict the cases it will likely hear in the term that began earlier this month.

The program, “On the Docket: The Legal and Media Worlds Look at the Supreme Court 2011 Term,” was hosted by the ABA Standing Committee on Public Education and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

“Being a U.S. Supreme Court justice now days, because of rapidly evolving technology, must be one of the most difficult jobs in public service,” observed panelist Neal Katyal, a professor at Georgetown University Law School. Noting rapid technological innovation worldwide and the Court’s recent interest in patent cases, Katyal said that, “We now have a Court that has been more exposed to making decisions on technological subjects.”

In a highlight of cases on the docket, University of Maryland Law professor Sherrilyn Ifill cited U.S. v. Jones, in which the Fourth Amendment and evolving technology meet: Can the police install a GPS tracking system in your car without consent?

Lower courts have disagreed on whether such monitoring is permissible. “This is a fairly complicated area of law because it is new, … and [it] is an area in which the landscaping is open for the Court to make a determination on the use of new technology, and whether or not a search warrant has to be issued in order for the police to use this kind of technology,” she said. 

The panel, moderated by John Milewski, host of “Dialogue Radio & Television,” also discussed cases touching upon violation of speech rights and the First Amendment, and federalism and preemption.

Panelists agreed that this is “a court that is here to stay” and they do not foresee changes in the Court for this upcoming term.

Adam Liptak, U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, noted that with the appointment of two justices each by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, “What you now have are two pair of justices supporting each others’ decisions … and pair more than any other justices” of past Courts.

“This is the first time there are no Protestants on the court, and who would’ve predicted that?” asked Joan Biskupic, reporter for USA Today, who has covered the Court since 2000.

Among the topics the panelists see as likely to reach the high court in the upcoming year:  the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the states’ authority to regulate immigration, and state laws that define marriage as only between a man and woman and their impact on civil rights.

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