The Supreme Court's 'potentially epic' term: 6 predictions

The nation's highest court opens its doozy of a term Monday, and "ObamaCare," warrantless GPS tracking, and nudity on TV will all likely be on the docket

Monday begins a new and important term for the Supreme Court, which may rule on both President Obama's health care overhaul and Arizona's controversial immigration law.
(Image credit: CC BY: Mark Fischer)

The U.S. Supreme Court begins a "potentially epic term" on Monday; already scheduled for the next nine months are a series of important cases that are sure to have broad legal and political ramifications. If the court agrees to hear it, the "big enchilada" will be the challenge to President Obama's health care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act, says former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Here, six big things to expect from the Supreme Court:

1. The "ObamaCare" ruling will roil the 2012 election

"It is almost a given" that the Supreme Court will agree to hear a legal challenge to the individual mandate in Obama's health care overhaul, says Eva Rodriguez at The Washington Post. So far, two appellate courts have upheld the mandate — which requires Americans to buy health insurance — and one has struck it down. The divided Supreme Court could rule either way, says Garrett Epps at The Atlantic. As politically charged as "ObamaCare" is, even the court's Obama-hating conservatives realize that "presidents come and go," but their rulings stand. In any case, the court's decision will stand the 2012 presidential race "on its head," says The Republican of Springfield, Mass. in an editorial.

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2. Arizona's immigration law is another wild card

The Obama administration's challenge to "Arizona's brazen anti-immigration law" is "still bogged down out west," says Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic. But the case will certainly be headed to the high court either this year or next. If the justices agree with Arizona lawmakers that immigration isn't exclusively a federal responsibility, and that state law officers can question and arrest illegal immigrants, says David Savage in the Los Angeles Times, that will likely "encourage more states and cities to adopt measures that crack down on illegal residents."

3. The court will likely allow more swearing on network TV

The Supreme Court will decide this year whether the Federal Communications Commission can ban "fleeting" expletives and nudity — as opposed to repeated instances — on broadcast television, says Joan Biskupic in USA Today. The First Amendment challenge was prompted after Cher used the f-word at a 2002 awards ceremony and NYPD Blue featured a brief shot of a woman's bare buttocks — triggering FFC fines in each case. Chief Justice John Roberts' court "has already distinguished itself as a highly speech-protective court," says Jonathan Adler at National Review. It will probably agree that the FCC's capricious ban on fleeting expletives is "unconstitutionally vague," and thus chilling to free speech.

4. Justices will probably OK warrantless GPS tracking of cars

In United States v. Jones, the high court will hear a challenge from Washington, D.C. night club owner Antoine Jones, who was convicted of dealing cocaine after cops tracked his car for four weeks using GPS. The problem, says The Atlantic's Epps, is that they used an expired warrant — which the government argues is fine, since you don't need a warrant to physically tail a car. No wonder the appellate court agreed with Jones: "The surveillance-state implications are chilling." It will be fascinating to hear the "Luddite-like justices take up a case at the intersection of technology and the Fourth Amendment," says Cohen in The Atlantic. I expect a "6-3 vote in favor of the government."

5. An old feud between Congress and the president will be settled

In "a potentially significant separation-of-powers case," Zivotsky v. Clinton, the justices will weigh whether the State Department has to give parents the option of listing "Israel" as the birthplace in the passports of U.S. citizens born in contested Jerusalem, which the U.S. does not officially recognize as Israel's capital, says National Review's Adler. Congress said yes in 2002, and both the Obama and Bush administrations have ignored the law, arguing that the executive branch decides foreign policy, and that this is a political question that the courts should also stay out of. This case is a constitutional law professor's "dream," says The Atlantic's Epps: "Important issues with almost no real-world consequences."

6. The justices are poised to roil criminal courts nationwide

In Perry v. New Hampshire, a case with very literal life-and-death consequences, the Supreme Court will examine the reliability of eyewitness testimony, says Cohen. "This case could turn out to be the most important of the term because eyewitness testimony is so prevalent in criminal cases all over the country," and so often flawed. And in Williams v. Illinois, justices will hear a challenge to DNA evidence, and who can present it in court. The question on everyone's mind is, "How far will the justices be willing to go to change rules that affect tens of thousands of cases each year?"

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