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Supreme Court to Begin Hearing 2012 Cases

After a brief holiday lull, the Supreme Court resumes its argument schedule tomorrow, January 9th, to begin the unofficial second half of October Term 2011. The new year brings a number of intriguing and consequential cases for Court watchers.
Tomorrow the Court will hear a trio of consolidated cases concerning Texas’s redistricting for the 2012 elections. At issue is the power of a three judge federal court in Texas to redraw a number of district maps as interim measures while Texas seeks the preclearence required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Because of looming primaries, the Supreme Court expedited briefing of these cases and scheduled them for argument barely a month after staying the district court’s order. The Court’s resolution of these cases–expected relatively quickly by the Court’s standards–could impact the 2012 elections.
Over the course of three days in March, the Court will hear a number of issues relating to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (more familiar by its sobriquet “Obamacare”). As one of the centerpieces of President Obama’s domestic agenda, the Court’s decisions will almost certainly become political fodder on the eve of the 2012 Presidential race. The Harlan Institute has begun to crowdsource FantasySCOTUS-ers’ predictions of each issue the Court has agreed to hear. Past uses of FantasySCOTUS as a sort of prediction market haveyielded correct predictions in over fifty percent of cases.
Finally, the Court will hear Arizona v. United States this term, which considers the constitutionality of Arizona’s recent, controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070. As in the healthcare cases, the outcome of this case could play a role in many upcoming elections.
In addition to these politically sensitive cases, the Court has agreed to hear a number of First Amendment cases over the remainder of OT2011. On Tuesday, January 10th, the Court will hear argument in FCC v. Fox, to determine the constitutionality of the FCC’s “fleeting expletives” policy. That same day, the Court will considerKnox v. SEIU, which tests the constitutionality of state laws conditioning employment on the payment of union assessments used for political purposes. Finally, in United States v. Alvarez, the Court will face the question of whether the First Amendment is consistent with the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to falsely represent receipt of military decorations or medals.
The Court has now granted certiorari in over 70 cases this Term. If recent years provide any guidance, we can expect the pace of cert grants for this Term to slow significantly as the Court begins to issue opinions. However, even with fewer new cases on the horizon, the next few months will have more than their share of Court excitement.