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Hanna: Supreme Court Preview

I have always felt a certain kind of kinship with sports announcers who talk about the first pitch at the start of major league baseball as if it were some sort of seconding coming.

My opening day is the first Monday in October, when the United States Supreme Court begins its term.   Just as in baseball, there is always a sense that this season couldn’t possibly as exciting as the last. Yet, it always is.

This term has plenty of controversial cases on the docket – starting with abortion.

When President George Bush appointed both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito to the bench, many were concerned that the Court would reach out and look for cases that would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade.  That didn’t happen, and despite a flurry of laws in the states to limit access to abortion services, the Court has remained largely silent on the issue – until now.

This term, the Court will hear two abortion cases. The first involves an Oklahoma law that limits the ability of doctors to prescribe the medication used to terminate early pregnancies, known as RU486.  The drug is approved by the FDA, but Oklahoma’s law limits the ability of doctors to prescribe the approved dosage.  At the heart of the case is whether states will be able to effectively limit access to abortion through laws that regulate medical procedures.

The second case comes from Massachusetts, and challenges whether a buffer zone around abortion clinics that keeps protestors at bay violates the First Amendment.  This case should be of particular interest to folks in Burlington, where there have some legal challenges to the city’s buffer zone around Planned Parenthood.  

Both of these cases have the potential to change significantly the way in the court has balanced a woman’s privacy rights with the state’s interest in preserving life.

Also back on the docket is campaign finance  - what I’ll call Citizen’s United, Part II.  This case will consider whether provisions in federal law that limits how much money American citizens can donate every two years to parties and candidates violates the First Amendment, opening the possibility of even more money in politics.

Finally, the Court will hear one of the biggest religious liberty cases in more than a decade in a case challenging whether prayers offered at the start of legislative sessions are unconstitutional. There was a similar case in  Vermont last year in franklin under state constitution.

Affirmative action, the clean air act, and the President’s power to make recess appointments also will figure prominently - so plenty to watch.

And just as with Fantasy baseball, you can play fantasy SCOTUS by predicting the outcome of cases and how the justices will vote. You can even get a team together and compete in what I like to call the Justice League.

The late Cheryl Hanna was a professor at Vermont Law School in Royalton.
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