The Supreme Court is back in session this week. The justices will hear oral arguments in cases dealing with free speech, political gerrymandering, and the rights of criminal defendants.
Here are three cases to watch.
1. Can states force pro-life centers to advertise for abortions?
On March 20, the court will hear arguments in NIFLA v. Becerra, a case challenging the California “Reproductive FACT Act.” The law, passed in 2015, requires pro-life pregnancy centers to place ads in their facilities for the state’s free or low-cost abortion program.
The centers argue that compelling them to promote the state’s message violates their free speech rights and undercuts the work that they do. The lower court upheld the law as a regulation of “professional speech,” analogizing it to informed consent laws.
The Supreme Court has long recognized the right to refrain from speaking and generally has been protective of speech, even when it may not be popular.
Now, the justices will consider whether this law, which clearly targets pro-life pregnancy centers, can withstand First Amendment scrutiny.
2. Can courts take the politics out of redistricting?
On March 28, the Supreme Court will hear Benisek v. Lamone, which involves a challenge brought by Republican voters in Maryland to district lines drawn by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
This is the second partisan gerrymandering case the justices will consider this term. Last October, the justices heard arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a challenge brought by Democratic voters to districts drawn by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature.
In Benisek, voters in the 6th Congressional District of Maryland—which had long been held by Republican Roscoe Bartlett—argue that the district lines were redrawn to dilute their votes and prevent them from electing a Republican.
The Supreme Court has previously held that courts lack the authority to decide such claims, because there is no workable standard to measure the burden imposed by partisan gerrymandering claims.
In both Gill and Benisek, the justices are trying to determine if there is a manageable standard to judge these claims, but they may discover that it is impossible to take the politics out of redistricting.
3. Can wearing shackles violate the rights of criminal defendants?
Is it unconstitutional to require criminal defendants to wear shackles in the courtroom during pretrial proceedings? That is what the Supreme Court will consider in United States v. Sanchez-Gomez on March 26.
The Supreme Court previously held in Deck v. Missouri that defendants may not be shackled in front of a jury unless there is a specific justification.
Following several instances of courtroom disturbances, including a brawl between two defendants and a stabbing, the federal district court in Southern California, on the advice of the U.S. Marshals Service, implemented a policy of shackling all defendants when they appear before the court for non-jury proceedings.
A group of defendants challenged the policy, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that it violates the Constitution and that the government must justify “the infringement with specific security needs as to [each] particular defendant.”
In reviewing the case, the Supreme Court will also consider whether the defendants had standing to challenge the shackling policy, since they seek prospective relief for future defendants.
These are just a few of the cases the Supreme Court will hear this spring. Coming up in April, the justices will hear cases involving President Donald Trump’s travel ban, administrative law judges, whether states can require online merchants to charge state sales taxes, and many others.