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Social issues appear on new Supreme Court docket

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 8 2013 6:35 p.m. MDT

The court could also rule that Greece has a rotating representation of prayer, similar to towns in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. In a 2008 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the method, which has different clergy members of a variety of religions speak or give prayer before meetings on a rotating basis.

Requests for comment to Ayesha Khan, who represents Susan Galloway, were not returned. Galloway's main argument, though, is that these prayers violate the establishment clause of the Constitution and promote Christianity. Invocations are not supposed to promote any particular religion, according to Galloway's case.

Choper said the decision is likely to "cut in the direction" of Greece, but that it's not easy to predict a result.

Two abortion disputes

In the Supreme Court’s first abortion case since 2007, the court will review an Oklahoma law that would prohibit the use of select abortion-inducing drugs, including RU-486, in Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice.

Plaintiff Terry Cline is arguing the Oklahoma Supreme Court erred in finding a state law — that required abortion-inducing drugs be administered according to a protocol described on the drugs’ Food and Drug Administration-approved labels — unconstitutional.

Patrick Wyrick, who represents Cline in the case, said some abortion clinics are ignoring FDA procedures, including the FDA requirement that the abortion medication to be taken in the doctor’s care rather than be self-administered.

Requests for comment from the defendant, the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, were not returned. The defense's case is that women should have a range of choices of contraceptives, including surgical abortions, which the defense argues are safer than drug-induced abortions.

Choper said the decision is important because it would define the difference between a contraceptive medicine and an abortion.

In McCullen v. Coakley, Massachusetts is defending a law that made it a crime for protestors to “enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk” within 35 feet of an entrance, exit or driveway of a “reproductive health care facility,” or abortion clinic. The decision will determine how close protesters can be to an abortion clinic.

Choper said he's heard of similar cases in the past, but isn't sure which way this decision might fall.

Affirmative action

Affirmative Action is also on the table for the Supreme Court this term. Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action reviews a 2006 Michigan ballot initiative that barred preferential treatment for race or sex in public education, government work and public employment.

The CDAA’s case specifically looks at whether a state violates the Equal Protection Clause by amending its constitution to end race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in regards to higher education and not government or public work, according to attorney George Washington, who represents the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.

For Attorney General Bill Schuette, this case is about defending the Michigan Constitution, he said, adding that Michigan, at the moment, provides equal treatment for all citizens and that shouldn't change. He believes the court will side with him.

If the court rules in Schuette's favor, affirmative action will be prohibited in Michigan. But if the ruling goes in favor of the CDAA, the Michigan minority population (about 21 percent, according to 2010 U.S. census data) would have preferential treatment (or what the CDAA calls "equal treatment") when it comes to higher education.

Choper believes the court will side with the CDAA.

“If they took this case, then the chances they are going to hold that (Michigan's law) is unconstitutional are fairly strong," Choper said.

Financial considerations

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which was argued today, is the first major case on the calendar. It challenges the limits on what an individual may give to candidates, political parties or political action committees within a two-year federal election cycle.

Currently, the limit is at $48,600 to individual candidates and $123,600 in total contributions. This case is about assessing the totals and challenging limits, which were upheld and approved in a 1976 decision.

Choper said if the Supreme Court rules to change the contribution totals, then they'd have to "overturn a bunch of precedents" that have upheld contribution totals.

He also said this would be the most controversial of all the cases on the docket and that it could seriously impact voters by restricting how much they can contribute to a specific candidate.

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

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