Each year, the U.S. Supreme Court decides on a handful of the cases that will be presented before it. The ones they do decide to hear have wide-reaching effects concerning the nature of constitutional rights.
Here are four of the most important Supreme Court cases being decided on in 2018, and how they will impact the future.
1. Carpenter v. the United States
In 2011, four men were arrested for suspected armed robbery and questioned by the FBI. During the investigation, one of the suspects confessed and gave the Feds his and his cohorts’ cell phone numbers.
The FBI received permission from a judge to obtain transactional records covering the times and locations of all the phone calls made by the robbery suspects over a span of 127 days.
The Stored Communications Act allows the government to collect phone records if the government can show reasonable grounds to assume that those records contain information relevant to a criminal investigation, much in the same way that you can access on demand court records if needed.
Based on the information obtained in the records, the FBI charged Timothy Carpenter, the plaintiff of this case, in connection with the robberies. Carpenter moved to dismiss his charges on the grounds that the FBI’s search of his phone records violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy because the FBI did not have a warrant.
Essentially, the case rests on the idea that, even though cell phones beam out locational data 24 hours a day, people still have a reasonable expectation of privacy that locations will not be tracked using that data.
The court could hold that there is not an expectation of privacy for transactional records because third-parties (a.k.a. phone companies) collect that data; however, it is likely that the case will be decided in favor of solidifying privacy rights.
In the oral arguments for the Carpenter case, Justice Sotomayor criticized the government’s argument that privacy does not extend to phone data collected from a third-party provider.
She compared Carpenter to a previous court decision where the court determined that GPS technology could not be used to track individuals without a warrant, she said, “In both cases, you have a new technology that allows for 24/7 tracking. Now, you’re exactly right, there were by different means, but in both cases, you have a new technology that allows for 24/7 tracking and a conclusion by a number of Justices in Jones that that was an altogether new and different thing that did intrude on people’s expectations of who would be watching them when.”
A decision for the plaintiff would be monumental in updating the expectations of privacy for the modern age. A Carpenter victory would be a great curtail to government intrusion as technology continues to expand the ways in which governments can monitor their citizens.
2. Jennings v. Rodriguez
The Immigration and Nationality Act holds that immigrants facing deportation from the United States must be detained during their removal proceedings; however, some immigrants have been released from detention on bond if it could be proven that they were not a flight risk.
Alejandro Rodriguez, a permanent resident of the United States facing deportation, challenged the lack of due process and release hearings that are common in the immigration system. Rodriguez had been detained for three years at the time he brought the case to the courts.
The Supreme Court previously held that undocumented immigrants did have some due process rights under the Constitution, but that brief detention was permissible.
The court will determine now if immigrants facing deportation, including asylum seekers and lawful residents, have the right to bond hearings and possible release from detention; and if they do, the appropriate timeframe for their hearings and release.
The decision of the court will have a serious impact on the futures of thousands of detainees by determining the constitutional rights of non-citizens.
The decision in Jennings v. Rodriguez will also have human rights implications, as it could be determined that holding non-citizens indefinitely could be considered arbitrary detention, which is a violation of human rights according to the United Nations’ High Commissioner on Human Rights.
Regardless of an immigrant’s status, they are still entitled to certain basic protections as a human being, and a ruling against Rodriguez could set back those human rights protections.
3. Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
In 2012 Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a same-sex couple, went to the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, to ask that the shop’s owner, Jack C. Phillips, bake a cake for their wedding. Phillips refused, citing his religious beliefs and claiming that he considers his cakes to be artwork that honors God.
Phillips argued that baking cakes for same-sex weddings would be tantamount to expressing his support of those unions. Therefore, the state cannot compel him to create cakes for same-sex weddings because it would violate his freedom of speech and expression. He is challenging the Colorado statute against sexuality-based discrimination in public accommodations.
Phillips already has his major arguments rejected at both the district and appellate court levels, and so, it is likely that the Supreme Court will also rule in favor of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
The Supreme Court has rarely decided to strike down public accommodation laws and has not yet struck down a law that dealt with commercial businesses, only private associations.
The decision, in this case, is important because it will likely set the bar for balancing private individuals’ religious viewpoints against the public interest. The courts could either extend the rights of same-sex couples to equal opportunity under the law or decide that religious individuals are exempt from serving others based on religious beliefs.
4. McCoy v. Louisiana
Robert McCoy was arrested in connection with three murders of his estranged wife’s family members. While on trial for those murders, McCoy maintained that he was innocent and that another individual had committed the crimes.
During the trial, he dismissed his original counsel and received another attorney, Larry English.
Under English’s supervision, McCoy continued to maintain that he had not committed the crimes for which he was accused, but two weeks before the end of McCoy’s trial, English told him during a visit that English was going to concede McCoy’s guilt in an attempt to secure better sentencing later in the trial.
McCoy protested, but during the next phase of the trial, English told the court that McCoy had committed the triple homicide. At his sentencing, McCoy was sentenced to death.
McCoy is appealing his conviction on the grounds that his right to counsel was denied because English went against his expressed wishes when he confessed McCoy’s guilt during the trial. The Circuit Court, which previously heard the case ruled against McCoy, stated that because the right to counsel was not completely withdrawn from McCoy, his rights were not violated.
Now, the Supreme Court will determine if the right to assistance of counsel automatically implies that the assistance given will be what the defendant wishes it to be.
Precedence is a little tricky, and the court has serious potential to swing either way on the issue. On the one hand, in the 2004 case, Florida v. Nixon, it was determined that a lawyer did not need express permission from a client before conceding guilt but did not determine whether a lawyer could violate the expressed wishes of a client.
However, a case heard in the 1970s implied that the sole purpose of defense counsels was to assist clients in advocating for themselves, which brings more credibility towards McCoy’s arguments.
A decision in favor of McCoy would be a major step in defendant’s rights by extending the right to an attorney to the right to a supportive attorney. Lawyers should always seek to best advocate for their clients, and McCoy has the potential to further defend attorney’s obligations toward their clientele.
The court’s decisions in these cases throughout 2018 will have long-lasting effects on the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike. There is great potential this year for the court to either extend or curtail constitutional rights, and so, it is important that everyone pay attention to the court during this session.