This Year, a Few Weighty Cases

A slim, but significant, docket


This year's Supreme Court term may be calm in comparison with last year's, when the court left liberals reeling with important conservative decisions on abortion, sex discrimination, and affirmative action. But although the high court has so far announced only half its average caseload, the docket already promises some controversial cases. Among them:

Guantánamo Detention
The latest of the Guantánamo cases to reach the high court, Boumediene v. Bush and Al-Odah v. U.S., look at whether the 2006 Military Commissions Act is constitutional in denying noncitizen detainees a right to file habeas corpus petitions challenging their imprisonment and whether the substitution created is a constitutionally sufficient alternative.

International Law
Mexican national Jose Ernesto Medellin, convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a U.S. court, claims he was denied a right under an international treaty to consult with his embassy after his arrest. Medellin v. Texas is being closely watched because it hinges on whether a ruling in the International Court of Justice, in Medellin's favor and backed by an executive order, is enforceable in the U.S. courts.

Jury Selection
Snyder v. Louisiana deals with pre-emptory challenges, a process that allows lawyers to eliminate potential jurors in a trial for little stated reason. Snyder argues that the test the high court created to protect against race discrimination was not properly applied, raising questions about racism in jury selection.

Voting Rights
Two combined cases, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board and Democratic Party v. Rokita, look at an Indiana law requiring that all voters bring a photo ID to the polls. The key question is whether this rule creates an undue burden for voters—particularly for the millions of poor people who do not have any form of ID. Of note, there is little evidence of voter fraud, which the state law is intended to protect against.

Death Penalty
How much pain is too much when you're executing someone? That, in essence, is the question posed by Baze vs. Reesa, appealed by two Kentucky prisoners. It focuses on whether lethal injection violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Lethal injections were adopted as a more humane alternative to the electric chair but have come under scrutiny because of the risk of excruciating pain.