Court faces hot-button social issues
If President Bush gets his wish and the Senate confirms Judge John G. Roberts in time for the upcoming Supreme Court term, the new justice will find himself deciding several cases on hot-button social issues. Here is a look at four of them:
1.) Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. The court will review an abortion rights case for the first time in five years when it considers the constitutionality of a New Hampshire law requiring parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion. The law allows for exceptions if an abortion would prevent a mother's death and if a judge has determined that the minor is mature enough to decide to have an abortion. A federal court struck down the law last November, saying it was too narrow and did not pass the constitutional test the Supreme Court has used in abortion cases since 1992. The federal court said the law was unconstitutional without a broader exception for abortions necessary to protect a mother's health. Although the case does not challenge the central holding in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the ruling will signal how the court will decide future cases on restrictions to abortion rights.
2.) Gonzales v. Oregon. The Bush administration has challenged Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, a state law allowing physician-assisted suicide. In 2001, the Justice Department declared that doctors had no "legitimate medical purpose" in prescribing federally controlled drugs to help terminally ill patients commit suicide and said that if doctors violated the department's order, their ability to write prescriptions would be revoked. A federal appeals court ruled against the Justice Department.
3.) Rumsfeld v. FAIR. The court will consider whether the government can withhold federal money from colleges that restrict the military's access to recruit on campus. Colleges have argued that they have a First Amendment right to bar military recruiters because the military's ban on openly gay men and women violates their own nondiscrimination policies. The government says that by limiting the military's access, colleges have hampered recruiting, particularly at law schools. A federal circuit court ruling supported the colleges.
4.) House v. Bell. A Tennessee death penalty case will determine the standards of proof that must be met for a prisoner to be granted a new trial. The case centers on DNA evidence that was not available when Paul House was convicted two decades ago and that his lawyers say proves his innocence. In a narrow ruling, a federal court said the DNA evidence was not sufficient to merit a new trial.
Judge Roberts' opinions on the D.C. Circuit Court:
Hedgepeth v. the WMATA (on eating french fries on public transit)
Fletcher v. District of Columbia (on tightened parole rules for inmates)
Rancho Viejo v. Norton (on protection of endangered toads)
Arguments made in his capacity as a Justice Department lawyer:
Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic (on abortion clinic blockades)
Rust v. Sullivan (on abortion "gag rule" for doctors)
Lee v. Weisman (on religious ceremonies at public schools)
Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation (on mining and environmental rights)