Supreme Court starts a hectic final week

The Supreme Court announced three more decisions last Thursday, but it looks more and more like a set of historic cases will come down to the wire this week.

350px-Supreme_Court_US_2010The justices ruled in cases on Thursday involving federal criminal sentencing, the Federal Arbitration Act and the Agency for International Development.

That leaves 11 decisions left for the court to release on its final week of the current term, which ends this month.  The court can release between three and five opinions a day. But it’s also possible a decision could be pushed back to the court’s next term.

For now, Monday, June 24 is the only day officially scheduled for decisions. It is widely expected that the court could add Wednesday, June 26 and/or Thursday, June 27 as extra days.

There are three decisions that have been greatly anticipated: affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act and same-sex marriage (the two cases in same-sex marriage debate are expected to be announced at the same time).

And it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that two of the “big three” decisions could be announced on the same day, which would lead to a tidal wave of attention from the media, observers, and interested parties.

Other cases in the queue, according to SCOTUSblog, include Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, a widely followed adoption case.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is the affirmative action case we’ve profiled extensively. That case was argued last October, and its delayed release has spawned theories that the justices still could be writing opinions, or they could push the case to its next term, starting in October 2013.

Shelby County v. Holder is the case involving part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is anticipated that the court could invalidate a section of the act that requires states with a history of voter suppression before 1965 to get federal approval of voting changes.

And there are two cases about same-sex marriage: Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor. The Hollingsworth case is about California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman; the Windsor case is about the Defense of Marriage Act. The decision could help define the future of same-sex marriage, or raise a whole new set of questions.

In any event, after last year’s media swarming of the Affordable Care Act decision (with several erroneous reports), expect an equally high level of attention on the court.

If any of the “big three” cases aren’t announced on Monday at 10 a.m., the attention could be glaring next Wednesday or Thursday.

Last year, SCOTUSblog and its court reporter (and Constitution Daily contributor) Lyle Denniston quickly interpreted the court’s decision on health care, while other media outlets struggled with the decision.

This year, the media faces much of the same task. On Thursday, The New York Times explained to its readers how it would take a measured approached to reporting on the court next week

“We realize that people will be eager to know what a ruling means as soon as it comes out (and you can read the decision yourself when it is posted on the court’s Web site). But we also want to point out that the immediate descriptions of any ruling may not be very meaningful,” the Times said.

Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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