Event preview: Scholars and advocates review the 2013-2014 Supreme Court Term

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

The Anti-Defamation League’s Deborah Lauter will join legal scholars Erwin Chemerinsky and Frederick Lawrence on Tuesday to review and assess the latest Supreme Court term with Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.

The Court has broached a number of controversial issues since the start of its term in October 2013. Cases involving digital privacy, legislative prayer, campaign finance, and the Affordable Care Act will be addressed at the panel discussion.

Watch a live stream of the event beginning at 12:00 p.m. ET.

In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled in Riley v. California that the Fourth Amendment protects the contents held electronically on an individual’s phone—smartphone and flip phone alike.

Writing for the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that law enforcement would be required to obtain a warrant before accessing a person’s phone data. “The sum of an individual’s private life” Roberts wrote, “can be reconstructed through a thousand photographs labeled with dates, locations, and descriptions,” all held on an individual’s phone. In fact, “a cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house,” said the chief justice.

More controversially, the Court split 5-4 along ideological lines in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case regarding legislative prayer. The case regarded the town council in Greece, New York that, as a matter of practice, began its proceedings with a prayer. While the prayer was not always performed by a Christian clergy member—the council invited different individuals each session to recite a prayer—the prayers were disproportionally of Christian faith.

The conservative majority on the Court ruled that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit legislative prayer and does not require that the prayers be non-sectarian. The more liberal justices dissented in arguing that the town was marginalizing religious minorities and should be required to be more inclusive of other faiths during their prayer.

On campaign finance, the Court voted 5-4 in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission to strike down aggregate contribution limits on the grounds that such restrictions violate the First Amendment. The Court’s majority ruled that aggregate contribution limits did little to aid the government in preventing quid pro quo corruption. The limits were also deemed to place a burden on one’s political speech and thus to be a breach of First Amendment rights.

One of the most hotly contested cases of the past term was Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Justice Samuel Alito penned the Court’s 5-4 majority opinion in the case, ruling that closely held corporations with religious objections to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate were not required to honor it.

Justice Ginsberg wrote the dissenting opinion and read a statement from the bench—a practice typically reserved only for rare occasions of significant meaning for a justice. Ginsberg expressed concern that the Hobby Lobby decision had “startling breadth” and could allow any commercial enterprise, not just those with a religious purpose, to opt out of general laws on religious grounds.

Other cases on abortion clinic buffer zones, affirmative action, public-sector unions, presidential power, and broadcast technology are also likely to be discussed by the panelists.

In addition, the group will assess the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case decided 60 years ago by the Warren Court that ended “separate, but equal” segregation in schools.

Erwin Chemerinsky is the founding dean, distinguished law professor, and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. His new book, The Case Against the Supreme Court, is due to be published this fall. Chemerinsky frequently argues cases in the nation’s highest courts and was deemed in January 2014 to be the most influential person in U.S. legal education by National Jurist magazine.

Frederick Lawrence is the eighth and current president of Brandeis University. He was formerly the dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School. Lawrence has written extensively on civil rights and hate crime, and is considered to be one of the country’s leading experts in the field.

Deborah Lauter is the director of civil rights at the Anti-Defamation League. She previously worked as the regional director of the ADL in Atlanta and has been with the Anti-Defamation League for 15 years. Before joining the ADL, Lauter was the Community Relations Director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and a practicing lawyer in San Francisco.

The event will begin at 12:00 p.m. Admission is $10 for members and non-members, $30 with CLE credit, and free for the 1787 Society. Reservations are required. Please call 215.409.6700 or order online.

Andrew Lowy is an intern at the National Constitution Center.

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