The Supreme Court on Thursday accepted new cases about congressional redistricting, judicial candidates asking for campaign donations and religious discrimination. But the justices took no action on requests that they decide whether there is a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.
The court waded through hundreds of petitions that have accumulated during its summer break, and accepted 11 new cases.
Among the pile were petitions from Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin, where federal appeals courts have struck down state bans on same-sex marriages. Both the winners and losers in those cases have asked the court to provide an answer to the question that would apply nationally.
There is still plenty of time for the court to take up the question and rule on the issue during the new term that begins Monday and will end next June.
Those who study the court and even the lawyers making the requests have said they expect that it could be weeks or months before the justices decide whether to hear the issue, although most think it almost impossible for the court to pass up.
If the court accepts the question, it has to then decide which of the cases provides the best vehicle for a decision.
So far, all three appeals courts that have ruled on the question have struck down the bans on same-sex marriage. Usually, the Supreme Court waits for a split among those circuits before taking a case. But more than 30 states, on both sides of the issue, have asked the nation’s highest court to resolve the issue
The justices could also simply let the appeals court decisions stand, although that is considered unlikely. The Supreme Court has not allowed marriages authorized by those rulings to take place, indicating justices want to have a say in the matter.
The court met in private earlier this week to sort through cases that had stacked up this summer. Though it accepted some cases, it won’t be known until next week which of the cases it rejected and which it will reconsider later.
Among the cases that got a green light Thursday was one that could decide how candidates running for election as judges may conduct their campaigns. A case from Florida asks whether such candidates may be forbidden from personally asking for campaign contributions.
There are 39 states that allow at least some of their judges to be elected, and 30 of them have laws or rules banning contribution requests.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled that such laws are justified to protect the reputation of the judiciary as impartial. But candidate Lanell Williams-Yulee, who was reprimanded and fined for signing a fundraising letter, said the ban violates her free-speech rights.
The Florida Bar, which brought the action against Williams-Yulee, agreed with her that the Supreme Court should take the case to clarify whether the First Amendment protects candidates against such restrictions.
Lower courts across the nation are split on the question. “The federal courts of appeals for the Third and Seventh Circuits and the highest courts of Arkansas, Oregon, and (in this case) Florida have held that such laws do not violate the First Amendment,” states Williams-Yulee’s petition to the court.
“By contrast, the federal courts of appeals for the Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits have held that they do.”
The case is Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar.
The justices also agreed to consider whether voters can take away from the legislature the right to draw congressional districts.
Arizona voters gave the job to an independent commission in 2000 in an attempt to remove politics from the redistricting process. The panel was instructed by voters not to take into account the wishes of incumbents and to draw the state’s districts as compactly as possible.
But the legislature objected to the 2012 redistricting, and contends that the Constitution does not give voters the right to exclude elected officials. The Elections Clause holds that “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”
But a three-judge panel ruled that voters could give the job to a commission. One of the questions the Supreme Court will consider is whether the legislature has the legal standing to challenge the voters’ decision.
The case is Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.
The justices will also decide whether retailer Abercrombie & Fitch violated anti-discrimination laws when it denied a job to a Muslim applicant because her head scarf conflicted with the company’s dress code.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took up the case of Samantha Elauf, who was denied a job at one of the chain’s stores in Tulsa. Elauf, then 17, had worn a head scarf, or hijab, since she was 13.
When she interviewed, she scored high enough on the company’s ratings to qualify for a job, and her interviewer said later she understood Elauf wore the hijab for religious reasons. But Elauf was not hired.
A judge ruled in her favor. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reversed, saying it was up to Elauf to ask for a religious accommodation, and she had not done so.
The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.