Oregon State Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.

Today, turning on the news almost guarantees a segment discussing President Trump’s recent Twitter activity or Congress’ difficulty to pass a bill. However, very little media attention is paid to the third branch of our country’s government—the judiciary. The United States Supreme Court is the highest ranking judicial body and is currently composed of nine justices that serve for life. The Supreme Court has the final say in all cases involving laws of Congress and any state-court case relating to federal law. Their duty is to ensure that the Constitution is upheld throughout the nation. This is a big responsibility, and currently there are many cases pending decisions in the Supreme Court, including two that have the potential to create significant change throughout the country.

The Supreme Court only reviews a small percentage of cases that are appealed, explained Portia Hall, a government teacher and director of the Franklin Constitutional Law team. “They only take cases that are constitutionally important or issues that have boiled to the surface.” This means that cases discussing subjects that have come up in multiple states need to be addressed on a national level, or by the Supreme Court. This was evident in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. An owner of a cake shop denied service to a gay couple on the grounds that he did not want to create a wedding cake for same-sex weddings because of his religious beliefs. In 2016, the case was presented to the Supreme Court, which now has to decide whether the owner’s refusal to serve a same sex couple violates Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act and whether this denial of service ultimately violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.

Freedom of religion is explicitly stated in the Constitution, but so is the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which guaranteed the equal protection of all people under the law, making this such a difficult case to determine. The case also highlights the social progression of our society that extends much further than the founders anticipated in the original drafting of the Constitution.

Another potentially monumental case is Gill v. Whitford. This case questions the constitutionality of gerrymandering, or the redistricting of electoral districts to favor one political party in an election over another. New districts are formed in each state every ten years (or every census) which allows the party in power to draw new lines. In Gill v. Whitford, the Republican majority in Wisconsin developed a voting district map that would allow Republicans to maintain a majority under any likely voting scenario. The Supreme Court now has to decide whether this redistributing violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by systematically diluting the voting popularity of Democratic voters statewide. Hall explains that if the Court rules this partisan gerrymandering to be unconstitutional, “two-thirds to three-fourths of the states would have to throw out all of their districts, redraw all the lines, as well as profoundly change the makeup of the House of Representatives.”

Despite the vast implications these decisions may cause, they are not prominently covered in the media. There is not much to talk about for these cases before a decision is made, and this is especially true if a ruling is not overturned and nothing changes. However, if the Court finds partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional and that the cake shop owner violated the couple’s rights, these cases will no doubt become publicized. As demonstrated with previous controversial Supreme Court cases, these decisions have the potential to change day-to-day behavior as well as political processes and social progress throughout our country.

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