Summaries of high-profile Supreme Court cases

The Supreme Court is scheduled to decide several key cases in its 2022-23 term, which starts Monday.

More than two dozen appeals are currently on the argument docket. Several dozen more are expected to be added in coming months. The caseload is usually settled by February, with the term effectively ending in late June.

Other important appeals that may yet be added to the court’s calendar cover such issues as gun rights, vaccine mandates in schools and businesses and social media content restrictions.

Important petitions already on the Supreme Court’s argument docket:

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina and Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College

Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Montana State Capitol protesting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation on March 15, 2021, in Helena, Mont. 
((Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP, File))


Arguments Monday, Oct. 31

AT ISSUE: Separate challenge over whether institutions of higher education can continue to use race as one of several “plus” factors in admissions, to achieve a diverse student body.

THE CASE: A coalition of Asian-American students say they are unfairly being discriminated against, holding them to a higher college admission standard at the expense of Latino and Black students.

THE ARGUMENTS: The organization representing the students urges the high court to overrule its 2003 precedent in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld “narrowly tailored” and “holistic” race-conscious affirmative action programs, so long as schools do not base such admissions decisions solely on race, or rely on a quota system. Affirmative action opponents say the universities are violating Title VI by penalizing a certain class of applicants, and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives. The schools strongly deny any discrimination, and say their consideration of race is limited, noting lower courts agreed with their discretionary rationale. The Biden administration filed an amicus brief in support of Harvard’s admissions policies.

THE IMPACT: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her 2003 majority ruling said race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time, with the expectation they would no longer be necessary in 25 years’ time. The current case could have enormous nationwide implications in other areas like employment and government contracting. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson will not hear the Harvard case because she completed her term on the school’s Board of Overseers this spring.

People hold a rainbow flag during the 51st LGBTQ Pride Parade in Chicago, Illinois, on June 26, 2022. - The Pride Parade returned to the Lakeview and Uptown neighborhoods after a three-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

People hold a rainbow flag during the 51st LGBTQ Pride Parade in Chicago, Illinois, on June 26, 2022. – The Pride Parade returned to the Lakeview and Uptown neighborhoods after a three-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. 


WORKPLACE SPEECH/LGBTQ+ RIGHTS:  303 Creative LLC v. Elenis (Arguments TBA)

AT ISSUE: Whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

THE CASE: Graphic artist Lorie Smith seeks an exemption to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), saying it would “force” her to design and publish custom wedding websites promoting messages that violate her personal beliefs, and prevent her from posting on her own company’s website an explanation of those beliefs, specifically her opposition to same-sex marriage. The state says its law is being applied fairly to all businesses, which makes it illegal to refuse public services based on “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.”     

THE ARGUMENTS: Lower courts have upheld CADA, saying the state has compelling reasons to protect the “dignity interests” of marginalized groups. The Supreme Court in 2018 ruled in favor of a Colorado baker in the “Masterpiece Cakeshop” case involving the same law — but on narrow grounds, sidestepping core questions over his religion and free speech rights. Both this and the website case are also limited in scope, dealing with businesses having an “artistic expression” component not applied to most employers.

THE IMPACT: Despite Smith’s request, the high court specifically will not address whether that law also violates the artist’s sincerely held free exercise faith-based rights. The court’s conservative majority has been more receptive in recent years to upholding religious liberty in disputes over school choice funding plans and public employee prayers on school grounds. Separate appeals over wedding photographers could reach the justices in coming months that may address the religious liberty questions.


ELECTION REDISTRICTING: Moore v. Harper (Arguments TBA)

AT ISSUE: Whether state courts have improperly taken powers given by the U.S. Constitution to state lawmakers governing federal elections and congressional redistricting.        

THE CASE: Involves a challenge by North Carolina Republicans to a state court ruling that threw out the congressional districts drawn by the General Assembly, which would have made GOP candidates likely victors in 10 of the state’s 14 congressional districts.

THE ARGUMENTS: The Supreme Court is now being asked to invoke the “independent state legislature doctrine” for the first time. Backers of ISL say Article 1 of the Constitution — notably the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” — gives state legislatures sole authority to regulate federal elections, without oversight by state courts or state constitutions. Civil rights groups call it an effort to inject hyper-gerrymandering into the redistricting process, and that the theory was used by some to challenge election results in the 2020 presidential election. The question for the justices will be defining the limits of the word “legislature.”

Akemi Vargas, 8, cries as she talks about being separated from her father during an immigration family separation protest in front of the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. District Court building in Phoenix.

Akemi Vargas, 8, cries as she talks about being separated from her father during an immigration family separation protest in front of the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. District Court building in Phoenix.
(The Associated Press)


THE IMPACT: The justices on Oct. 4 will hear a separate argument over Alabama’s GOP-friendly congressional map, which civil rights groups say dilute the voting power of minority voters — in a state with a 27% Black population. What the justices decide in both state disputes could have a major influence over the 2024 elections and beyond.  

IMMIGRATION: U.S. v. Texas (Arguments November TBA)

AT ISSUE: Challenge to a 2021 DHS policy halting most migrant deportations, and prioritizing removal only to those deemed a serious threat to public safety, or cases of terrorism or espionage.

THE CASE: Following a lawsuit by Louisiana and Texas, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction freezing the “Guidelines for the Enforcement of Civil Immigration Law” policy. The Biden administration then asked the high court to intervene.  

THE ARGUMENTS: The GOP-led states say the situation along the Mexican border is a growing crisis, and that they are suffering financial, security, education, and health care problems associated with the new policy. 

Opponents of Alabama's immigration law gather for a rally outside the Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama.

Opponents of Alabama’s immigration law gather for a rally outside the Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama.


But the Justice Department criticized a single federal judge’s injunction, saying it amounted to a “nationwide, judicially imposed overhaul” of the executive branch’s enforcement priorities, noting federal authorities are best equipped to handle the detention of illegal immigrants, with its limited resources.

THE IMPACT: A number of both red- and blue-leaning states have challenged immigration policies in recent years involving both GOP and Democrat administrations. In the last Supreme Court term, the justices debated separate appeals over asylum seekers, and public benefits available to newly arrived migrants. 

Courts have traditionally limited the ability of states to challenge federal immigration enforcement policies — or implement their own. But the current high court conservative majority seems more eager to consider states challenges.

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