The power of discussion: Students review Supreme Court cases

You may or may not pay a lot of attention to the Supreme Court–or the law and politics in general–but whether you do or not, it can definitely impact your life.

In addition to hearing cases appealed from lower courts, the court also is the final judge in all cases that involve laws passed by Congress.

“The Supreme Court is such a powerful and influential body in our society, yet it’s probably the least understood within the different branches of our government,” said Bill O’Connor, a business law professor at JJC and chair of the business department. 

To further engage students and expand their knowledge outside of the classroom, O’Connor held an informal discussion with students, faculty and staff to review the court’s upcoming cases. 

According to the Supreme Court’s website, of the estimated 8,000 cases submitted each year, only 80 are actually selected by the Supreme Court to review. Begining in October, the court began hearing cases that will impact legal protection for immigration, LGBTQ+ employment protections and access to abortion. A final decision by the court on any case can take up to six months.

As a Hispanic-serving institution, JJC and many of its students will have a keen interest in the Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California case. After President Trump’s election in 2017, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was terminated.

Created under the Obama administration, the DACA program protected thousands of eligible undocumented migrant students who came to the U.S. from deportation and they were also provided with work permits. The program expires after two years, and is subject to renewal.

“The issue the Supreme Court discussed during this case was not ‘should we allow undocumented people who were brought here by their parents as children to stay?’ The issue is ‘does the president have the authority to reverse [DACA]?,’” said O’Connor. 

Abortion laws will be revisited in the hearing of June Medical Services LLC v. Gee. A Louisiana law passed in 2014 requires doctors who perform abortions to be  “located not further than 30 miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.” 

A very similar Texas case was heard in 2015: Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The Supreme Court decided then that the requirements for a doctor to be within 30 miles from the performace location imposed “a substantial burden” on a woman’s right to abortion.

“The reason for this decision was because for such a huge state like Texas, this law would eliminate many abortion clinics, forcing many women to have to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion, causing an undue burden,” said O’Connor. “But for Louisiana, every single licened abortion clinic is within 30 miles of a hospital.”

The court will be deciding whether or not these laws protect women’s health and safety.

The fate of millions of LGBTQ+ members’ security in their workplaces will be determined through the hearing of three employees, two gay men and a transgender women, who claimed they were fired because of their identities. 

The issue here relates to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This law forbids discrimination because of “sex” but with no referal to sexual orientation or gender identification. 

According to CNBC, some states and localities have laws protecting LGBTQ+ employees, but those laws do not apply in about half the country.

O’Connor believes students should be exposed to and encouraged to learn more about national/global issues, and should have a platform to do so. He hopes to teach students to not only take a stance on these issues, but to listen to both sides of any argument.

“I don’t care much for what you think about these cases, I care more so that you’re thinking about the issues at hand. If people like you think about these great issues in society, everything will work out,” O’Connor said.

As part of this vision, he encourages students to visit oyez.org, a site that makes the Supreme Court accessible to everyone with summaries and information. He said there are also plans to turn Room T-2047 into a room for students to sit down together and connect through the power of discussion.