Some major landmark Supreme Court Cases will be decided by June. “All …of these cases have the potential to shake the United States to its core” (Matthews, Kevin, “Five Supreme Court Cases to Watch in 2018,” December 26, 2017). Of the three cases discussed here, one deals with gerrymandering, one with the ability of the government to tracks one’s location without a warrant and the third with the question of whether a business can refuse to work for a gay wedding. These cases especially reflect conflicting cultural attitudes about politics, privacy and religious rights versus civil rights.
Gerrymandering: The court case, Gill v. Whitford, deals with a 2010 Wisconsin voting map that Democrats argue gave Republicans unfair advantage into the foreseeable future. The question that needs to be answered is, “What is a fair map?”
Retired law professor William Whitford has attempted to give the justices a benchmark for deciding future gerrymandering cases. He asserts there are three guiding questions to ask to determine whether a district has been fairly drawn:
• “What was the intent in the making of the map?”
• “Is there a discriminating outcome from these boundaries?”
• “Are there geographic reasons (rivers, mountains, etc.) why a district has a weird shape?”
If the Supreme Court does not agree with Whitford’s guiding principles, then watch for major turmoil in the shape and makeup of voting districts.
Tracking individuals without a warrant: The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. The amendment was written long before the coming of cell phones whose owners can be located by their cell tower proximities. Can the police track individuals using their cell phones without a warrant? The case is Carpenter v. United States. The “Atlantic” calls it the “most important electronic-privacy case of the 21st century.” The whole issue deals with the question of personal privacy in the age of technology.
Can a business refuse to work for a gay marriage?: The Masterpiece Cakeshop v. the Colorado Civil Rights Commission court case pits the First Amendment freedom of religion clause against the 14th Amendment equal protection clause. Jack Phillips, a devout Christian, refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding on the grounds that gay marriage is contrary to his religious beliefs.
What do these three cases tell us about our conflicting and changing attitudes about politics, privacy, religion and civil rights?
It is very unlikely these cases would have been issues 30 years ago. In the case of gerrymandering, it emerged as a result of advancing technology that made creation of voting districts using computerized data far more prone to political manipulation. Widespread use of cell phones and the Internet today show how the boundaries of personal privacy have become fuzzy and blurred. Protecting the public from criminals and protecting a person’s privacy have become much more perplexing and complex.
The Masterpiece Cakeshop case would not have been an issue 30 years ago. Back then, gays were viewed as perverts and the idea of gay marriage would have been considered outrageous and degenerate. The perspective that Christian mainstream belief and teaching about homosexuals might be considered discriminatory on a par with racism and a violation of one’s civil rights would have been greeted with incredulity.
These court cases demonstrate how quickly values and attitudes shift over time. All these cases deal with conflicting definitions of freedom. All highlight struggles for power and dominance. What was once considered a norm has now become abnormal. What was once defined as perversion is now acceptable.
However these cases are determined will continue to shape our culture and our values. Kevin Matthews was right, all of these cases “have the potential to shake the United States to its core.” Prepare to be shaken.