Supreme Court seemingly headed for banner year
Published: Saturday, October 18th, 2003
T he U.S. Supreme Court got off to a commend able start last week on its 2003-2004 term by refusing to hear the Conant vs. Walters case regarding doctors and medical marijuana. But apart from the Pledge of Allegiance case, most observers don’t expect this term to feature as many landmark rulings as last term, with its affirmative action and sodomy law decisions. Don’t rule out a few potential surprises, though. In the Conant case, the 9th Circuit federal appeals court enjoined the federal government against going after the licenses of doctors in states with medical marijuana laws who talk to their patients about marijuana. Various drug “czars” had threatened to do so (since the privilege of prescribing certain kinds of drugs is granted under federal law) and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft had wanted to include doctors in his campaign against medical marijuana. Unfortunately, the rebuke from the high court might not cause second thoughts by federal law enforcement agencies about using scarce police resources to go after sick people. The most pressing and undoubtedly complex case is McConnell vs. FEC, a challenge to the campaign-finance law Congress passed last year. The whole thing should be overturned on free-speech grounds, but a more mixed result is likely. In taking the case in which a panel of the 9th Circuit declared the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to constitute an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, “the court has a golden opportunity to reconcile its confused jurisprudence of the last 40 years on church-and-state issues,” Professor John Eastman of Chapman University’s School of Law said. But he believes the court will punt the opportunity and extend the confusion by deciding you can say “God” if you don’t mean anything by it. There are three cases (Missouri vs. Seibert, U.S. vs. Patane, Fellers vs. U.S.) that will let the court fine-tune the scope of the Miranda warning (“you have the right to remain silent ...”). Arizona vs. Grant and Maryland vs. Pringle could further define the scope of the Fourth Amendment when it comes to searching cars, and a couple of other cases deal with how and when searches of homes can be conducted. Two cases in which state officials challenge the way federal environmental law is enforced will raise issues about the nature of federalism. And whether Congress can require anti-porn Internet filters on certain computers will be an issue. It looks like an ordinary term — but it’s worth remembering what happened during the last term, when the court agreed to hear cases that received widespread publicity after the term had started. Who knows what else might rise to the high court?
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