On the Docket: The Top 4 SCOTUS Cases to Follow in 2015


The Supreme Court’s 2014-2015 term—which began on Oct. 6—will conclude near the end of June 2015. After a year of decisions that narrowed women’s reproductive and economic rights, the current term provides the justices ample opportunities to right their wrongs (that is, if they can see past their egregious “blind spot” for women’s rights).

Below, take a look at a list of cases already on the docket that could have a big impact for women.

On the Docket

(1) Pregnant Workers’ Rights and Employment Discrimination

  • Young v. United Parcel Service
  • Summary: When Peggy Young started working as a package delivery driver for the United Parcel Service (UPS) in 1999, she was expected to lift items “weighing up to 70 pounds” as part of the job. When she later became pregnant, her doctor recommended not lifting anything over 20 pounds. Rather than assign Young “light-duty work,” which UPS gives to temporarily disabled or injured workers, the company put her on extended leave, forcing her to lose both her pay and medical insurance. Young is arguing that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
  • Why it matters: The SCOTUS decision could affect any woman who becomes pregnant while employed. The justices will decide to what extent employers must accommodate pregnant workers (if at all).
  • More reading: Ms. Blog

(2) Free Speech vs. Threats

  • Elonis v. United States
  • Summary: Pennsylvanian Anthony Elonis has posted threatening messages on social media directed at his wife, a kindergarten classroom and an FBI agent who investigated the threats. The messages (which he claims are rap lyrics) include novelties such as, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die, bitch.” Elonis is claiming the statements are protected by the First Amendment. He claims the posts were “therapeutic” and shouldn’t have been interpreted literally.
  • Why it matters: In this case, SCOTUS will have to clarify what constitutes a “true threat” vs. freedom of speech. This is hugely important to women and domestic violence survivors. The court’s stance on what constitutes a “true threat” could mean those who face threats and intimidation have a chance at justice.
  • More reading: New Yorker, Slate

(3) Employer Discrimination Protocol

  • Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Summary: When the EEOC—the agency responsible for implementing federal employment discrimination laws—receives a discrimination complaint, they’re required to seek informal resolution before filing a lawsuit. In this instance, EEOC filed suit against Mach Mining for hiring discrimination against women. Mach mining is arguing that EEOC didn’t seek the informal resolution before taking the case to court. SCOTUS will decide whether the informal resolution practices must be available for judicial review, and whether or not an accused employer can win a case if they can prove EEOC didn’t try hard enough to reconcile with the employer. EEOC is arguing that releasing that information compromises the confidentiality of their negotiations, and they suspect employers might further resist such compromises if they believe they can argue against EEOC’s negotiation efforts in court.
  • Why it matters: This decision will affect how employment discrimination is handled and whether employers will be granted more power.
  • More reading: People for the American Way

(4) Clarifying Police Right to Search or Seizure

  • Heien v. North Carolina
  • Summary: While driving on a North Carolina highway, Nicholas Heien was pulled over for having a broken brake light. After searching the car for 40 minutes, police found a bag of cocaine. However, in North Carolina it’s legal to drive with a broken taillight as long as the other is working (as was the case for Heien). Heien is arguing that since the police officer didn’t have a credible reason to stop the car, the subsequent search was invalid. SCOTUS will decide if stops, searches and seizures are acceptable even if the police have no legal backing for the stop.
  • Why it matters: Searches and seizures disproportionately affect African Americans and other minority groups, and this case gives SCOTUS the chance to re-examine officers’ rights to make such stops.
  • More reading: Forbes Opinion

UPDATE: Read the Supreme Court’s decision in Heien v. North Carolina  here.

Potential Cases

(1) Marriage Equality

  • Background: Since United States v. Windsor (where SCOTUS struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act), more than 70 marriage equality cases have cropped up, challenging state laws that either ban same-sex marriage or its recognition. SCOTUS is currently considering several petitions for review.
  • More reading: People for the American Way

(2) Contraceptive Coverage

  • Background: Anti-abortion groups aren’t satisfied with the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. decision from this past summer. The decision—which granted personhood to companies and allowed privately held corporations to forgo contraception coverage on religious grounds—didn’t address religiously affiliated nonprofits. Many current lawsuits involve nonprofit religious organizations, which want the same rights as churches and religious institutions. Currently, religiously affiliated nonprofits are required to submit paperwork in order to opt out of contraception coverage, which they claim is a substantial burden on their religious beliefs and violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The National Women’s Law Center expects one or more of these lawsuits to reach the Supreme Court during this term.
  • More reading: Feminist Majority Foundation

(3) TRAP Laws

  • Background: Over the last year, anti-abortion state legislatures have continued to pass TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers), restricting abortion rights, and limiting abortion doctors and clinics. It’s only a matter of time before some of these constricting laws make their way to SCOTUS. Many of them have already been challenged in court, with conflicting results. If the Supreme Court takes on this topic, it could affect Roe v. Wade, which will have a huge impact on women’s reproductive health rights.
  • More reading: Center for Reproductive Rights

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Brianna Kovan is a reader and writer from the Midwest. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.