Supreme Court in new term to weigh political gerrymandering, other high-stakes cases

The pivotal role of Justice Kennedy will be on full display in new term.

Also to come before the court is a case about dues-paying to public-sector unions.

Below are the big cases we’ll be watching.

Gill v. Whitford (partisan gerrymandering) -- Oct. 3

The court has agreed to hear Gill v. Whitford, a political gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin that is likely to be one of the biggest election law cases in decades.

Gerrymandering, the drawing of legislative districts for partisan advantage, is a common practice. This case asks when the consideration of politics in redistricting crosses the line from ordinary partisanship to something so excessive as to be unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has said that courts can decide these cases, but has never explained how to decide when partisanship crosses the line.

If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court that this Wisconsin plan was unconstitutional, it would mark a major change, both in constitutional law, and in the way in which redistricting is carried out in virtually every state.

This case involves a Colorado baker’s denial of service to a same-sex couple. It arose when a gay couple planning their wedding made an appointment to discuss a custom wedding cake. When the baker learned they were a same-sex couple, he indicated that he would be willing to sell them other baked goods, but that he did not make cakes for same-sex weddings.

Carpenter v. United States (warrantless use of cell site data) -- argument not yet scheduled

This case asks whether police need to get warrants before asking cellphone companies for cell site data that reveals information about customers’ movements and locations. The case is viewed as the most important Fourth Amendment case in many years with significant implications for both privacy and government surveillance.

Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (enforceability of arbitration agreements in employment disputes) -- Oct. 2

Christie v. NCAA (constitutionality of federal law prohibiting states from legalizing gambling) -- argument not yet scheduled

In this case, New Jersey challenges a federal law that prevents states from legalizing sports gambling. New Jersey argues that this law violates the Tenth Amendment’s “anti-commandeering principle,” which limits the degree to which the federal government can compel the states to enforce federal law. This case is narrowly about sports betting, but more broadly about the federal government’s authority over the states, which could have significant implications for debates about sanctuary cities, among other things.

Janus v. AFSCME (funding of public-sector unions) -- argument not yet scheduled

In this labor case, the court will consider whether public-sector unions may require nonmembers to pay union dues. The Supreme Court previously considered a similar case, but deadlocked 4-4 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, which meant it issued no decision. Now that the court again has nine members, it will be able to decide this case on the merits, and it seems likely that Justice Gorsuch will join the court’s other conservatives and vote that it violates nonmembers’ First Amendment rights to compel them to pay union dues, along the way overruling a 1977 precedent and dealing a serious blow to the funding of public-sector unions.