Care about race-based admissions or your right to privacy?
Several cases that will be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall could change the landscape of civil rights in America, according to Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director for the National American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Shapiro spoke to media in Honolulu on Thursday about major cases facing the court this session, which starts on Monday. He highlighted three cases facing the court that could hugely impact affirmative action, electronic surveillance and the rights of drunk drivers.
Court Revisits Affirmative Action
Shapiro said the most important case being considered is Fisher v. Texas, which challenges the University of Texas’s affirmative action policy.
“There’s considerable concern about the case within the civil rights community,” Shapiro said, noting that more than 70 briefs have been filed in support of the university.
The case centers around whether or not the university can take race into account when deciding to admit students.
UT’s top ten percent rule guarantees admission to the top ten percent of high school students in the state. The rule was adopted to make sure that admissions were race-blind while still bolstering diversity.
In some ways, it worked — incoming classes were racially diverse, which Shapiro attributed to “segregated high schools.”
But in other ways, the policy did not diversify small classes or particular academic majors, such as English and music.
Given this, the university decided to consider race when admitting students who are not in the top 10 percent of their classes.
The last time the court addressed affirmative action was in 2003, when former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the state has a compelling interest to ensure diversity in higher education.
But today’s court is more conservative, making it more likely that they’ll rule against the university.
“If the Supreme Court were to strike down the program… that would be a major, major result,” Shapiro said.
Calling Overseas? Big Brother May Be On the Line
The court is also considering two major cases relating to privacy. The first, Clapper v. Amnesty International, is centered around an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The law allows the government to eavesdrop on conversations between U.S. citizens and people in other countries, even if those citizens aren’t suspected of doing something illegal.
“This is a tremendous invasion of privacy,” Shapiro said. Amnesty International brought the case along with Human Rights Watch, journalists and others who felt the law violates their privacy.
But the Supreme Court won’t decide on the constitutionality of the surveillance — instead, the question the court will consider is whether Amnesty and others can sue without knowing whether they have been targets.
The Justice Department argues that these groups have no standing. Surveillance targets are classified, after all.
“It’s a catch-22,” Shapiro said. The Second Circuit Court ruled previously that Amnesty et al. have a “reasonable fear of future harmful government conduct.”
The second privacy case, Missouri v. McNeely, questions whether people suspected of drunk driving can be required to take drug tests.