December 12, 2017

Major Supreme Court Cases: December Update


  • Over the last few weeks, the Supreme Court has heard arguments on several key cases involving the First Amendment, federalism, privacy, and foreign relations.
  • Decisions in these cases should be issued by the end of the court’s term in June.
  • On December 4, the court issued an important order on President Trump’s travel ban, allowing it to take effect while litigation on the executive order makes its way through the lower courts.

The Supreme Court’s term began in October and is scheduled to conclude at the end of June. Over the past few weeks, the court has heard arguments on key cases involving the First Amendment, federalism, foreign relations, and privacy. The court also issued an order on December 4 on President Trump’s executive order suspending entry for nationals from certain countries. The justices, by a 7–2 vote, allowed the executive order to take effect while litigation makes its way through the lower courts.



On December 5, the court heard arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case is a challenge to Colorado’s anti-discrimination law, which was used to sanction a baker who refused to bake and decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding. The baker and the U.S. solicitor general contend that requiring the baker to decorate the cake violates his First Amendment rights and amounts to unconstitutionally compelled speech.

Sports Gambling


The court on December 4 heard arguments in Christie v. NCAA and New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association v. NCAA, a pair of challenges to a 1992 federal law prohibiting states from allowing gambling on sporting events. The law barred states from permitting gambling on sports unless they had allowed it before the enactment of the prohibition. New Jersey attempted to legalize sports betting in 2012 and 2014, but it was stymied by federal courts due to the prohibition. The state now challenges the 1992 law as violation of the 10th Amendment, which has been held to prohibit the federal government from compelling states to enforce federal regulations.



In Carpenter v. United States, the court is considering whether a review of mobile-phone call-location records without a search warrant violates Fourth Amendment prohibitions on unreasonable searches. The case involves a group of men who were accused of committing a string of armed robberies. One of the men confessed and gave law enforcement the mobile phone numbers of his accomplices. With that information, the FBI obtained data from wireless carriers showing the locations of the conspirators during the robberies. The Sixth Circuit held that the caller whose information was reviewed did not have a Fourth Amendment privacy interest in the call-tracking information, which consisted of business records obtained from a third party that were used simply to facilitate communication. The court heard arguments in the case on November 29.

Foreign Relations


On December 4, the court heard arguments on whether victims of state-sponsored terrorism can seize certain assets located in the U.S. that belong to the state sponsor. The case, Rubin v. Iran, involves victims of a 1997 Hamas suicide bombing  in Jerusalem who have been trying to collect on a court judgment against Iran since 2003. After the attack, the victims’ family members sued Iran in U.S. courts for damages and won a default judgment. Iran refused to pay the judgment, and the families sought to seize ancient Persian artifacts on display in U.S. museums. The victims are appealing a Seventh Circuit decision holding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act prohibits them from seizing the artifacts.  

Issue Tag: Judiciary