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Professor Lisa McElroy Discusses the Start of U.S. Supreme Court’s Term in News Media

October 01, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court’s term kicked off on Oct. 1 and Supreme Court expert, Professor Lisa McElroy, discussed the court's new term on Oregon Public Radio's Think Out Loud

McElroy suspects that the Supreme Court's upcoming term will be an interesting one with the court hearing cases affecting constitutional procedure, affirmative action, and government search and seizure. 

One notable case this term involves the University of Texas's affirmative action program. McElroy said what makes this case most interesting is that it highlights how important a president's appointments to the Supreme Court can change constitutional law for decades to come. 

McElroy explained that the court's longstanding jurisprudence in support of affirmative action had been more or less established by now-retired liberal Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.  Upon her retirement, President George W. Bush nominated conservative Justice Samuel Alito to replace O'Connor.  McElroy suspects that Alito's replacement of O'Connor might be enough of an ideological shift to put affirmative action in jeopardy. 

Another case the court will be hearing involves warrantless wiretapping of international phone calls.  The issue in that case, McElroy said, is whether a U.S. citizen can maintain constitutional standing when he or she was involved in a conversation on an international phone call that the government was wiretapping.  The case turns on whether a U.S. citizen can prove he or she was injured by that wiretap when the target of the wiretap was not a U.S. citizen, McElroy added. 

McElroy also highlighted two upcoming cases which concern the relationship between probable cause, the Fourth Amendment and the use of drug-sniffing dogs in law enforcement searches and seizures. McElroy indicated that the real challenge for the Court will be balancing the competing interests at stake, one being that your home and personal space is a really private place that warrants constitutional protection, the other being the government’s interest in allowing the police to use the tools they have at their disposal, in this case, dogs, to prevent illegal narcotic sales.  McElroy also discussed this case on a radio show airing on Illinois Public Media. 

McElroy speculated about whether the court will review appeals involving the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8, both which involve marriage equality. While McElroy suspects the court will soon hear at least one case involving gay marriage rights, adding that Justice Ginsberg has hinted that the court will soon hear such a case, McElroy was keen to point out that the DOMA case and Proposition 8 cases involve very different issues, with DOMA concerning married couples' rights to federal benefits and the Proposition 8 case involving California stripping gays of the right to marry.

On C-SPAN Radio, McElroy spoke about her experience interviewing Chief Justice John Roberts while preparing a biographical book of the justice for children.  McElroy noted that one of her goals in writing a children's book about the justice was to make Roberts relatable to children and hopefully inspire them to strive for the same goals as he did.  McElroy noted that, throughout the interview, Roberts was a warm and welcoming man that is extremely down to earth, making him quite accessible to court watchers of all ages.