Supreme Court to focus heavily on fundamental rights
THE opinions rendered by the United States Supreme Court in the approximately 150 cases it will consider this session could change the course of justice in areas such as minority and religious rights, police procedures, and abortion. Constitutional scholars and Supreme Court watchers, including University of California law school dean Jesse H. Choper, Michigan professor Yale Kamisar, and Harvard's Laurence H. Tribe, suggest that the following issues are pertinent as the court reviews its new cases: The first issue is whether the Justices will seriously curtail affirmative-action and reverse-discrimination laws, which guarantee jobs and priorities to minority workers in order to achieve racial balance. Civil libertarians fear that the court is moving away from minority hiring guarantees on the grounds that they discriminate against white workers, especially those with job seniority.Skip to next paragraph
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Attorney General Edwin Meese III, has sharply criticized affirmative-action procedures and lobbied for bias claims to be handled on an individual and case-by-case basis.
A key test will come in a Michigan case to be heard this year, in which a group of nonminority school teachers -- who were laid off -- argue that their rights were violated under a union contract with their school district. The agreement provided that white teachers would be laid off before blacks as long as the proportion of black teachers was less than the proportion of blacks among the students.
Professor Tribe, a civil libertarian known for his defense of minorities, concedes that ``it is fundamentally unfair to tell white workers they must be displaced [under affirmative-action agreements].'' But he urges public and private jurisdictions to come up with ``creative solutions'' to compensate those who voluntarily surrender seniority to encourage job opportunities for minorities.
In other cases dealing with racial discrimination, the court will look at possible bias in the jury-selection process and examine whether prejudice should be taken into account in a murder trial of a black defendant accused of killing a white.
Perhaps, the most emotionally charged issue before the Supreme Court in the coming term will be abortion. Right-to-lifers have mounted a national campaign to reverse, or at least restrict, a landmark high court ruling of a decade ago (Roe v. Wade) which, in effect, allows abortion-on-demand during the early stages of pregnancy.
What now is under scrutiny are state statutes in respect to the ``second trimester'' of pregnancy. Lower courts in Pennsylvania and Illinois have backed a prochoice stance.
Although the Justice Department has been denied additional court time to present a brief on behalf of anti-abortionists, Attorney General Meese and other prominent members of the Reagan administration have spoken out in strong support of modifying Roe v. Wade.
Former Solicitor General Rex Lee suggests that abortion cases are being pushed by the administration, not because they believe the justices will now make an about-face on the issue, but to satisfy certain political constituencies and perhaps lay the groundwork for reversal in another year.