The first case is a returning case: Zivotovsky v. Kerry. This case involves a statute mandating that U.S. passports should show that the place of birth of any American born in Jerusalem is Israel. For diplomatic reasons (namely that Jersualem’s status is a central issue in on-going negotiations between Palestinians and Israel), the State Department refuses to comply with this mandate. (The status of Jerusalem is an example of an issue in which candidates for office say one thing — supporting Israel’s position that its annexation of all of Jerusalem is final — but then let the professional diplomats do something else — avoid taking sides to be in a position to mediate the negotiations and push them toward a conclusion). In past decades, this is a case that the court would avoid like the plague. Last time that it took this case, the Supreme Court set aside an attempt by the lower court to punt this case on procedural grounds. Now, it will have to decide whether this statute impermissibly infringes on an executive power or if the State Department has to follow the statute. Whatever it decides will upset a lot of people.
The other really, really big case involves the Alabama Democratic Party and the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus challenging Alabama’s legislative redistricting plans. While it is unlikely that even the fairest redistricting plan would give Democrats a chance in Alabama, what the Supreme Court says about the rules for drawing lines might make a difference in 2021 in some other states.
Besides these two cases, there are four other cases that are worthy of note. T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell involves the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This act tried to encourage the spread of wireless services and mobile phones by placing limits on the ability of small towns to use zoning rules to completely ban cell towers. In particular, the law requires that all decisions be made in writing and supported by a written record. This suit involves whether a short order saying that the application is denied with no explanation of the reasons for the denial meets these requirements.
Another case involves health care benefits for retirees in union contracts. The employer takes the position that those benefits are not permanent and can be taken away from current retirees in a new contract. The retiree takes the position that once granted as part of a contract, those rights are vested. This case may end up turning on the specific wording of the union contract in question.
Also before the case is Maryland’s state income tax law. Most state income tax laws include a credit for income taxes paid in other states. Maryland’s does not. This case will address whether such credits (essentially avoiding paying state income taxes on the same income twice) are constitutionally required.
Lastly, there is Yates v. United States. On its face, this case is an overreach by a prosecutor — using the anti-shredding provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley to reach the dumping of illegally caught fish by a fishing boat. The odds that this conviction survives are very slim. The bigger question is what the Supreme Court does to define what type of objects are covered by the statutory language banning the alteration, destruction, or concealment of any “tangible object.” Needless to say, Sarbanes-Oxley was passed in the wake of very gross misconduct by several major corporations (e.g., Enron), but with over a decade passed since that misconduct, will a business friendly Supreme Court try to water down these legal requirements.