The 2019 – 2020 United States Supreme Court term began last month. A review of the docket, that is, the cases pending and to be decided by the court, include a number of issues affecting criminal defense and civil rights. Given the current makeup of the court, many are concerned that this term will see an erosion of policies that have been in force for decades.

Here is a rundown of some of the more important cases on the subject:

  • Kahler v. Kansas – Considers whether the constitution allows a state to abolish the insanity defense. The defense dates back hundreds of years, and while it is rarely asserted (and even more rarely permitted by judges in individual cases), the case could affect the rights of criminal defendants in a variety of circumstances.
  • Ramos v. Louisiana – This case looks at the issue of whether a jury verdict must be unanimous in state criminal prosecutions in order to convict a criminal defendant. While the United States Constitution does not explicitly require unanimity, it was so prevalent at the time the constitution was written that it did not require specific mention. All criminal convictions on the federal level must be unanimous, and this case looks at the issue of whether the same standard applies to the states.
  • Kansas v. Garcia –The relationship between federal immigration law and state criminal law is often muddled and difficult to understand. Kansas is seeking to overturn a ruling by its state supreme court barring the state from enforcing state laws against migrant workers in addition to the penalties provided under federal law for the same conduct. If the state is successful, it could lead to a race between the feds and the states to prosecute undocumented workers.
  • Kansas v. Glover – This case has significant implications for the motoring public. It deals with the legality of traffic stops and the implications for unreasonable searches and seizures.

These cases are in addition to others affecting civil and constitutional rights, including issues involving state support of religious schools, workplace discrimination rules, the fate of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) immigration program, and proposed drastic restrictions on reproduction rights.

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