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Supreme Court Term Left Door Open for Future Disputes

Publication Date: 
June 27, 2008
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
The NewsHour

Pam Karlan shared her perspective on the Supreme Court Term during a review on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer:

By the close of the Supreme Court's term Thursday, the justices made landmark decisions on cases regarding gun ownership, the death penalty and the legal rights of detainees. Legal experts weigh the rulings and what they indicate about future court battles.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Karlan, do you think that we're seeing now a mark, a stamp of the Roberts court?

PAM KARLAN, Stanford Law School: I don't think it's possible to do that looking simply at one term, especially because, as both Marcia and Doug pointed out, the court is taking very few cases.

This was a term where the court set the table, I think, for a lot of future litigation, in the voter I.D. case, in the guns case, even in the Guantanamo Bay case. The court didn't fully resolve the issues.

And I think those issues are going to be back at the court. And when they come back, I think we'll see the same kinds of divisions and contentiousness that we saw last term, for example, in abortion or in the school desegregation cases.


RAY SUAREZ: Professor Karlan, is that a consequence of what you heard Professor Kmiec talk about, trying to settle on the narrowest questions and, in effect, almost guarantee that these issues are going to come back in one form or another?

PAM KARLAN: I think it is. For example, in the guns case, all we know from what the Supreme Court decided was that individuals have a right to possess some kinds of weapons under some circumstances in some places at some times.

But Justice Scalia's opinion for the court didn't even address a very basic question, which is whether the Second Amendment applies to state and local regulations of firearms. I think it's clear the court will hold that when the issue comes back, but it's going to be a while.

The opinion also said, for example, that restrictions on which kinds of people can carry weapons, where they can carry weapons, whether there are licensing restrictions, all of those are still up for grabs.

The same thing in the voter I.D. case. The court didn't say that voter identification laws are always constitutional. It said it would wait to see a so-called "as applied" challenge, where a particular voter comes in and says, "I wasn't able to vote because I didn't have the identification and I couldn't get it."

So I think a lot of these issues are going to be coming back to the court again next term or the term after. I don't think the court has settled these issues in a narrow way.

A video clip of the broadcast is available.