This year has already been important for the Supreme Court in terms of its rulings, but April isn’t over yet, and it’s going to be a significant month. Tuesday will see the start of the historical oral arguments on same-sex marriage. The gay marriage ruling has been a long time in the making, filtering first through state courts only to return once again to the national level after a rough series of trials and appeals across the United States. As appeals courts have reversed and frozen rulings in a number of different states, the legality of gay marriage remains in grey territory in a number of areas.
It will be one of the most important civil rights decisions in many years, and the outcome be controversial no matter which way the court ultimately rules — though arguably less controversial than it would have been just five years ago. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, a record-breaking six out of 10 Americans are supportive of same-sex marriage. However, that still leaves a large portion of the U.S. that is either undecided or strongly in opposition to the change, and state’s rights advocates are already up in arms over the decisions their lower courts have been facing.
“If the government wants to pretend to redefine marriage, I don’t think that will settle the issue,” said Tami Fitzgerald of the North Carolina Values Coalition to The New York Times. This kind of attitude colors what is ultimately an important topic for the Supreme Court in general and, in particular, has been discussed as it relates to same-sex marriage. How does the public see the Supreme Court? What is the degree of control, respect, and trust that American citizens place in its highest court?
A study by the Pew Research Center found that the overall opinion of the court dropped following the Hobby Lobby ruling and has changed very little since then. However, public sentiment has changed a great deal since 2005, when 72% had a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court, and only 17% had an unfavorable view. Now, in contrast, only 50% of Americans have a favorable view, and 39% have an unfavorable opinion of the court.
This is a bipartisan shift, possibly because both sides have seen rulings they have found to be problematic. That isn’t about to change with the same-sex ruling and death penalty case coming up, two of the most talked-about on the docket this year. April is a big month in that sense, with Glossip v. Gross — the case questioning the constitutionality of the drugs used in executions — to be heard Wednesday.
In March, the Supreme Court released a statement in preparation for the case on same-sex marriage, stating, “the court will provide the audio recording and transcript of the oral argument in … Obergefell v. Hodges, and consolidated cases, on an expedited basis through the Court’s website.” The end of April will mark the beginning of intense legal battles, decisions, and fallout for those involved, which in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges is the entirety of the United States.
Apart from rulings on same-sex marriage and the death sentence, April already heard arguments for the cases of Samuel James Johnson v. United States, Stephen Dominick McFadden v. United States, and Marvin D. Horne, et al. v. Department of Agriculture, which, respectively, dealt with short-barreled shotgun possession, controlled substances, and the limits and boundaries of the government’s responsibilities as they apply to repaying property seizures.
Monday will see the Court hear arguments for Michael B. Kingsley v. Stan Hendrickson, et al., which will consider whether excessive use of force was appropriately applied to the petitioner, Michael B. Kingsley, who was a prisoner at the time of his complaint, and involved in a struggle with those who were charged with guarding him. That struggle that resulted in prolonged hand-cuffing and the eventual use of a taser.
The case is unique because it examines his rights as a pretrial detainee; the protections afforded to him during that time were greater than they would be later. The distinction is that Kingsley was innocent until proven guilty during this period. He was being held by law enforcement but he was not sentenced, nor has his case yet been heard.
While less prominent, the case will help form the legal options available to pretrial prisoners who feel they have been mistreated. This is important given the level of distrust and dissatisfaction with police force in the past year, with events in Ferguson and the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner.