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Penn Law panel discusses upcoming Supreme Court cases

September 22, 2017

By Jenna Wang C’19

On September 20, a panel of constitutional law professors convened at Penn Law to discuss four cases from the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming term.

The American Constitutional Society (ACS) organized the event, “Supreme Court: A Look Ahead,” which featured speakers Professor Tobias B. Wolff of Penn Law and Professor Catherine J. Lanctot of Villanova Law. The event covered topics like sports gambling, commercial anti-discrimination, partisan gerrymandering, and the Trump administration travel ban.

Lanctot discussed the Supreme Court’s upcoming case, New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Inc. v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, on anti-sports gambling laws in New Jersey. Lanctot, who practiced in the U.S. Department of Justice for five years, said that the case was high-stakes in terms of money value and would also impact the power struggle between federalism and state sovereignty.

“This could have a lot broader implications for what states choose to do … you can see how this would be applicable in other areas such as legalizing medical marijuana, [which] might be implicated by how broadly the anti-commandeering law is interpreted,” she said.

Wolff talked about the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case about a wedding cake business discriminating against a same-sex couple by refusing them service. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Court will decide whether First Amendment rights permit firms to turn away customers on grounds of compelled speech.

Wolff sided with the plaintiffs in the case, arguing that religious freedom or artistic expression were not valid reasons for Masterpiece Cakeshop to refuse service to the gay customers.

“If you have a content neutral law, then the compelled speech argument is based upon a faulty premise — that the business itself is the speaker,” he said.

The panel also touched upon Gill v. Whitford, a case that will challenge Wisconsin’s gerrymandering plan, and Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), which questions the legitimacy of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order travel ban.

“The Court is not immune from political polarization,” Lanctot said about Gill v. Whitford, noting that the conservative tilt of the court may result in Justices “seeing that redistricting issue through that prism.”

Both professors highlighted the unusual circumstances surrounding the Trump v. IRAP case. Wolff said that the incumbent president has had a “history of explicitly racist statements” which may be used against him in court, but opponents may question the extent to which statements made on the election trail can be brought up.

“This is not just any year, and this isn’t just any occupant in the presidency,” Wolff said. “One of the fundamental questions here is, what are the standards for demonstrating discriminatory intent?”

Tweets from this event: