Supreme Court Preview: Health Care, Immigration And Privacy

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The nine justices report back to the Supreme Court on Monday to consider a new docket of cases. It has the potential to be a dynamic term, with decisions on cases concerning health care, immigration and digital privacy expected.

David Savage, Supreme Court reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, and former U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal previewed the session for Talk of the Nation today. They highlighted the following key cases to watch for.

-- On health care: Wednesday, the Justice Department asked the Court to rule on challenges to President Obama's health care law. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled the mandate unconstitutional; another court in Cincinnati has upheld it.

"The Supreme Court's almost certainly got to intervene," says Savage. And the Justice Department, he says, is confident they'll win. The Supreme Court will have to decide whether the commerce clause can mandate minimum coverage for all.

The best argument against it, Katyal says, is that this would be the first time Congress has ever forced people to engage in purchasing.

"There is an element of novelty to it," he says, but the Justice Department would argue "that element is not as dramatic as the ... plaintiffs characterize it," and there is no anti-novelty provision in the Constitution.

On immigration: Arizona passed SB 1070, the law that would enlists local police in enforcement of immigration laws. The Obama administration argues immigration is exclusively a federal matter.

"he question is who can enforce the immigration laws," says Savage. "Is it only the federal government, or can states like Arizona and Alabama pass their own immigration laws?"

On privacy: Police officers wanted more information on a suspect, so they put a GPS device on his Jeep and tracked his movements for a full month. He was arrested and convicted on drug charges, but the court of appeals threw it out, calling it an unreasonable search.

"The question is, do you have any right to privacy when you're traveling in public," says Savage, or can the government track you without a warrant or even a suspicion you're up to no good?

In past cases, watching people in public spaces hasn't necessitated a warrant. "The question is a really hard one," says Katyal, because new technologies allow governments to aggregate data in new ways, which might mean the law needs to change too.

"Normally you would think this person wouldn't have much of a claim because he was traveling on a public street," says Savage. But what if states put tracking devices, say, in every license plate, to look for suspicious movements or patterns. "Would most Americans think that that seems like an unreasonable search, or ... power that the government should have?" It's also a policy question, says Katyal, "about what governments should be doing in the future."

Sarah Handel is a producer for Talk of the Nation.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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