Supreme Court’s relevancy to students

By Julie Hirshan |

Recently, Time Magazine asked America, “Does the Supreme Court still matter?” The question for college students is whether or not they know the role the Supreme Court plays in our society.

Students in the political science and pre-law programs learn about the Supreme Court and its purpose, but what about the rest of the student body?

Dr. Tracy Halcomb, chair of the Communication Department, discusses the Supreme Court in great detail during her Ethics and Law in Mass Communication class. But she says she doesn’t assume any knowledge, even though it’s a 400 level class. Once the students obtain a grasp of what the Supreme Court does, the class can move along faster and more smoothly.

Some of the cases the Supreme Court accepted for the docket for the Oct. 1 session could affect college students and Florida residents. It’s important for students to know how decisions will be reached in these cases, as well as what these decisions will mean.

In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, the court will be asked to look at the constitutionality of voter identification requirements in the state of Indiana. Currently, voters are asked to provide photo identification issued by the government.

Florida has a similar requirement, asking voters to show state-issued photo identification at the voting booth. The problem is that most people just show their driver’s license, but some people don’t have a driver’s license. So if residents don’t have the money to go and purchase a photo identification card, then they are denied the right to vote.

Judge Rick Poland, director of the Frank D. Upchurch, Sr., Endowed Pre-Law Program at Flagler, sees this as an unreasonable burden.
“This is disenfranchising people who have done everything right, people who have registered to vote and are on the voting rolls,” he said. “If they don’t have a driver’s license, or some other state photo ID, they can’t vote that day.”

For the upcoming presidential primary, this could be an important issue. “If it’s struck down, its impact will be felt immediately,” Poland said.

Another important aspect of the Supreme Court is the fact that they can refuse to hear a case. Halcomb focuses on these cases in her Ethics and Law in Mass Communication class. Recently, there have been many cases involving the media that have not been put onto the docket.

When the Supreme Court denies a case, Halcomb says that speaks volumes about it. The cases that have been brought to the Supreme Court’s attention, but are not being reviewed, should be watched as well.

There are nine justices on the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice is John Roberts, and the associate justices are John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Hackett Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito.

In order for a case to be heard, the justices must grant certiorari. Four out of the nine justices have to vote to hear it. The current court is regarded as conservative, led by Roberts. Kennedy is the swing justice, which means that ultimately many close decisions fall into his hands.

Halcomb commented on recent articles published about Roberts, stating that he is suggesting that Supreme Court votes should be 9-0. Roberts thinks that these decisions carry more weight than 5-4 decisions, because it shows a more unified court.

Students are curious. “A lot of questions, probably more questions than I’ve ever had in a law and ethics class this semester,” said Halcomb of her current group.

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