Cases to Watch in 2014
This year promises to be an interesting one in law. Here are some of the most interesting cases, trials, and legal topics y’all might want to keep your eyes on in 2014.
(Note: I have tried not to include Supreme Court cases that were heard in 2013 but will be ruled upon in 2014, as most of those have already been heavily covered by the media during oral arguments.)
The case: After Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA spying, it was discovered that he was using an encrypted email service called Lavabit. The owner, Ladar Levison, was court-ordered to hand over access to the entire site to the government, because Lavabit’s programming made it impossible to hand over access to just Snowden’s account. In protest, Levison shut down the site, defied a gag order, and has now filed an appeal.
Why it matters: This year, mainly from the NSA spying scandal, we learned about the technological abilities our government uses to monitor US citizens. This court ruling will either stifle or extend those abilities. For those who oppose the government having access to personal information, this Lavabit case may set important precedent — and it really will be a case to watch.
7. Jodi Arias Sentencing
The case: In 2013, we saw the extremely weird case involving Jodi Arias in Arizona. She was eventually convicted of murdering her boyfriend, Travis Alexander. It was a gruesome and disturbing case in which the jury found her guilty; however, they could not agree on whether to sentence her to life in prison, or death. A mistrial was declared on the sentencing portion of her trial and the new sentencing trial will also have new jurors.
Why it matters: The Defense has gone so far as to request a change of venue for the resentencing portion. They have argued that the huge media attention directed at the case has the potential for bias. That may be true, and it certainly wasn’t the first case with a big media blitz –Casey Anthony ring a bell? But if that’s actually the case, a change in venue won’t help — this case was huge all over the country. I’m reminded of an SNL skit from a few years ago about choosing jurors for OJ Simpson’s 2007 robbery and assault case. Watch it here, it’s really funny. But all joking aside, it’s the truth. It will be incredibly hard to find jurors who haven’t heard of Jodi Arias. Is it possible that our obsession with watching justice unfold is getting in the way of justice itself? Maybe we’ll get some answers with this retrial.
6. McCullen v. Coakley
The case: Oral arguments for McCullen v. Coakley are scheduled before the Supreme Court later this month. This case has been waiting for its day in court since 2001; there was appeal after appeal before the Justices agreed to hear it. It involves a law that Massachusetts instituted to create a 35-foot buffer zone around reproductive health facilities.
Why it matters: First of all, as I mentioned, this case has been going on for a very long time. The Supreme Court’s decision will add some sort of finality to it, no matter what the decision may end up being. Second, it could reverse a much-relied upon precedent, Hill v. Colorado, which allowed an eight-foot buffer zone. Finally, it raises an important constitutional issue about which right is more important: the right to free speech, assembly, and protest, or the right to seek an abortion without harassment?
5. Silkroad Case
The case: The infamous illegal-good site Silk Road was removed from the web this Fall, and its alleged creator, Ross Ulbricht, was arrested. The site sold drugs and fraudulent IDs, among other things. In addition to being indicted for his work on the site, he has now been accused of hiring assassins. The $80 million he allegedly made through the site is now in government custody. In 2014, he’ll either work out some sort of deal with the government, or face trial.
Why it matters: Silkroad had a huge market. It was relied upon by many people to get illegal goods relatively safely. Most of the Bitcoins (an electronic currency) in existence went through this site. And it was really only a matter of time until it shut down.
But, and this point is becoming a common trend on my list, it’s also another mark of how the government’s ability to use technology for prosecutorial purposes is evolving. I can assure you that this will have ramifications in the future, because people aren’t going to stop buying illegal stuff over the Internet. They’ll just get better at it.
4. Marriage Rights
The case(s): The Supreme Court already put a stop to Utah’s same-sex marriage licenses in 2014. The case will now go to the nearest appeals court. This is just one example; there are other cases regarding the rights of homosexuals to marry all over the United States.
Why it matters: 2013 was a banner year for gay rights in a lot of ways, but it’s important to note that the court cases will probably continue for years to come. There’s a lot of work to be done, and it doesn’t seem like the Supreme Court would unilaterally rule to legalize gay marriage. In 2014 we will continue to see more cases, trials, and hopefully, victories.
3. Voting Rights Cases
The case(s): There have been a lot of efforts at the state level to change voting rights laws, and the DOJ and various special interest groups have stood up to these changes when needed. But in 2013, part of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court. So, each challenge to voting rights has to be filed against separately. As a result, many suits will be heard in 2014 to states’ attempted voting rights changes.
Why it matters: The change to the Voting Rights Act makes it more difficult for suits to be filed against voting rules, but special interest groups will also be under pressure to make changes before the 2014 midterms and 2016 national elections.
The case(s): There were contraception cases regarding coverage through the Affordable Care Act that made it to the court in 2013, but many more will be on deck in 2014. One involves a nonprofit called Little Sisters of the Poor, and others involve for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby.
Why it matters: Not only is contraception a hot political issue, these cases involve parts of the Affordable Care Act. Parts of the ACA have already made it to the Supreme Court, but this will be a new decision will have ramifications as to whether or not companies are required to cover contraception for their employees, regardless of religious beliefs.
1. NSA Cases
The case(s): A lot of cases have been filed regarding the NSA’s monitoring of US citizens. A few may make it to the high court. US District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington recently ruled that the NSA monitoring was unconstitutional. Meanwhile, District Court Judge William Pauley in New York dismissed a similar case. That kind of contradiction could lead to a big legal showdown in 2014.
Why it matters: The NSA surveillance debate was one of the biggest controversies of the year, and raised many legal questions about the ability of the government to monitor its people. What happens in these cases could set a serious precedent.
Anneliese Mahoney (@AMahoney8672) is Lead Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [Dan Moyle via Flickr]