Thanksgiving follies: Go ahead, talk politics at the dinner table.

fingerpointingBy Cara L. Gallagher, weekend contributor/holiday survivalist

Gaming the table talk at Thanksgiving when the participants include long-lost, rarely seen family members and friends requires much the same strategies as one’s approach to eating that day: Take control of the situation. Go in with a plan. Never attack. Take it one bite at a time and digest a bit before going farther.

Talk of the Republican candidates, the debates, and/or Hillary’s emails are the assumed political traps this Thursday. If those are the topics your turkey table is doomed to dwell on, consider switching the conversation to the no-less controversial but more scholarly topics: Supreme Court and its new term.

This is risky too, yes I know. “Obamacare!” “Gay marriage!” “Texas housing!!” – all are treacherous if you change the topic from the election to the third branch of government. Listen, there’s a good chance your tablemates have forgotten the details of those first two cases and why they were mad back in June (and if your family is talking about the third case, can I come over?). I’m not saying this idea is for the ardently risk-averse, but if you want to get control of the night so as to avoid Trump talk and sound informed/smart, heed my suggestions.

[Sigh] Ok. I really hate talking about the presidential candidates, so I’m in. What do I have to do?

As I said, go in with a plan. Read a little, commit one or two cases to memory, maybe read a little more, and you’re set.

Below you’ll find cases the Court has already heard this term and cases the Court will or might hear soon. Impress Uncle Pete, your mother-in-law, or Grandma by taking one of each. But – and DEAR GOD pay attention to this ‘but’ – pick your topics knowing your audience. Hate talking about Trump and Ben Carson with that mildly racist and easily provoked cousin? Don’t pick the gun case. Not interested in hearing the catalog of services Planned Parenthood provides to women? Stay away from the abortion case.

Noteworthy cases the Court has already heard this term:

Prison sentencing: Montgomery v. Louisiana

Do minors deserve second chances? Henry Montgomery asked the Court to reconsider his sentence of life in prison without parole for shooting and killing a police officer when Montgomery was 17. His request comes in light of a 2012 decision in which the SCOTUS ruled that minors could no longer receive such punishments. Montgomery committed the crime in 1963 so he’s asking the Court to decide if old cases like his qualify for this new standard in hopes of getting a parole hearing. During oral arguments, the Justices focused much attention on whether the Court or the states and appeals courts have the power to decide this matter. If you want your dinner discussions to be more about government powers than Republicans and Democrats, pick this case.

Death Penalty: Hurst v. Florida, Kansas v. Carr

Two cases have been argued so far this term resurrecting the question of whether or not capital punishment will survive. (Zing your guests with that one!) The two cases ask complex questions about the role of juries in sentencing criminals, but they call back attention to a bigger question about the possible end of capital punishment was raised in a controversial dissent delivered in June by Justice Breyer in Glossip v. Gross. The use of lethal injection was upheld in that case, but Breyer reflected on the decision saying “I believe that it is now time to reopen the question,” adding that the past 40 years of the death penalty in America have led him to believe “that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited ‘cruel and unusual punishmen[t].’”

He’s not the only judge who has recently articulated constitutional problems with the application of executions. Justice Ginsburg joined his dissent in Glossip and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens writes and speaks regularly advocating for the abolishment of capital punishment.

Noteworthy cases the Court will hear or might hear this term:

Abortion: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole

This is that Texas abortion case you probably heard about. It’s the first case since 1992 that challenges the legality of statewide restrictions on accessing abortions. Texas passed legislation in 2013 that required two things: clinics must meet ambulatory surgical standards and doctors must have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles. The 1992 case said some restrictions are legal however they must not place an “undue burden” on patients. The question in this case is whether the Texas laws, when applied, are undue burdens. You might remember this was the legislation state Senator Wendy Davis filibustered for 11 hours in 2013.

Affirmative Action: Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin

Abigail Fisher asked the SCOTUS to take another look at their decision to remand her case in 2013. She was denied entrance and claimed the University’s use of race as a factor in its admissions process violated her 14th Amendment rights. In the first Fisher v. UT, the Court sent warning flares to the University and lower courts giving the school another chance to prove it passed the test of strict scrutiny. This test requires schools demonstrate no other race-neutral way of creating a diverse student body is possible making a factor like the use of race a necessity in admissions processes.

On remand, the University didn’t change any of its admissions policies and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals voted to uphold the policies. Interesting fun fact to drop on your guests – Just like in Fisher 1.0, Justice Elena Kagan will recuse herself leaving you the chance to challenge the constitutional knowledge of your guests by asking them what happens if there’s a tie (4-4 decision)?

[Answer: The decision of the lower court stands, Fisher would lose.]

Guns: Friedman v. City of Highland Park

Dr. Arie Friedman from the city of Highland Park, Illinois is hoping the Supreme Court will take his case this term about a citywide ban on the possession of semi-automatic weapons and clips that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the city’s ban which Friedman believes violates his 2nd Amendment rights.

Two Supreme Court cases recently affirmed an individual’s right to bear arms, specifically hand guns, in 2008 and 2010. The question in this is case is 1) will the SCOTUS take yet another gun case and 2) if they do, does the 2nd Amendment protect an individual’s right to own a semi-automatic weapon.

What’s a holiday without a little political discourse? Good luck out there, holiday survivors!

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