8 Civil Liberties Cases Supreme Court Will Tackle in 2013
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5. Can For-Profit Corporations Patent Human Genes?
This case, which the court agreed to hear this month, contests patents issued to a biotech company for two human genes that the firm identified as being an indicator of breast and ovarian cancer. The suit, brought by liberal constitutional scholars on behalf of medical researchers and women’s healthcare workers, argues that patents cannot be issued for natural processes, such as human genes, but only for manmade inventions. They note that the patent-holders are blocking other researchers from studying the genes, and preventing patients from getting second opinions about cancer test results.
6. Warrantless Drug Searches By Police
There are several cases before the court concerning the rights of police to use dogs to detect illegal drugs without a search warrant. The first examines whether a trained police dog can sniff at the door of a house where cops without a warrant think pot is being grown. The second asks the same question about searches of vehicles that are stopped by police. The difference in these cases is that the courts previously have awarded the highest legal protections to people’s homes, which is not the same as cars and trucks. Lawyers for police have contended they are not searching anything if a dog notices a smell while outside of the home or a vehicle. Of course, that did not stop ensuing searches.
7. Death Penalty Convicts’ Right To Attorneys
There are two cases before the court concerning the rights of prison inmates with death sentences. The first asks if a death row inmate's appeals process should be stopped because he is found to be incompetent to help his attorneys. The second case looks at whether the death sentence process should be stopped while a convict’s competency is evaluated.
8. Do Right-To-Know Laws Stop At State Lines?
Another case that will be closely watched by investigative reporters and public interest groups concerns whether citizens of one state can have access to public records in another state. If states can get away with hiding state government records from out-of-state media or other groups, that will undermine many public-interest efforts to track innumerable issues, such as whether the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council is ghostwriting bills that are being introduced in many states.