The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari [order list, PDF] on Friday in Shelby County v. Holder [docket, cert. petition, PDF] to determine whether Congress exceeded its authority when it renewed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 [Cornell LII backgrounder]. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of preventing minority groups from voting to receive preclearance from the US Department of Justice or a three-judge panel of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official websites] before making any changes to their voting laws. Shelby County, Alabama, which is a jurisdiction covered by Section 5, has contended that Section 5 violates state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment and also exceeds Congress' authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments [text]. The case is on appeal from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] which upheld the constitutionality of Section Five [opinion; JURIST report].
The court also agreed to hear Maryland v. King [docket, cert. petition, PDF] which concerns whether the Fourth Amendment [text] permits states to collect DNA samples from individuals charged with serious crimes. The respondent in the case, Alonzo King, challenged the validity of Maryland's DNA Collection Act [text, PDF] after state officials used his DNA to implicate him in a later crime. In July Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts [official profile] issued a temporary stay [JURIST report] that blocked a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals [official website] that barred police from collecting DNA from criminal suspects without a warrant.
The court also granted certiorari in Peugh v. United States [docket, cert. petition, PDF] to determine whether a court violated the US Constitution's Ex Post Facto Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] when it applied the US Sentencing Guidelines [materials] at the time of the sentencing rather than at the time of the offense. The petitioner in the case, Marvin Peugh, argued that the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] erred when it used the 2009 sentencing guidelines rather than the guidelines that were in place in 1998, the year he committed the crime in question. There is a circuit split among the US Courts of Appeals over whether a court violates the Ex Post Facto Clause when it sentences a criminal defendant based on the guidelines at the time of the sentencing.
Finally, the court agreed to hear American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant [docket, cert. petition, PDF] which deals with whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) [Cornell LII backgrounder] allows courts to nullify arbitration agreements if the agreements do not permit class arbitration of a federal law claim. The plaintiffs in the case are several retail businesses that have accepted American Express charge cards. They argue that American Express's arbitration clause, which forbids plaintiffs from filing as a class, violates the FAA. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in February that American Express's arbitration clause was unenforceable.