Courting Politics

Political scientist Rogers Smith discusses some of the key cases the U.S. Supreme Court tackled during its 2010-2011 term.
June 29, 2011

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down, on First Amendment grounds, an Arizona campaign finance law and a California law that barred the sale of violent video games to children. These decisions capped the court’s 2010-2011 term, which included several other rulings protecting free speech but displayed a decidedly more varied approach to criminal law, civil rights and business cases, explains political scientist Rogers Smith.

The Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Smith is an authority on constitutional law, American political thought, and modern legal and political theory. In this audio Q&A, he parses the legal and political implications of some of the past year’s major Supreme Court decisions.


The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Wal-Mart v. Dukes as the plaintiffs presented it, but the justices were divided 5-4 along ideological lines on the central question in the case. Can you explain this discrepancy?

What implications does Justice Scalia’s opinion in Wal-Mart v. Dukes have for future sexual discrimination cases?

How will the court’s ruling in favor of Wal-Mart affect class-action suits in general?

What are the First Amendment implications of the Westboro Baptist Church winning its Supreme Court appeal over its right to protest at funerals?

How will the Supreme Court's decision in Chamber of Commerce v. Candelaria—upholding an Arizona law imposing severe penalties on businesses that hire illegal immigrants—affect states’ authority in dealing with undocumented immigration?

How did corporations and consumers fare in the court’s decisions this term?

What are the implications in the areas of intellectual property and technology transfer of the court’s decision in Stanford v. Roche, which allowed a Stanford researcher to assign the patent rights for an invention resulting from his federally funded research without the university’s consent?

Are there any trends in the court’s treatment of criminal justice issues during this term?

What can the court’s decisions this term tell us about the Roberts Court?