(LIN) — Coming back to the courtroom after the landmark Affordable Care Act ruling in June, the U.S. Supreme Court leaves many on the edge of their seats, anxious to see how justices will rule on more heavy-hitting topics this year: abortion, voting rights, gay marriage and affirmative action.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The justices opened the new term this morning with a human rights case and a case of when a boat can and cannot be considered a home. While these don’t sound as glamorous as the big talkers, these two cases aren’t exactly light topics.
Here’s a brief rundown on each.
Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum
The widow of a Nigerian activist made her case today in the High Court. Dr. Barinem Kiobel was executed by the Nigerian military, and his widow alleges Royal Dutch Petroleum, or Shell as it is commonly known, gave the military its orders.
Kiobel and others were protesting oil exploration by Shell, and Kiobel’s widow claims the corporation paid Nigerian soldiers to carry out the orders to arrest, torture and even execute protesters.
This isn’t the first time the Supreme Court is hearing this case. It was first presented in February and now, justices are looking at whether actions that occur on foreign soil fall under the authority of American courts.
What does this mean to you?
A 1789 law allows foreigners to file lawsuits in the American court system under the Alien Tort Statute. Under this statute, plaintiffs are required to make a claim on how their case violates international law. Only four cases have ever made it to trial.
If the Supreme Court determines that American courts are no longer suitable grounds to hear foreigners’ complaints that occur outside the country, some may argue that America’s international stance on human rights will be tarnished.
Lozman v. The City of Riviera Beach, Florida
Fane Lozman’s “floating home” is at the center of one of the most closely watched property rights cases in recent history. Lozman says his two-story, 6-foot-4-inch floating structure was not a boat, and should not have been seized and destroyed by a court order.
Lozman said his home had no engines, bilge pumps, steering wheel or navigation lights. He claims the same protection against land-based homes should have been used for his floating home, as it was not meant to be a boat.
However, the city of Riviera Beach, Fla., and lower courts have ruled that Lozman’s floating home should be treated like a boat, since it has been towed many times to different places.
What does this mean to you?
This doesn’t just apply to houseboat-owning Floridians. Think about the businesses affected by the outcome of this case.
Owners of floating casinos and restaurants are watching this argument develop as the debate of state law versus federal maritime law could change the way they operate. How vessels are regulated, searched, insured and taxed all differ depending on whether they operate under federal maritime law or state property laws.
Some claim if the court rules in favor of Lozman, houseboats may no longer be used as collateral for loans, further crippling an already dying boating industry. Others claim if the city wins, casino barges would have expensive federal regulations to uphold, causing economic strain on the industry.
Regardless on how the High Court decides, a clearer definition of what constitutes a vessel will be detailed, and state and local governments will have to abide by those rules.
On the Docket is a feature written by Jessica O. Swink and published when the U.S. Supreme Court is in session. Get the latest political news at onPolitix.com, and join in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.