It's early October, which means a new term is officially underway at the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's term is in full swing. GBH News legal analyst and Northeastern Law Professor Daniel Medwed joined GBH’s Morning Edition co-hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to talk about two prominent cases. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Jeremy Siegel: Let's start with the Supreme Court. Their term just began yesterday. What's happening there this morning?

Daniel Medwed: This morning, the justices will hear a pair of arguments that involve a challenge to how Alabama drew up its electoral map. Alabama has seven congressional districts and even though its population is 27 percent Black. The way that the Republican-dominated legislature separated the districts effectively means that Black voters realistically only have a chance to elect their preferred candidate in one of those seven districts. Frankly, if you look at this map, it looks like a toddler's Etch-A-Sketch gone wild. Remember that game? It's a series of zigs and zags that do not correspond with natural boundaries like rivers, or county lines, but presumably just track demographic trends. That appears to be a blatant attempt to dilute the voting strength of the Black population of Alabama. So the Supreme Court is going to take a look this morning and see whether or not it passes legal muster.

Paris Alston: So, Daniel, what exactly is the legal challenge in this case? Is it a question of constitutionality? Is it more so federal law or Alabama state law?

Medwed: It's a little bit of a blend of both federal statutory law — legislation that's been drafted and enacted by Congress — and constitutional law. A group of registered voters and civil rights organizations have challenged this electoral map on the basis of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was one of those landmark laws passed during the Johnson administration. And specifically, Section Two of the VRA prohibits state electoral practices that result in a dilution of political opportunity for people of color. That argument, the argument that this map did dilute the Black vote, prevailed down below. A lower court judge said, you know what, this map should be tossed out. But Alabama and a bunch of other Republican-controlled states sought further review from the Supreme Court. Perhaps they thought they'd get a better or friendlier reception there. And their argument essentially is that the Voting Rights Act, as interpreted here, violates the Constitution.

Siegel: If at issue here is the Voting Rights Act, could that law actually be in jeopardy with a ruling in this if Alabama ended up winning this case?

Medwed: Well, on the one hand, I hope not. You know, I think that the voters and the civil rights organizations have the better interpretation of the law, at least based on precedent. The Voting Rights Act is grounded in the 15th Amendment of the Constitution. That was the provision that was ratified shortly after the Civil War, that in 1870 that gave Black men and later Black women the right to vote. And the 15th Amendment includes what's called broad enforcement powers for Congress. Congress has the power to safeguard the 15th Amendment through 'appropriate legislation.' And over the past 57 years, it seems pretty darn clear that the Voting Rights Act is appropriate legislation, if we're going to protect Black voters and ensure that they have a true franchise, a true right to vote.

On the other hand, we've talked about this, like many people have over the past few months — the increased politicization on the Supreme Court and the decreased regard for case precedent makes me fear that the conservative majority, which now numbers six justices, took this case with the aim of potentially gutting the Voting Rights Act. I don't want to be alarmist, but that is a risk here.

"The increased politicization on the Supreme Court and the decreased regard for case precedent makes me fear that the conservative majority, which now numbers six justices, took this case with the aim of potentially gutting the Voting Rights Act."
-GBH News Legal Analyst Daniel Medwed

Alston: Daniel, this reminds me of my home state of North Carolina that also had a racial gerrymandering case that went to the Supreme Court, that ended up being ruled unconstitutional in 2017. So it's really interesting to see the court trending in this ideological shift in this way. But moving even closer to home, what's going on at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court this week?

Medwed: Well, at the SJC, there are a bunch of cases. I think the one that caught my eye is an employment law case that was actually heard yesterday, on Monday. Here's what happened: A state trooper named Nathaniel Perez was charged with a number of crimes. And while those charges were pending, the Massachusetts State Police suspended him without pay. Nine months later, those criminal charges were dismissed without either a finding or a verdict of guilt, and Perez was reinstated at full pay. He then asked the state police for backpay. He wanted his lost wages, his seniority status, his vacation accrual time, sick leave and so on. The state police balked. They refused to give him the back pay. So he filed a lawsuit. And so far he's lost twice, in Middlesex Superior Court and in the appeals court, and has sought further review in the SJC.

Siegel: Is there not a law already on the books in Massachusetts that says whether you should do this?

Medwed: One would think, and there actually is. I didn't know about it, frankly, until I started looking at this case. It's called the Perry Law. And it says that if state employees are suspended like this solely because a criminal indictment is pending, and then later there's not a finding of guilt or a verdict of guilt, then they can get reimbursed for their back pay and other benefits.

However, in this case, the Massachusetts State Police are arguing that Perez was suspended pursuant to their internal rules and regulations, and therefore the Perry law doesn't apply — that, in effect, the Perry law isn't mandatory, it's discretionary. So I think a lot of people in the employment and labor sphere are watching this case to see whether or not the Perry law is going to be, in fact, rendered toothless, or whether state agencies are going to be held accountable to reimburse people in situations like this.