The U.S. Supreme Court begins its new term on the first Monday of October. WGBH Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Northeastern University law professor and WGBH legal analyst Daniel Medwed about a few of the cases the Supreme Court intends to consider in this new term. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: So I know you have a keen interest in criminal law. We're going to focus on that [and] some of the key cases looming on the oral argument calendar. What are you looking at?

Daniel Medwed: Well, there are a couple big ones, actually, for next Monday. The one I have my eye on is a case called Kahler v. Kansas, and it concerns whether it's unconstitutional to abolish the insanity defense. Under the classic insanity defense, a defendant will claim that because of a mental disease or defect they didn't know what was happening at the time of the crime, or they couldn't differentiate right from wrong.

The consequence of a successful insanity defense [isn’t going] home, you just get dispatched to a secure mental health facility for an indefinite period of time. So for that reason, it's unclear whether it's really advantageous in a lot of cases as opposed to a fixed prison term. It's only raised in about a quarter of one percent of cases. However, it's important as a safety valve out there for certain cases. In any event, after John Hinckley Jr. got a successful insanity defense when he was charged with trying to assassinate President Ronald Reagan back in the 1980s, there was a big backlash. Now four states — Kansas, Utah, Idaho and Montana — have abolished the insanity defense. So this case, Kahler v. Kansas, concerns whether that's constitutional.

Mathieu: So how do you think it'll turn out?

Medwed: Well, I actually think that the Supreme Court is going to uphold the Kansas approach, and here's why. First, there are a lot of what people call originalists on the Supreme Court —justices who look at the original intent of the Constitution and look at everything through that lens. Technically Kahler is saying that this is an Eighth Amendment violation; it’s cruel and unusual punishment to take away the insanity defense. At the time of the Eighth Amendment, insanity wasn't an entrenched part of the legal landscape. It didn't evolve until 1843, when there was a seminal case in England called McNaughton. So I think the originalists will say it's not cruel and unusual when we look back at the time of the Eighth Amendment. Second, even though Kansas has eradicated the insanity defense, it still allows defendants to bring mental illness into dispute in a case. So for instance, say a prosecutor has charged you with intentionally killing someone. In Kansas you could say, 'Because of my mental disease or defect, I couldn't form that intent. I didn't have the capacity to intend to do something.' So even though you technically can't use the insanity defense in Topeka or Kansas City, you can bring these issues through another vehicle. So I think that Kansas will survive.

Mathieu: Which other criminal law cases are getting your attention?

Medwed: Another one on the calendar for the first Monday in October is a case called Ramos v. Louisiana. And that one relates to whether it is constitutional for a state to have non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. Now, the Sixth Amendment of our federal constitution requires unanimous jury verdicts. The issue here is whether the 14th Amendment to the constitution — that was passed after the Civil War — has fully incorporated this sixth amendment guarantee and made it applicable to the states. Not every federal constitutional right is incorporated and fully applicable to the states. So what happened here is that a guy named Evangelisto Ramos was convicted of murder in Louisiana, when only 10 of the 12 jurors voted to convict; the other two didn't want to convict him. In most states that's a mistrial, but in Louisiana that was enough to convict. The question is, is it constitutional to allow for non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases?

Mathieu: I’ve never heard of that. How many states allow a non-unanimous jury verdicts?

Medwed: Well, it's quite rare. For a long time it was just Louisiana and Oregon. And get this: Louisiana just got rid of its non-unanimous jury verdict policy last year. It passed a state constitutional amendment. So we're just left with Oregon. But still this case is really significant, because it goes to issues of states' rights and issues of the extent to which we protect criminal defendants. So I think it's an important case. We'll just have to watch it.