Monday, just a few days after the shootings in San Bernardino, California, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it won't hear a challenge to a Chicago suburb's ban on semiautomatic weapons. Tuesday, in the wake of a semester's turmoil over race on campuses from Missouri to New Haven, the court is hearing a challenge to affirmative action.
Coincidence? Well, sort of.
The court's actions -- refusing to hear the gun challenge while considering affirmative action -- are case studies of judicial timing that raise a broader question: How is the court influenced by day-to-day headlines and current events? The answer turns out to be more complicated, and more interesting, than you might think.
To start with, it's important to remember that the justices are limited in their actions and case selection by parties' decision to ask them for review. Unlike, say, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which opens cases on its own motion (sua moto, in law Latin), the U.S. court can't actively shape its own agenda.