Here Are Major Rulings We'll Get From the Supreme Court This WeekGreg Stohr
The U.S. Supreme Court is saving the best for last.
The nation’s top court will issue a series of major rulings over the next several days as it closes its nine-month term. In addition to landmark gay-marriage and Obamacare cases, the court will decide on potentially far-reaching disputes involving housing discrimination, redistricting, air pollution and lethal injection.
“Almost all of the remaining rulings have huge implications and promise to be closely divided,” said Tom Goldstein, a Washington appellate lawyer whose Scotusblog website tracks the court.
The first of seven rulings will come at 10 a.m. Washington time Thursday, with more scheduled for Friday and Monday. The court doesn’t say in advance which decisions are being released which day, but it almost always resolves all its pending cases by the end of June.
Before they pack up, the justices will also say whether they will supplement the session that starts in October with new cases on abortion, affirmative action and union fees.
Here’s what’s coming from the Supreme Court over the next week:
No case is bigger than the one that could legalize same-sex weddings nationwide. Only 11 years after Massachusetts became the first gay-marriage state, the court would be putting the capstone on the biggest civil rights transformation in a half-century.
The court’s actions until now have created a wide expectation that a majority will back marriage rights, with Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the pivotal vote. Since October, the justices have let weddings begin in 17 states that once had bans, refusing to halt lower court rulings.
Gay-rights advocates are hoping the court is ready to finish the job, bringing marriage rights to the last 14 states that still ban the practice.
Three years after upholding President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law against a broad constitutional challenge, the court will decide whether a four-word phrase will severely undercut the measure.
The question is whether the law’s tax credits, designed to help make insurance affordable, are available nationwide or only in the 16 states that have authorized their own online exchanges. One provision in the law says those subsidies are available only on an exchange “established by the state.”
A ruling against the subsidies could leave more than 6 million people without insurance. A ruling in favor would preserve the president’s biggest domestic accomplishment.
The swing votes most likely belong to Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts, who cast the decisive vote to save Obamacare three years ago.
The biggest race case of the term may produce a long-sought legal victory for lenders and insurers, as well as social conservatives. The court is poised to say whether people suing under the U.S. Fair Housing Act can win their case without showing intentional discrimination.
For decades, lower courts have said plaintiffs can instead make a statistical case that a disputed policy has a “disparate impact” on a minority group. The Obama administration has relied on the disparate-impact approach to get hundreds of millions of dollars in fair-lending settlements from financial-services companies.
The court’s decision to take the case suggested that Roberts and the conservative majority were ready to abolish disparate-impact suits. During arguments in January, Justice Antonin Scalia emerged as the unlikely swing vote and the best hope for civil rights groups to save disparate impact.
The April 29 argument over lethal injection methods might have been the most heated of the term, with one justice accusing death penalty opponents of waging a “guerrilla war” and another saying she couldn’t trust a state lawyer.
The Oklahoma case, the court’s first look at capital punishment methods since 2008, centers on a sedative used in three botched executions last year. Critics say the drug, midazolam, can’t reliably put inmates into the coma-like state needed to ensure against excruciating pain during execution.
The circumstances that surrounded the decision to take up the case suggest the court will allow midazolam by a single vote. Less than two weeks before the court accepted the case, five of the nine justices voted to allow an execution using midazolam.
The utility industry and a group of states are trying to topple an Environmental Protection Agency rule that would cut mercury and other hazardous emissions from 460 coal-fired power plants. The challengers say the agency didn’t adequately consider the multibillion-dollar price tag.
The court’s system for assigning opinions suggests the ruling’s author will be Scalia, the only justice yet to issue a majority opinion in a case argued during the two-week session in late March. That bodes poorly for the administration because Scalia was critical of the EPA during arguments.
A ruling against the administration wouldn’t necessarily doom the regulation. The court could leave room for the EPA to reissue the rule, and the justices might even leave the rule intact while the agency conducts a new analysis.
The court may deal a fresh blow to efforts to make federal elections more competitive by barring states from setting up independent commissions to draw congressional district boundaries. The issue is whether an Arizona commission strips state lawmakers of power reserved to them by the U.S. Constitution.
A ruling against the commission would let Arizona’s Republicans redraw that state’s map and potentially capture two more congressional seats. The decision also might kill a similar panel in California and let Democrats there shift lines to their advantage.
The court previously has refused to put limits on partisan redistricting. Under Chief Justice Roberts, the justices also have struck down campaign-finance regulations aimed at curbing the influence of money.