A Brief Guide to the Recent Supreme Court Decisions

Ryan Bhandari |

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It’s been a big week for the Supreme Court. They have made a number of decisions in the last week that will shape the way the country operates moving forward. Here’s a brief recap of all the decisions the High Court handed down last week.

Glossip v. Gross

June 29, 2015

5-4: Gross

In April 2014, Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett, using midazolam and it went very poorly. Mr. Lockett suffered heavily before he died. Consequently, roughly twenty death row inmates sued the state of Oklahoma saying that their 8th Amendment right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment was being violated. I would argue the death penalty itself is an exercise of cruel and unusual punishment, but the plaintiffs in this case were just asking for different drugs to be used in the lethal injections. In a 5-4 ruling, with Justice Kennedy joining the four conservatives, the High Court ruled that use of midazolam was not in fact cruel and unusual and that because the plaintiffs failed to provide a credible alternative, the court had no choice but to allow the state of Oklahoma to continue using the drug.

Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

June 29, 2015

5-4: Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

This case pitted the legislature against and independent commission in Arizona that was tasked with drawing borders for Congressional districts in Arizona. The independent commission was created to prevent gerrymandering in the state. The Arizona Legislature challenged the legality of such a commission petitioning that they themselves were the only ones allowed to redraw district borders. Ultimately, in a 5-4 decision, with Justice Kennedy joining the four liberal justices, the High Court ruled that the Independent Redistricting Commission is a legal entity and has the right to continue drawing the districts for Arizona.

Michigan v. EPA

June 29, 2015

5-4: Michigan

This case was all about coal. The EPA, under the direction of the Obama administration, laid out a new set of regulations last year regarding emissions from coal plants. These new regulation had already led to several coal plants closing down because they couldn’t meet the requirements. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision where Justice Kennedy joined the four conservatives, ruled that the EPA failed to take into account the costs that the new regulations would impose on the industry. This is a violation of the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court didn’t strike down the regulations, but they did rule that the EPA would have to do an extensive cost-benefit analysis before they can reinstate the regulations.

Obergefell v. Hodges

June 26, 2015

5-4: Obergefell

In this landmark decision that will be remembered for decades to come, the Supreme Court ruled that all 50 states had to recognize same-sex marriage, that marriage licenses could no longer be denied to people from the state based on their sexuality. The 5-4 decision saw the High Court’s 4 liberal justices join Anthony Kennedy in reaffirming the rights for same-sex couples all cross the countries.

King v. Burwell

June 25, 2015

6-3: Burwell

In this, the second landmark decision that has affected the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court ruled that residents receiving insurance plans through the federal healthcare exchange are still entitled to receive those subsidies. The ruling came down to a few words in the original text of the law. If the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of King, the healthcare system would have been thrown into chaos as seven million people lost their healthcare insurance. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court’s four liberal justices in the majority ruling.

Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project

June 25, 2015

5-4: Inclusive Communities Project

In this decision, the Supreme Court ruled it is illegal for states to spend federal housing money in ways that perpetuate segregation. Local governments were using federal housing dollars to construct homes in predominately black and Hispanic ghettos with poor access to quality education and safety. This decision effectively pushes federal housing dollars in racially integrated, higher income areas with better schools and more job opportunities. The court’s four liberal justices sided with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, in this case. 

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