June 28, 2016

Supreme Court Update III June 2016

On Monday, the Supreme Court finished its 2015-16 term. Since last Tuesday, the court has released decisions in its final eight cases, including decisions on the president’s executive amnesty and health restrictions on abortion facilities. This brings the number of decisions announced since Justice Scalia’s death to 61. The court split in only four of these cases, while 23 were unanimous.

The more notable decisions of last week were:




Executive Amnesty

In U.S. v. Texas, the Supreme Court split 4-4, unable to reach a decision either way on executive amnesty. At issue in the case was the correctness of a preliminary injunction put in place by the district court and upheld by the 5th Circuit. Because the Supreme Court split, the lower court’s preliminary injunction was affirmed by default. The president almost certainly will not be able to implement his executive amnesty program before the end of his term. The next president will decide whether to scrap the misguided program or to continue litigating Obama’s abuse of executive power.


Affirmative Action in University Admissions

In Fisher v. University of Texas, the court issued a 4-3 decision, holding that the use of racial preferences by the University of Texas in its college admissions process is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. In upholding this admissions program, the Court rejected Fisher’s claim, among others, that the university did not need to consider race because it had already achieved a critical mass of diversity using the state’s “Top Ten Percent Plan.”

The Supreme Court reviewed the UT admissions program in 2013, and returned it to the 5th Circuit for further consideration, saying the 5th Circuit did not evaluate the program under the strict scrutiny test. The court’s ruling last week held that the UT admissions program survived that test.


Restrictions on Abortion Facilities

The court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt held unconstitutional Texas state laws requiring abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers and doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital. The majority, consisting of the liberal justices and Justice Kennedy, found that the health-related problems the law sought to cure were too rare to justify the change in law, while the restrictions placed a “substantial obstacle” in a woman’s path to an abortion by reducing the number of abortion facilities in the state. Therefore, the court concluded, the laws constituted an “undue burden” on abortion access, violating the Constitution.

Blood Alcohol Testing without a Warrant

In Birchfield v. North Dakota, the court considered the constitutionality of state laws that make it a crime to refuse a blood alcohol test in the absence of a warrant. The court held that it was constitutional for states to criminalize refusing to take a breathalyzer test, but not an actual blood test. Piercing the skin is too great an intrusion of privacy to occur without a warrant, they held. Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg concurred, stating that she would hold both laws unconstitutional. Justice Thomas reached the opposite conclusion, finding both constitutional.


Appeal of Gov. McDonnell’s Public Corruption Conviction

The court unanimously vacated the criminal conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell for committing an “official act” in exchange for $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits. The court found that “setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an ‘official act.’”

Issue Tag: Judiciary