The Supreme Court is set this week to begin announcing major decisions on roughly a dozen remaining cases, including contentious ones on abortion and immigration. Rulings on this season’s lineup of cases were made complicated by the unexpected death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia — leaving the bench with four remaining conservative justices and four liberal ones.
“Eight, as you know, is not a good number for a multi-member court,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently said. “That means no opinions and no precedential value; an equal division is essentially the same as a denial of review.”
The rulings will be released from the bench beginning Monday, with the high court typically waiting until the last week of June to announce those on the more contentious issues, in a tradition known as “spring flood” and right before the justices go on summer recess. Here are a number of those major cases awaiting decisions:
- AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The case could be a definitive, landmark ruling on the use of race in public university admissions. Justice Elena Kagan has already recused, meaning conservatives might have a 4-3 edge to cut back on such policies. Or Kennedy could side with his more liberal colleagues to uphold the school’s diversity model. The justices first heard the case three years ago but essentially sidestepped a binding resolution. The court at the time affirmed the use of race in the admissions process but made it harder for institutions to use such policies to achieve diversity. The 7-1 decision avoided the larger constitutional issues.
- ABORTION ACCESS: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. The constitutionality of a Texas law requires all clinics performing abortions in the state to be “ambulatory surgical centers” and that doctors performing abortions first obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Lawmakers in the state’s Republican-majority Legislature have said the regulations contained in the 2013 law — known as H.B. 1 — would improve patient care and safety. Abortion rights groups argue the law is designed to make it nearly impossible to operate an abortion clinic in Texas. Only 10 such health centers would qualify to stay open, and large areas west and south of San Antonio would have no full-time abortion providers.
- EXECUTIVE POWER: U.S. v. Texas. The case is a multi-state challenge to the president’s use of executive power to block certain undocumented aliens from being deported, despite being in the country illegally. A tie decision would essentially be a win for the states, since the lower courts have put the president’s programs on hold. At issue is whether as many as 4 million immigrants can be spared deportation — including many who entered the U.S. illegally as children, or those who are parents of citizens or legal residents. The president’s programs — known as the Deferred Action for Parents of American Citizens and Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — effectively went around the Republican-led Congress. Opponents — including 26 states and GOP members of Congress — say the White House’s broad immigration policy plan exceeds constitutional power.
- PUBLIC CORRUPTION: McDonnell v. U.S. The case addresses the definition of “official acts” that can lead to being prosecuted for public corruption. Virginia’s former GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell was convicted of providing favors to a friend and benefactor. In oral arguments from April, a majority of justices appeared poised to void McDonnell’s conviction and place new limits on the reach of federal bribery laws. Several on the court, across the ideological spectrum, expressed major concerns that the laws give prosecutors too much power to criminalize the everyday acts that politician perform to help constituents.
- SEARCH AND SEIZURE: Birchfield v. North Dakota; Bernard v. Minnesota; Beylund v. Levi. The justices are considering the constitutionality of warrantless roadside drunk-driving tests and of assumed consent to such tests. The high court also expressed doubts in oral arguments about laws in at least a dozen states. Drivers prosecuted under those provisions claim they violate the Constitution’s 4th Amendment protections. Some states suggested it would be too burdensome in many instances to seek an expedited search warrant every time.
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