Final Decisions in SCOTUS' Term

The Supreme Court wrapped up its 2019-2020 term with a slate of new decisions. The decisions made in these last two weeks have been a mix of surprising, validating, frustrating, and are indicative of a completely unpredictable federal administration in the least predictable period of our modern history. As we all know, Supreme Court decisions have the potential to affect law making and civil rights for multiple generations of Americans so understanding the implications of these decisions is critically important. Let’s dive into the major cases decided on by SCOTUS  in the last weeks of their term. 

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Abortion: June Medical Services v. Russo:

On June 29, the Supreme Court decided on a Louisiana law that required any doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practicing clinic. This law would result in only one doctor at one clinic in all of Louisiana to be legally allowed to perform abortions. The court decided that this law would create in Justice Breyer’s words,  “[a] substantial obstacle” to women while providing “no additional health benefits,” and was therefore unconstitutional. The narrow 5-4 decision upheld women’s rights to choose and access to comprehensive healthcare.  

The biggest shock in this case was that Chief Justice Roberts sided with the courts four liberal learning justices to strike down the Louisiana law. In 2016, Roberts sided on the opposite side of  a nearly identical case involving a Texas law that was also ruled unconstitutional. While Robert’s siding in this case may seem like an ideological shift, he wrote that he sided with the liberal justices merely to uphold the precedent set in the Texas 2016 case, despite his disagreement with it.

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LGBTQ+ workers: Gerald Lynn Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia; Altitude Express v. Melissa Zarda; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

On June 16, SCOTUS decided on a landmark LGBTQ+ rights case, wherein they determined that workers cannot be fired because they are gay or transgender. This is a huge victory for the LGBTQ+ community as it defends their right to work as their authentic selves without fear of termination. The trio of cases were brought by Gerald Bostock, who was fired from Georgia child welfare services after joining a gay softball league, Donald Zarda, who was terminated from his job at a skydiving company after coming out, and Aimee Stephens, a transwoman who was fired from her job as a funeral home director after she began presenting as a woman at work. Only Bostock was alive to hear the decision made by the court, but he was reportedly elated at this historic decision. 

Gorsuch and Roberts sided with the four liberal justices to make this 6-3 decision protecting LGBTQ+ workers. They cited that transgender individuals and an individual’s sexual orientation as being protected under Title VII which prohibits discrimination of employment on the basis of sex. 

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DACA: Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, No. 18-587, Donald Trump v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, No. 18-588 and Kevin McAleenan v. Martin Jonathan Batalla Vidal, No. 18-589:

On June 18, SCOTUS protected the Dreamers, at least in the short term. The series of cases were decided to be unjust attempts of termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration plan, which protects individuals who migrated to the US as children from deportation and allows them work permits within the United States. Chief Justice Roberts sided with the four liberal justices once again and in the 5-4 decision it was determined that the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA went against federal administrative procedure and reflected an “arbitrary and capricious” motive

This ruling unfortunately does not protect the longevity of the program, and the Trump administration could attempt to terminate DACA under new grounds that align with this court decision. However, it seems likely that this will occur before the November presidential election, especially given the current crises our nation is facing. Under a Biden presidency, DACA would most likely be rewritten in a more permanent and protected manner. 

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Affordable Care Act and birth control: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania:

On July 8, the Supreme Court delivered a major blow to women health and employment rights by ruling the Trump administration’s allowed restrictions to birth control access is constitutional. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare), all employers, with the exception of houses of worship, are required to provide cost-free birth control to their employees either through their own company insurance plans or through an outside provider. The Trump administration in 2018 began a fight to allow both religious and non-religious organizations to cite moral or religious objections to contraception and deny birth control access to their employees. SCOTUS, in a 7-2 decision, ruled that such objections were constitutional and as such, any employer can deny cost-free contraception to their employees. This decision puts thousands of women at risk for losing access to equitable, necessary, and affordable healthcare services. 

Two liberal justices, Kagan and Breyer, sided with the five conservative justices on this case because they believed it should be sent back to lower courts for arbitration. 

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Indigenous People’s Rights: McGrit v. Oklahoma:

On July 9, SCOTUS in a somewhat surprising decision, affirmed that the Creek reservation, which expands over roughly half of Oklahoma, continues to exist in its entirety even after Oklahoma achieved statehood. The decision in this case holds consequences for federal and state investigations and litigation. The base of the 5-4 decision was explained in Gorsuch’s majority opinion where he stated that “we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of fed­eral criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

This decision to uphold a historic granting land to the Muscogee Creek people will have the largest impact in the city of Tulsa, as roughly half the city is on reservation land. This ruling will also determine how civil and criminal legal cases are tried and under which jurisdiction crimes are investigated.

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Ever famous Trump tax returns: Trump v. Vance and Trump v. Mazars:

On July 9, the court also made a stand on Trump’s tax returns, saying he has no absolute immunity to refuse a Manhattan DA’s subpoena for his tax returns and financial records. These cases were decided by a 7-2 majority, with Roberts, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh deciding with the court’s four liberal justices. While this may seem like a victory and may finally force Trump to disclose his financial records, as every president has done voluntarily since Carter, there is very little chance he will actually hand them over. This decision merely sends the case back to lower courts where Trump’s team of lawyers can put up other defenses against releasing his tax returns. This continued litigation would last well past the November elections.

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These decisions made headlines in the last weeks of the Supreme Courts’ term, and showed both victories for the Trump administration as well as defeats. The court, and Justice Roberts in particular, continue to be a commanding check against this administration and Congress, and with this new set of precedents, will likely continue to be. Don’t forget this November, you aren’t just voting between two old, white male candidates for the Presidency, you are voting for the next set of justices to sit on the bench and shape the future for generations of Americans. So if you are an issue voter, make this your issue and vote for the candidate who will nominate justices that will uphold and protect your rights and beliefs. 

Sources: 12345678

Photos: Her Campus Media