Five Final Cases for SCOTUS

The United States Supreme Court has five final cases to decide, including same-sex marriage. Does today’s decision give us any clue as to how the judges will rule on the remaining cases? Joining us are Harold J. Krent, dean and professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law; David L. Franklin, associate dean and associate professor of law at DePaul University; and Jacob Huebert, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center.

The end of June marks the end of another term for the U.S. Supreme Court, and it seems the justices are saving many of their decisions for the very end. Two rulings were handed down on Thursday: one which upheld the Affordable Care Act and another that said housing discrimination need not be intentional in order to be illegal.

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The high court is expected to announce more decisions Friday and Monday, June 29. Here’s what’s left to be determined.

Same-sex marriage

Obergefell v. Hodges et. al.

The court has been presented with two questions on this topic resulting from six separate cases from Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The first is whether states may impose bans on same-sex marriage. The second is whether same-sex marriages performed in the 37 states that allow it must be recognized by states that do not. The answers to these questions depend heavily on the court’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under the law.

The Obama administration supports the couples challenging bans on same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court has previously decided in favor of gay couples in similar cases. However, when oral arguments were presented in April, the justices seemed divided.

All eyes are on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered a swing vote. In April, Kennedy said that the “traditional” definition of marriage, between a man and a woman, “has been with us for millennia. And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘oh, well, we know better.’” Still, Kennedy seemed tough on John Bursch, one of the lawyers for states that ban same-sex marriage, asking how same-sex marriages harm traditional ones.

Lethal injection

Glossip v. Gross

This case is being brought by three death row inmates from Oklahoma. In that state and several others, inmates are put to death using a cocktail of three drugs. The first to be administered is a sedative called midazolam, which is intended to put inmates in a coma-like state in order to protect them from pain and suffering as the other two drugs are administered, causing the inmate to die.

Midazolam has been linked to previous botched executions, where the inmate wasn’t in a deep enough state of unconsciousness and experienced great pain as the second two drugs were administered. The inmates bringing this case claim that the use of this unreliable drug violates the Eighth Amendment, as it exposes them to the risk of severe pain as they are put death.


Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent redistricting Commission

The central question of this case is who the Founding Fathers intended to establish congressional districts.

In 2000, voters in Arizona passed a constitutional amendment that shifted the power to draw congressional districts away from the state legislature and gave it to an independent redistricting commission consisting of two Democrats, two Republicans, and an independent. The purpose of this shift was to avoid “gerrymandering,” a practice where legislators redraw congressional district lines in a way that protects their parties’ seats rather than risk an open contest.

Article I of the Constitution states that “the times, places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” The Arizona legislature argued that this article grants that power solely to state legislatures, and that only Congress has the power to change that.

Power-plant emissions

Michigan v. EPA

The court will decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act by limiting emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants emitted from power plants before engaging in a cost-benefit analysis.

These regulations would cost the industry $9.6 billion annually. “It begins to look a little irrational to say, I’m not going to take it into account at all,’” Justice Stephen Bryer said when oral arguments were presented in March.

However, the government claims that it was appropriate to consider only public health risks, disregarding industry costs, since the Clean Air Act didn’t reference costs when requiring the EPA to adopt “appropriate and necessary” emissions.

Violent crime

Johnson v. United States

The Armed Career Criminal Act sets mandatory minimum sentences for federal firearms offenders who have three previous convictions for “violent felonies.” Some claim that this law is unconstitutional because it’s too vague in defining what constitutes a “violent felony,” unnecessarily placing greater punishment on minor offenders. The justices will determine whether this law is too vague.

The case involves a white supremacist accused of manufacturing napalm. Law enforcement says it needs to be able to interpret the law broadly in order to bargain in plea negotiations and put away potentially dangerous criminals.

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