Supreme Court’s day of decisions…and close ones at that.

The Supreme Court have been announcing their decisions from some of the year’s cases this week. An earlier blog post already discusses the Obamacare ruling, which is obviously crucial. However, some notes on today’s rulings are below. Overall: many 5-4 decisions useful for ideology questions; overuling states useful for federalism; overuling the federal bureaucracy useful for checks and balances; and a good number of decisions in which the ‘democratic process’ is questioned and would be useful for a question on the Court’s (unelected) place in a modern democracy. This link gives a great overview of the events of the last few days and the analysis of these decisions from the Court.

Obergefell v Hodges – SAME SEX MARRIAGE

A 5-4 decision (Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, Ginsburg and Kennedy) from the Supreme Court has made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in the US.Unusually, all four dissenters authored a separate dissenting opinion, and notably Roberts opinion suggested that this decision was one for the people’s elected representatives, not the Court, whilst Scalia called it a “judicial putsch” (meaning a coup).This landmark ruling means that the 13 states who did not allow same sex marriage will now have to, and could be used as an example for federalism and the power of the Court. It is worth remembering however that the Court has no power of enforcement however, and telling the States to do it, is not the same as them actually doing it! It is also a useful example of stare decisis given the courts previous ruling of Windsor v US.

Whole Women’s Health v Cole – ABORTION IN TEXAS

In a 5-4 decision (Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer and Kennedy) voted, in an emergency appeal, to stop the implementation of rules in Texas that would force 10 abortion clinics to close. The restrictions required abortion clinics to be set up like surgical units and have hospital admitting privileges. Already 22/41 clinics have been forced to shut since a law from 2013 took effect and these regulations would have closed a further 10. This is only a temporary stop, however, until the Court decides whether to hear the case in full. Nonetheless, we see the four liberals plus Kennedy defending abortion in one of the most conservative states in America – this would be useful for both ideology questions and federalism questions. An important note for democracy, while it could be argued that 9 unelected judges are ruling over states and this is against the principle of federalism, it is also worth noting that someone is needed in a democracy to protect citizens’ rights and that is what the justices are doing for women here.

Glossip v Gloss – LETHAL INJECTION

In a 5-4 decision (Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy) the court ruled that lethal injection using a specific chemical does not violate the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishment). The dissent was particularly scathing however – the majority argued that lethal injection should be allowed as there was no alternative means by which the state could kill them; the dissent argued this was “legally indefensible”. Breyer and Ginsburg went one step further still, suggesting the whole constitutionality of the death penalty was questionable. Scalia replied that having removed the choice about same sex marriage from the ‘democratic process’, these two wanted to remove choice on the death penalty from voters too. While this is a good example of ideological splits on the courts, the unusually antogonistic responses of the Justices to each other shows the legal arguments they employ and speaks somewhat to their neutrality.


In a 5-4 decision (Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy), the Supreme Court halted further implementation of Mercury & Air Toxins Standards rule saying the EPA had failed to take into account the cost of the pollution standards. This is a useful example as it is the Court (unelected) overuling the Federal Bureaucracy (unelected). Kevin McCarthy (House Majority Leader) said, “Today’s decision firmly rejects the Obama administration’s circumvention of the democratic process…and vindicates the House’s legislative actions to rein in bureaucratic overreach”. This is a useful example when looking at checks and balances as well as looking at the Federal Bureaucracy and how it can be kept in check.

Arizona State Legislature v Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission – GERRYMANDERING

A fabulous 5-4 decision that is unusual in my experience of teaching the SC – this is the state voters and state legislature in direct competition. In 2000, bored of gerrymnadering, Arizona voters agreed to Prop 106, setting up an independent board to redraw the electoral boundaries in Arizona instead of the legislature. In this case, the state legislature argued that the Constitution gives this right to them and voters cannot remove it from them. In this decision Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kennedy all sided with the voters of the state saying that the independent body should be allowed to carry this job out. This is a useful example in the necessity and importance of having a neutral and independent court (as it is a state vs it’s own citizens) and useful evidence for Unit 3 about propositions. Obviously it is also useful evidence for federalism but also for the precedent the court sets – five other states use a mixture of commissions and legislature to draw their boundaries, and they are now safe to continue doing so.


Not a decision, but an annoucement – this case is to be heard again by the Supreme Court. The Court first heard the case in 2013, looking at the issue of how race could be used in the University admissions process after Abigail Fisher lost out on a place at the University of Texas, she claims, due to their admissions policy on race. Her claims were rejected by a lower court and when the Supreme Court looked at them, they sent them back to the lower court and instructed they look at them with a more critical eye. They again sided with the University so the Court have annouced they will review the case. This is useful for evidence in Unit 3 for civil rights and will prove interesting for the stare decisis of the court – Grutter v Bollinger held that race could be used as part of a decision for admissions, but that this would not be needed forever. However, crucially, Kagan will recuse herself from the case as she dealt with it at a lower level and this may mean the Court could split 4-4.