DemDaily: The Last Orders of the Supreme Court

July 6, 2022

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has recessed for the summer, leaving behind a trail of devastating rulings at the hands of the Court's conservative supermajority.

The final decisions of the High Court are traditional among the most impactful rulings and those announced in June were no exception.

While the decision to overturn the nation's federal abortion protections dominated the docket, setting off outrage and ongoing protests across the country, others have inflicted equal damage in the arenas of gun safety, separation of church and state, climate change and sovereign rights.

Abortion
Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization (6-3)
In the 6-3 ruling authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the justices upheld a 2018 Mississippi law that bans virtually all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

While Chief Justice John Roberts joined his conservative colleagues in upholding the restrictive Mississippi law, he disagreed with their decision to eliminate the fundamental right to abortion established nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade.

In a joint dissent, liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor stated, "In overruling Roe and Casey, this Court betrays its guiding principles. With sorrow -- for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection, we dissent."

The stunning reversal of a woman's right to choose turns the authority to implement related legislation over to individual states, eight of which have already enacted laws banning abortion.

See: DemDaily: Supreme Court Silences Roe 6/24/22

Climate Change
West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (6-3)
In a severe blow to combatting climate change, the Court rolled back the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce the carbon output of existing power plants. The decision risks putting the United States even further off track from the president’s goal of running the nation’s power grid on clean energy by 2035.

The majority decision, written by Roberts, reinforces a view that too much power is vested in executive branch agencies. “Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’ but it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”

Writing for the minority, Kagan stated, “The Court appoints itself -- instead of Congress or the expert agency -- the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”

Indian Law
Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta (5-4)
In a severe setback to the sovereignty of tribes over their land and governance, the Supreme Court ruled that state governments have the authority to prosecute certain cases on tribal lands, effectively undermining 200 years of legal precedent recognizing the right of tribal nations to self-govern without being infringed by the states.

The case involved Oklahoma's challenge to the High Court's 2020 McGirt ruling, which affirmed the authority of tribal nations in eastern Oklahoma to prosecute violent crimes by or against Native Americans that happened on those tribes’ lands. The surprise decision didn't invalidate McGirt, but significantly narrowed it by finding that state authorities, not just in Oklahoma but also across the country, have authority alongside tribal and federal governments.

The court’s majority opinion, written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, found that “as a matter of state sovereignty, a State has jurisdiction over all of its territory, including Indian country.”

The scathing dissent written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, and joined by the court's three liberals, stated, “Where this Court once stood firm, today it wilts.”

School Prayer
Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (6-3)
The Court sided with a former high school football coach who was fired after leading postgame prayers on the 50-yard line.

As noted by the American Constitution Society, "the Supreme Court effectively repudiated its Establishment Clause jurisprudence of the past 75 years, including the School Prayer Cases (first established in 1962), and left nothing in its wake to prevent the government and its agents from using religion as an engine of policy."

In essence, the Court's opinion, penned by Gorsuch, favored the protection of religious faith over concerns about government endorsement of religion, using the Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and religious exercise as thinly veiled justification.

In the dissent, Sotomayor wrote that the majority “elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise...over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all.”

Separation of Church and State
Carson v. Makin (6-3)
In the same week and ideological split, the conservative majority invalidated a Maine tuition program, ruling that the state cannot bar religious schools from receiving public grants extended to other private schools.

The Court ruled in favor of two Maine families who sued after the state said they could not use public tuition assistance to send their teenagers to Christian schools, saying Maine could not exclude religious institutions from the program because it was discriminatory, violating the Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause.

The decision marks a victory for proponents of school privatization and school choice, opening the door for religious institutions to access public funds.

Second Amendment
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (6-3)
In the first major Second Amendment ruling in more than a decade, the justices overturned New York's 111-year-old strict license requirement for caring guns in public as unconstitutional.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Second Amendment's "constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not 'a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees."

The implications of the case, however, are much broader, putting at risk similar laws in Maryland, California, New Jersey, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the dissent, “The question before us concerns the extent to which the Second Amendment prevents democratically elected officials from enacting laws to address the serious problem of gun violence. And yet the Court today purports to answer that question without discussing the nature or severity of that problem.”

See: DemDaily: Gun Safety Legislation: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back 6/27/22

Immigration
Biden v. Texas (5-4)
In one of the few victories for President Biden this term, the Supreme Court ruled the administration has the authority to reverse a Trump-era policy that requires asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are reviewed in US courts.

Roberts and Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberal justices in saying that lower courts had gone too far in requiring Biden to keep in place policies that intruded on his ability to carry out the nation’s immigration procedures and foreign policy.

Also on the Supreme CourtDemDaily: Changing of The Guard. KBJ Sworn In to Supreme Court 7/1/22

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Sources: Washington Post, ScotusBlog, ACSLaw, NBC, CNN

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