2016 has come and gone, leaving us with some major rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States on many current issues including immigration, abortion and gun ownership.
2016 also witnessed the death of the conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, leaving eight justices split between 4 conservatives and 4 liberals on the Supreme Court bench. When such a situation occurs, each time there was a 4 – 4 ruling, the decision of the lower court would stay. However, there would be no written opinion, and the decision would not have a precedential effect. SCOTUS would most likely rehear these cases when a new justice is appointed.
Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, 579 U.S. ___ (2016)
In 2013, Texas passed a law that placed restrictions and requirements on abortion clinics and centers causing the number of clinics to decline by more than half. Whole Woman’s Health, a gynecology and abortion care provider filed a lawsuit claiming that the law was unnecessary, expensive and limits a woman’s right to abortion access.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that the admitting privileges and requirements significantly hindered women from their right and access to abortion, which violated the Constitution. The decision met praise from the public and significant figures who called it a victory for women’s rights to safe, legal and affordable reproductive and healthcare.
Fisher v. University of Texas, 579 U.S. ____ (2016)
In 2008, Abigail N. Fisher and Rachel M. Michalewicz were denied admission to the University of Texas, Austin. Both women, who were white, sued the University for denying them admission on the basis of their race and violating their Fourteenth Amendment rights, specifically, the Equal Protection Clause that prohibits racial discrimination.
The Supreme Court ruled 4-3 (Justice Kagan had recused herself) in favor of the lower court’s judgement that the university’s basis for having goals of a racially-diverse student body was adequate and that the petitioners did not express any way in which the University could have made its race-neutral efforts better. SCOTUS ruled that the lower court’s application of strict scrutiny to determine whether the University’s admission policy was valid.
United States v. Texas, 579 U.S. ___ (2016)
In 2014, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program – an immigration policy that grants deferred action status to illegal immigrants who have been living in the U.S. since 2010 and have children who are American citizens. Deferred action status includes a 3-year, renewable work permit and freedom from deportation. Texas, along with 25 other states, sued the Obama administration, claiming it violated Constitutional statutes citing the Administrative Procedure Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act. The petitioners won a preliminary injunction that prevented the program from going into effect. The Obama Administration appealed.
The Supreme Court split 4-4 in its decision, and as a result, the ruling of the lower court remained in place. In other words, the court was divided in its opinion and the injunction continues to block the program. This decision prevents about 3.7 million immigrants from getting deferred action status, however, there is a possibility that SCOTUS will hear the case again when a ninth judge has been appointed.
Foster v. Chatman, 578 U.S. ___ (2016)
In 1986, 18-year-old Timothy Foster was arrested for the assault, robbery and murder of a retired school teacher in Georgia. At the time of jury selection, the prosecutors removed all black prospective jurors, resulting in an all-white jury. The judge dismissed Foster’s challenge against these strikes, convicted him for the murder and sentenced him to death. Foster filed a motion for a new trial which was denied. He then requested the prosecution’s document regarding jury selection and found evidence for a racially-motivated jury selection. This was dismissed as well.
However, the Supreme Court issued a notification that they would hear the case, subject to jurisdictional issues and ruled 7-1 that it did indeed have jurisdiction to do so and that there was significant willful racial discrimination in the selection of the jury. The discrimination against Foster had violated the Batson ruling which established a test to ensure that the removal of a juror was always race-neutral.
McDonnell v. United States, 579 U.S. ___ (2016)
A case on corruption, this was an appeals case filed by McDonnell who was convicted for taking money in exchange for desired ‘official acts’ while in government. In other words, McDonnell, the former Governor of Virginia, was convicted for taking bribes in exchange for exercising official duties to the profit of a businessman. McDonnell appealed.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously and vacated McDonnell’s conviction, stating that the actions for which McDonnell was prosecuted in the corruption charge were not ‘official acts’ within the federal bribery statutes.
While these five decisions are only a handful of the many significant rulings that SCOTUS made during the 2015 and 2016 terms, the five rulings mentioned above had a major effect on the American people, inciting countless concurring and dissenting opinions. While 2016 was certainly impactful, 2017 has just as many significant decisions to come including those on the death sentence, voting rights and racial discrimination.
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