It’s a Wrap at the U.S. Supreme Court

June 29, 2015

It’s a Wrap at the U.S. Supreme Court – 6/29/2015

It’s a wrap! The U.S. Supreme Court issued its last three opinions for the 2014-15 Term this morning. (Links are to SCOTUSblog pages, which have links to the Court opinions and other material.)

In Glossip v. Gross, No. 14-7955, the lethal injection/cruel and unusual punishment case, a 5-4 majority ruled against death row inmates on a claim about the use of midazolam, a part of the three-drug protocol for lethal injections. The inmates claimed using midazolam—used because states cannot purchase other drugs,. because manufacturers will not sell them for use in the execution process—may cause them to suffer unreasonable harm when the other two drugs are administered. According to the majority, in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proof.

The real action in Glossip involved capital punishment, yes or no. Justices Stephen Breyer and Antonin Scalia duked it out, with one more civil than the other, in that order. In the first paragraph of Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent he wrote: “… rather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.” In this regard Justice Breyer is channeling Justice Harry Blackmun. Justice Blackmun wrote a dissent in Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994), a routine death penalty case, in which he began his seventh paragraph with these words: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” (Read the Blackmun dissent; it’s powerful. Alas, more than 21 years later, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.) No words here about the Scalia concurrence.

Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, No. 13-1314, involved the constitutionality of Arizona’s independent redistricting commission. In another 5-4 decision, this one written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka Notorious RBG, the majority held that taking redistricting away from a legislative body does not violate the Elections Clause in Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. Big takeaway line?

The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering and, thereby, to ensure that Members of Congress would have “an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people.” The Federalist No. 57, at 350 (J. Madison). In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore “the core principle of republican government,” namely, “that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.” Berman, Managing Gerrymandering, 83 Texas L. Rev. 781 (2005). The Elections Clause does not hinder that endeavor.

(Congrats to my friends on the Commission. Winning in the U.S. Supreme Court is so cool!)

Finally, the Court ruled, again 5-4, against the Environmental Protection Agency in Michigan v. EPA, No. 14-46. The case involved technical requirements associated with regulating air pollutants coming from power plants. Justice Scalia wrote for the majority, holding that if the EPA believes a regulation is “appropriate and necessary” cost must be a factor the agency considers.

So how did MRW do with predictions? We’re 6-3, with misses on Texas license plate case (Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans), the disparate impact housing case (Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project), and today’s Arizona’s redistricting case. So, not bad, and the misses all ended with outcomes I liked better than my predictions.

And there’s more! This afternoon the Court, 5-4, temporarily blocked Texas from enforcing parts of its new abortion law. Here’s Court blocks Texas abortion law by Lyle Denniston for SCOTUSblog. The stay will remain in effect until the Court decides whether to consider the legality of the Texas law and, if it takes the case, will remain in effect until the case gets decided.

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