Landslide at the Supreme Court: Right Wingers Lose a Trifecta of Partisan Cases

Human Rights

The Republican’s losing streak at the U.S. Supreme Court continued Monday, on the last day of the term as the Court made three rulings thwarting right-wing crusades.

In two rulings, the Court stopped the GOP from gaming different aspects of the electoral process that help keep their party in political office. In the third ruling, the Court voted 5-4 to keep abortion clinics open in Texas while a lawsuit proceeds that challenges a state law seeking to shut down all but nine of them.

The Court also ruled against the Obama administration’s latest environmental regulations that sought to limit power plant emissions and said that a three-drug mix used to execute prisoners on Oklahoma was not unconstitutional. Late last week, the Court said there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and upheld federal subsidies for Obamacare—two historic victories for progressives and Democrats. 

Voter Suppression, Uncompetitive Elections

In the first election case, the Court decided not hear an appeal brought by the nation’s most partisan Secretary of State, Kansas Republican Chris Kobach, who has been trying for years to require new voters to produce documented proof of citizenship—as opposed to taking an oath when registering to vote.

Kobach, who has been associated with anti-immigrant organizations throughout his career, wanted to add the requirement to protect the “integrity” of the vote, but civil rights groups have seen it as the latest GOP effort to unnecessarily police the process and keep inexperienced voters from voting. The latest twist in this fight came when Kobach sued the U.S. Election Assistance Commission because he wanted separate voter registration forms for state and federal elections—to limit who was eligible to vote locally. A lower appeals court rejected that approach and the U.S. Supreme Court denied Kobach’s petition for a new trial. 

In the second election case, the Court sided with a citizen redistricting commission in Arizona—where Republicans in the Legislature didn’t like the results because it awarded them fewer “safe seats” in the U.S. House—where boundaries ensured a Republican would win. Because Arizona voters created this independent redistricting commission via a state ballot measure in 2000, the Court voted 5-4 that process didn’t take away the Legislature’s authority. Many states have turned to the commissions as an alternative to party insiders drawing boundaries that lock in partisan majorities. 

In the third ruling Monday, the Court voted 5-4 to suspend a lower court ruling that would have closed all but nine women’s clinics in Texas that offered abortion services. In recent years, anti-abortion Republicans have imposed tough new standards on women’s health clinics in an effort to restrict access to abortion—by requiring that clinics offering abortions have licensed ambulatory surgical facilities: full operating rooms. The Court will allow the state’s clinics to remain open while it decides whether to hear a challenge to the Texas law by women’s health advocates.

Power Plants And Death Drugs

Also Monday, the Court’s conservative-led majority sided with the state of Michigan which sued to block the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing new regulations to get coal-fired power plants to stop putting toxic pollutants into smokestack exhaust. Twenty states joined the suit, which claimed the EPA did not sufficiently consider the cost of taking pollutants like mercury out of the emissions. It said that the EPA must consider these costs earlier in its process of writing new rules, giving industry groups a victory against the administration’s push to reduce pollutants and climate change gases.  

The Supreme Court’s conservative-led majority also rejected an Oklahoma case where death row inmates sued, saying the first of three drugs used to administer the death penalty, a sedative called midazolam, violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment because it can cause severe pain. They cited to a recently botched executive as evidence, but the Court’s majority rejected that contention.

The death row inmates were hoping to get an injunction to stop executions. However, the dissents in the case were striking, saying that even though there were not currently enough votes on the Court to declare the death penalty unconstitutional, that the question was ripe for a full constitutional review.

“I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. “In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional in­firmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those con­stitutional problems. Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed. Today’s administration of the death penalty involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.”

The Court also decided on Monday to rehear a potentially landmark case on the role that race should play in college admission. The case, involving a white woman who sued after not being admitted to the University of Texas, involves how much of a factor race can be when considering an applicant. The Court heard the same case in 2013 and sent it back to a lower court, which raised more questions on the university’s admission policies.

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