Cliffs Notes: Supreme Court Edition


If you’ve been living under a rock for the last week (or have somehow managed to avoid social media completely), you might not know that the Supreme Court has made some extremely important decisions. Or, perhaps you’ve been inundated with countless, unsolicited opinions on those decisions. Worry not about sounding uninformed in front of your friends, because we’ll give you a quick summary of a few of the Supreme Court’s recent rulings.

First and foremost, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court determined that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. I would feel remiss in not including the following passage from the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. (Justice Kennedy, Obergefell v. Hodges majority opinion)

The landmark decision marks a substantial step forward for LGBT rights in America. For some, including Justice Antonin Scalia, the opinion is an example of judicial activism that is anti-democratic. (“Buried beneath the mummeries and straining-to-be-memorable passages of the opinion is a candid and startling assertion: No matter what it was the People ratified, the Fourteenth Amendment protects those rights that the Judiciary, in its ‘reasoned judgment,’ thinks the Fourteenth Amendment ought to protect” –Antonin Scalia, Obergefell v. Hodges, dissent). Regardless of your particular thoughts on the matter, there is no doubting the significance of this decision.

Next, in King v. Burwell, the Court interpreted a section of the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA” or, in vernacular, “Obamacare”) to allow nationwide healthcare subsidies. Without getting too involved in the particulars, which you can read more about here, the fundamental import of the decision is that the ACA is all but assured of withstanding any significant challenges. As a result, President Obama’s – arguably – most significant action will survive. Again, Justice Scalia was having none of. The most oft referred to line from his dissent summarizes his opinion of the majority decision: “We really should start calling this law Scotus-care.” Again, Justice Scalia voices the concerns of those who argue for judicial restraint.

Finally, the Court, in Whole Woman’s Health, et al. v. Cole, Comm’r, TX DHS, et al., played a stay on an order upholding certain Texas abortion regulations. The regulations require abortion centers to adhere to the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers, as well as imposing higher standards on doctors who perform abortions. The decision sets the stage for a major opinion on abortion. Consequently, the decision, in and of itself, is not as significant as those above, but it does signal an impending, and important, decision concerning abortion rights.

I hope these summaries give you enough fuel to sound smart when you’re talking around the water-cooler. Just do me one favor – don’t post about it on Facebook!

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