Lots of things happened in 2013. President Obama was sworn in for a second term. We got a new pope and a new royal baby. Two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon and frightened a nation. The Supreme Court stripped power from the Defense of Marriage Act and the Voting Rights Act. But these are all stories we've heard before, and if you haven't, you certainly will in the millions of "Year in Review" pieces set to be posted between now and New Year's. Over the next two weeks, our writers will instead preview the year ahead on their beats, letting you know far in advance what the next big story about the environmental movement—or immigration reform, reproductive rights, you get the picture—will be.
In 1983, Chief Justice Warren Burger asked Congress to create a new national appeals court to resolve cases the Supreme Court was too busy to hear. At the Reagan White House, a cheeky 28-year-old Harvard Law graduate named John G. Roberts was horrified.
One thing the three most anticipated cases of the recently completed Supreme Court term have in common is the questions they didn't answer. Hollingsworth v. Perry, by ducking the question on jurisdictional grounds, left the constitutional status of state bans on same-sex marriage an open question. Shelby County v. Holder theoretically permitted Congress to update the preclearance formula to put the teeth back into the Voting Rights Act. However, the Court gave lower courts future Supreme Courts no useful guideline for how Congress could proceed. (Admittedly, the answer for how Congress can constitutionally proceed, at least for the Roberts Court, is almost certainly "it can't.") But the term's clearest passing of the buck was the decision in the potentially major affirmative-action case, UT Austin v. Fisher. While many people (including me) expected the Court to use the case as a vehicle to declare virtually all affirmative action in public higher education unconstitutional, after eight long months the Court issued a brief opinion that merely sent the issue back to the lower courts without a definitive ruling. What then, does Fisher suggest about the future of affirmative action?
As the Prospect's Jamelle Bouie notes, yesterday the Supreme Court finally released Fisher v. University of Texas, its long-awaited affirmative action ruling and ... mostly decided not to decide. There is surely a juicy story waiting to be uncovered about why the Court took eight months to issue a ruling that barely took up 40 pages and left the current state of the law essentially untouched.
When Republicans won sweeping victories in the 2010 elections, they decided to take advantage of the moment. They might be losing the culture war, but with control of many state legislatures, they could mount a frontal assault on women's reproductive rights. And so they did; in 2011, there were no less than 92 laws passed at the state level to restrict women's access to abortion. The next year saw a further 43 such laws passed (still more than any other year in history), and 2013 has already been a bad year for abortion rights.
The collection of DNA evidence is a powerful crime-control tool, but it also has the potential to lead to greater invasions of privacy. Today, a bare majority of the Supreme Court held in Maryland v. King that the former considerations should outweigh the latter. The Court's ruling both creates important Fourth Amendment law and illustrates some important facts about the personnel on the Court. The question at issue in Maryland v. King is whether DNA information could be collected (via a cheek swab) from someone arrested for—but not convicted of—an offense.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the "preclearance" provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided two Fourth Amendment cases. The results were mixed. In one case, the Court protected an individual from an unreasonable search. But in another case, the Court again watered down Fourth Amendment protections in the name of the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs.
Jan Crawford has a blockbuster story in which two sources confirm what many people inferred from the structure of the opinions—that Chief Justice John Roberts initially voted to strike down at least some parts of the Affordable Care Act before switching his vote. The story reveals some interesting things about Roberts and the Supreme Court, although we should also be careful about taking all the claims at face value given that they clearly reflect the positions of justices and/or clerks with an ax to grind.
Xavier Alvarez got twin pieces of good news Thursday. First, thanks to the Court’s decision in the Health Care Cases, Medicaid in California may soon be funded to supply mental-health services to crazed compulsive liars like him. Second, and of more immediate interest to him, he won’t be doing a year in the federal slam for falsely claiming to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Given the very strong likelihood that the centerpiece legislation of the Obama administration would be struck down in its entirety, yesterday's decision upholding the Affordable Care Act seems to most progressives like both a relief and a major political victory. But was it actually a legal victory when you examine the opinions closely? Tom Scocca says no:
For months before today’s announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Health Care Cases, the conventional wisdom had centered on two things: (1) The vote would be 6-3; and (2) Chief Justice John G. Roberts would write the opinion. Roberts would jump the way Justice Anthony Kennedy jumped and then write the opinion to shape doctrine for the future.
Hard to say what’s more bizarre about Antonin Scalia’s furious dissent against the Supreme Court’s decision striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law: his railing at President Barack Obama’s executive order stopping the deportation of immigrants brought here as children (which wasn’t remotely the subject of the case at hand) or his basis for upholding Arizona’s law—that Arizona is a sovereign state with the rights generally claimed by nation-states.