By Bryan Goodman, Political Director
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|Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health|
In this decision, the Court overturned long-standing precedents from both Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey 505 U.S. 833 (1992). These decisions pertained to abortion rights, which the Court in 1973 believed to stem from the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause and the right to privacy. While voting with the other conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts authored his own concurrence with the judgment and did not sign onto Justice Alito’s opinion of the Court. All four of the cases summarized here were decided by a 6-3 vote along ideological lines.
|NY State Pistol & Rifle Association v. Bruen|
This decision struck down a New York State law regulating the issuance of concealed carry handgun permits. The Court found that the regulation “violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.”
|WV v. EPA|
In this case, the Court limited the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The Court relied on the “major questions doctrine” which “directs courts to presume that Congress does not intend to vest agencies with policymaking authority over questions of great economic and political significance.”
|Vega v. Tekoh|
In Vega v. Tekoh, the Court held that “a violation of Miranda rules does not provide a basis for a §1983 claim,” meaning that an individual cannot file suit if they are not read their Miranda rights upon arrest.
The Supreme Court of the United States is facing its toughest legitimacy crisis since Bush v. Gore 531 U.S. 98 (2000). The Court is now dominated by a right-wing supermajority that no longer needs the vote of Chief Justice John Roberts, who is arguably the most liberal of the six conservatives. As a result, some have proclaimed that the Court no longer belongs to Roberts, but rather to Justice Samuel Alito (Jong-Fast 2022).
In recent months, the Supreme Court handed down rulings on laws and precedents that many thought would never be revisited. The Court issued 66 opinions relating to a variety of cases in its most recent term. This follows the downward trend in the quantity of issued opinions and cases heard. As a result, each decision has greater significance.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
The first opinion released by the Court this year was Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the Court overturned the legal precedents set by the cases Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey 505 U.S. 833 (1992). The ruling came in a 6-3 decision split along ideological lines—the six conservative justices in the majority and the three liberal justices dissenting.
Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh had previously affirmed the precedent set by Roe v. Wade during their Senate confirmation hearings. Gorsuch said, “A good judge will consider [Roe v. Wade] as precedent of the United States Supreme Court worthy as treatment of precedent like any other” (NBC News 2022). Kavanaugh said “It’s settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court entitled the respect under principles of stare decisis” and “has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years” (NBC News 2022).
The majority opinion, written by Alito, is nearly identical to the leaked draft. It mentioned multiple times that the right to abortion was not deeply rooted in the tradition and history of the nation and that the original ruling in Roe was a mistake. Roberts issued a concurring opinion in which he stated, “I would take a more measured approach. I agree with the Court that the viability line established by Roe and Casey should be discarded under a straightforward stare decisis analysis. That line never made any sense” (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization).
Roberts still sided with the majority concerning the original Mississippi 15-week ban that brought this question to the Court. He did not, however, sign onto the Alito opinion. The implication of overturning a due process case such as Roe is that it then opens the door in the future to overturning other such due process decisions made by the Court. Justice Clarence Thomas argued in his concurrence that “‘substantive due process’ is an oxymoron that ‘lack[s] any basis in the Constitution’” (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization). He continues with a task for the new Court:
[R]econsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous…’ we have a duty to ‘correct that error’ established in those precedents… After overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated. (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization)
Thomas opens the door for the overturning of several landmark decisions by the Court. He explicitly names Obergefell, which provided the right to same-sex marriage; Griswold, which prevents states from making the use of contraception by married couples illegal; and lastly, Lawrence, which provides the right to engage in private, consensual sexual acts.
Vega v. Tekoh
Vega v. Tekoh is a case about whether or not using un-Mirandized statements against a defendant is sufficient grounds for a §1983 claim. The decision prevents the possibility for individuals to file suit if they are not read their Miranda rights upon arrest. This case made its way to the Supreme Court, and, in a 6-3 decision, they found that “a violation of Miranda rules does not provide a basis for a §1983 claim” (Vega v. Tekoh). Elie Mystal, in an article for The Nation, explained that, “if cops trick or coerce or threaten or brutalize people into giving up their constitutional rights without telling them they have a right to make the intimidation stop, there’s no way to sue the government for the failure to inform victims of their rights” (Mystal 2022). By the logic and language of the decision, one of two things must be true: a violation of Miranda rules would not be grounds for suit under §1983, meaning Miranda rights are not constitutionally protected, or §1983 claims do not give citizens a cause of action for suit following deprivation of their Constitutional rights. There could also be a combination of the two. This decision was a blow to criminal justice advocates who have been working to enforce the implementation of Miranda rules into police procedure and practice.
New York Rifle & Pistol v. Bruen
In the state of New York, there had been a law on the books for over a century that restricted the issuance of licenses for the concealed carry of pistols and revolvers outside of the home. The law required applicants for the license to prove that “‘proper cause exists’” (New York Rifle & Pistol v. Bruen) and a suit was filed challenging the constitutionality of the law.
Thomas writes in this opinion “Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution” (New York Rifle & Pistol v. Bruen). As a result of this decision, anyone who goes through a standard process for applying for a concealed carry license will be allowed to so long as the ordinary requirements are met excluding the proper-cause requirement that was in the original law.
WV v. EPA
“In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated the Clean Power Plan rule, which addressed carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal- and natural-gas-fired power plants. For authority, the Agency cited Section 111 of the Clean Air Act…” (WV v. EPA). In this case, the Court held that “Congress did not grant the EPA in Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act the authority to devise emissions caps based on the generation shifting approach the Agency took in the Clean Power Plan” (WV v. EPA).
As a result of this ruling, “The Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants” (Zoldan 2022). The decision relied on the “major questions doctrine” which “directs courts to presume that Congress does not intend to vest agencies with policymaking authority over questions of great economic and political significance” (Zoldan 2022). This doctrine allows for courts to employ an extremely strict textual interpretation of the law in question. This decision will also pose a threat to other administrative/executive branch agencies’ ability to function. In a political climate with an ever-increasingly gridlocked Congress, it will become evermore difficult for administrators to avoid the invocation of the major questions doctrine on any of their actions.
These cases were just some of the 66 on which the Court issued opinions. There is also the “shadow docket”—the Court’s emergency appeal process. It is used frequently in death penalty cases and is intended to be used in case of grave overreach or mistakes by states and lower courts. The shadow docket allows the conservative supermajority to make sudden and unexpected reforms. It has been used in recent years to uphold the ban on abortion in Texas and maintain an executive order barring immigration from certain Muslim countries (Mystal 2021).
The upcoming Supreme Court term this October already has several important cases on the docket, including Moore v. Harper, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis (a web designer says they should not have to create websites for same-sex weddings under state law), an affirmative action case (about race in college admissions) and Merrill v. Milligan (about congressional redistricting in Alabama) (Gonzalez, 2022).
Moore v. Harper
This upcoming case concerns gerrymandering and voting districts (Tangalakis-Lippert 2022). However, ingrained in this case is a concept known as independent state legislature theory. “The independent state legislature theory is a reading of the Constitution…that would give state legislatures wide authority to gerrymander electoral maps and pass voter suppression laws. It has even been used as political cover to try to overturn elections” (Herenstein & Wolf 2022). “Should the Court rule in North Carolina’s favor, the ruling would reduce voter oversight on state legislatures and likely impact the outcome of various statewide political races – as well as the 2024 presidential election” (Tangalakis-Lippert 2022). This could set the groundwork for a legal coup to occur during a presidential election. If states are allowed to completely disregard the will of the voters in a popular election and appoint slates of electors to the Electoral College who would willfully ignore the voters, there would never be another nationwide democratic election.
The future of Supreme Court precedent and the nature of some of their recent decisions cast a shadow on various rights established by previous Courts. This Court has shown no fear of overturning long-standing precedent that previous decisions had been thought to reinforce.
Bryan Goodman is currently the Political Director for Happy Medium. In this role, he consults with both writers and the editing team about specific pieces that could potentially be hot button issues. He is a graduate student from Valhalla, Westchester County, NY. He attended Westchester Community College for two years before transferring to Binghamton University to complete his undergraduate studies in political science. Bryan is currently enrolled in the 4+1 Master of Public Administration program. Bryan is also passionate about judicial politics and a variety of social/economic issues. His future plans hope to include either law school or a public policy program to further his studies in the field. Bryan hopes to one day be fortunate enough to positively impact as many lives as possible.
Gonzalez, Oriana. 2022. “Supreme Court’s next term could be just as contentious.” AXIOS, July 1. www.axios.com/2022/07/01/supreme-court-cases-2022.
Herenstein, Ethan and Thomas Wolf. 2022. “The ‘Independent State Legislature Theory,’ Explained.” Brennan Center for Justice, June 30. www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/independent-state-legislature-theory-explained.
Jong-Fast, Molly. 2022. “It’s Mask Off for the Supreme Court.” The Atlantic, May 12. newsletters.theatlantic.com/wait-what/627d0d9366d6b500218d7450/supreme-court-partisanship-roe-v-wade/.
Mystal, Elie. 2021. “The Brutal Efficiency of the Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket.” Balls and Strikes, September 15. ballsandstrikes.org/court-reform/shadow-docket-brutal-efficiency/.
Mystal, Elie. 2022. “The Supreme Court Strips Us of Miranda Warnings.” The Nation, June 23. www.thenation.com/article/society/supreme-court-miranda-rights/.
NBC News. 2022. “WATCH: What Conservative Justices Said About Roe v. Wade During Their Supreme Court Confirmations.” Youtube.com, June 24. www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks1skEKwlrk.
Tangalakis-Lippert, Katherine. 2022. “What is Moore v. Harper? Experts say the next big Supreme Court case ‘could provide the path for election subversion.’” Business Insider, July 3. www.businessinsider.com/what-is-moore-v-harper-supreme-court-case-voting-rights-2022-7.
Zoldan, Evan C. 2022. “The fragility of state regulation after West Virginia v. EPA.” The Hill, July 2. thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/3544301-the-fragility-of-state-regulation-after-west-virginia-v-epa.