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Recent Major Decisions at the Supreme Court

Written by Taariq Ahmed

Edited by Annika Lilja

(Image by Wikimedia Commons)


Overview

The U.S. Supreme Court is at the center of attention in the political sphere after a series of recent major decisions. These decisions have sparked protests, celebrations and conversations nationwide on subjects ranging from abortion rights to gun control. Here is a quick breakdown of the most important cases and their outcomes, including the direct words of the Supreme Court Justices themselves.

Table of Contents

  • June 21: Carson v. Makin, funding for religious schools

  • June 23: NY State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. V. Bruen, concealed carry laws

  • June 24: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, abortion regulations

  • June 27: Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, religious expression for public employees

  • June 30: West Virginia v. EPA, government regulation of gas emissions


 

Carson v. Makin


Who is involved and what happened?

Families from Maine filed a legal challenge against a state tuition program that only funds public schools and “nonsectarian” (nonreligious) private schools. The families claimed that by excluding religious schools from the program, the state was violating their freedom to exercise religion under the First Amendment.


What was the outcome?

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court sided with the families, ruling that the state tuition program violated their First Amendment rights, ultimately declaring that excluding religious schools from state tuition programs “promotes stricter separation of church and state than the Federal Constitution requires.”


Why did the Court make the ruling?

In the court’s majority opinion (pages 5-22), Chief Justice John Roberts wrote “Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.”


What did the minority of the Court dissent?

In the Court’s dissenting opinion (pages 23-45), Justice Stephen Breyer wrote “The First Amendment begins by forbidding the government from ‘making any law respecting an establishment of religion.’ It next forbids them to make any law ‘prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ The Court today pays almost no attention to the words in the first Clause while giving almost exclusive attention to the words in the second.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote “Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”


 

NY State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Bruen


Who is involved and what happened?

New York State residents Robert Nash and Brandon Koch filed a federal lawsuit claiming their Second Amendment rights were violated after being denied access to concealed-carry permits. Nash and Koch were told that they did not meet the proper clause requirement of New York law, which states that those wishing to obtain a license must “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.”


What was the outcome?

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court sided with Nash and Koch, ruling that the law violated their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, ultimately proclaiming that “the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”


Why did the Court make the ruling?

In the Court’s majority opinion (pages 7-83), Justice Clarence Thomas wrote “In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570 (2008), and McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742 (2010), we recognized that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect the right of an ordinary, law-abiding citizen to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense. In this case, petitioners and respondents agree that ordinary, law-abiding citizens have a similar right to carry handguns publicly for their self-defense.”


What did the minority of the Court dissent?

In the Court’s dissenting opinion (pages 84-135), Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elana Kagan, wrote “Many States have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds. The Court today severely burdens States’ efforts to do so. It invokes the Second Amendment to strike down a New York law regulating the public carriage of concealed handguns.”


 

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization


Who is involved and what happened?

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization challenged a Mississippi law that banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, claiming that the legislation violated the constitutional right to an abortion, which was established by Roe v. Wade (1973) and re-affirmed by Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).


What was the outcome?

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court sided with the state, ruling that the law was constitutional; in the same case, the Court overturned the right to an abortion altogether (by overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey), ultimately leaving abortion laws to be decided by the elected representatives of each state.


Why did the Court make the ruling?

In the Court’s majority opinion (pages 9-147), Justice Samuel Alito wrote “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely—the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ and ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 721 (1997) The right to abortion does not fall within this category.”


What did the minority of the Court dissent?

In the Court’s joint dissenting opinion (pages 148-213), Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan wrote “For half a century, Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113 (1973), and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833 (1992), have protected the liberty and equality of women. Roe held, and Casey reaffirmed, that the Constitution safeguards a woman’s right to decide for herself whether to bear a child. Roe held, and Casey reaffirmed, that in the first stages of pregnancy, the government could not make that choice for women. The government could not control a woman’s body or the course of a woman’s life: It could not determine what the woman’s future would be. See Casey, 505 U. S., at 853; Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U. S. 124, 171–172 (2007) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting). Respecting a woman as an autonomous being, and granting her full equality, meant giving her substantial choice over this most personal and most consequential of all life decisions.”


 

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District


Who is involved and what happened?

High school football coach Joseph Kennedy, who often prayed with other players on the field after games, sued the Bremerton School District after the school board instructed Kennedy not to do so, eventually placing him on administrative leave. Bremerton School District, which did not endorse Kennedy’s actions, claimed Kennedy had violated the establishment clause of the Constitution, which “prohibits the government from ‘establishing’ a religion.”


What was the outcome?

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court sided with Kennedy, ruling that Kennedy’s actions were protected by the Freedom of Religion clause under the First Amendment, ultimately claiming that “the Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression.”


Why did the Court make the ruling?

In the Court’s majority opinion (pages 6-40), Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote “Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination. Mr. Kennedy is entitled to summary judgment on his First Amendment claims.”


What did the minority of the Court dissent?

In the Court’s dissenting opinion (pages 41-75), Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, wrote “This case is about whether a public school must permit a school official to kneel, bow his head, and say a prayer at the center of a school event. The Constitution does not authorize, let alone require, public schools to embrace this conduct. Since Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421 (1962), this Court consistently has recognized that school officials leading prayer is constitutionally impermissible. Official-led prayer strikes at the core of our constitutional protections for the religious liberty of students and their parents, as embodied in both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”


 

West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency


Who is involved and what happened?

A group of states (including West Virginia) and corporations challenged whether the Clean Air Act of 1970 gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate gas emissions from power plants.


What was the outcome?

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court sided with the group of states and corporations, ruling that the Clean Air Act does not provide the EPA with an ability to regulate gas emissions. In their majority opinion, the Court cited the “major questions doctrine,” a legal theory that claims if federal agencies (such as the EPA) seek to decide issues of “economic and political significance,” they must have strict and specific authorization from Congress.


Why did the Court make the ruling?

In the Court’s majority opinion (pages 7-56), Chief Justice John Roberts wrote “Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible 'solution to the crisis of the day.' New York v. United States, 505 U. S. 144, 187 (1992). But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in Section 111(d). A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”


What did the minority of the Court dissent?

In the Court’s dissenting opinion (pages 57-89), Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, wrote “​​Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change. And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the Court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. The Court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decision maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”


 

Works Cited


Carson v. Makin


Gerstein, Josh. “Court Strikes down Maine Law barring State Funds for Religious Education.” POLITICO, 21 June 2022, www.politico.com/news/2022/06/21/court-strikes-down-maine-law-barring-state-funds-for-religious-education-00040964.


“Carson v. Makin.” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/Carson_v._Makin. Accessed 28 June 2022.


“20–1088 Carson v. Makin (6/21/2022).” supremecourt.gov, U.S. Supreme Court, 21 June 2022, www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/20-1088_dbfi.pdf.


NY State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Bruen


de Vogue, Ariane, and Sneed, Tierney. “New York Gun Law: Supreme Court Says Constitution Protects Right to Carry a Gun Outside the Home - CNNPolitics.”

CNN, 23 June 2022, edition.cnn.com/2022/06/23/politics/supreme-court-guns-second-amendment-new-york-bruen/index.html.


“New York State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen (6/23/2022).” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/New_York_State_Rifle_%26_Pistol_Association_Inc._v._Bruen. Accessed 29 June 2022.


“20–843 New York State Rifle and Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen.” supremecourt.gov, U.S. Supreme Court, 23 June 2022, www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/20-843_7j80.pdf.


Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization


The New York Times Staff. “Read the Decision That Overturned Roe v. Wade: Dobbs v. Jackson, Annotated.” The New York Times, 26 June 2022, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/06/24/us/politics/supreme-court-dobbs-jackson-analysis-roe-wade.html?searchResultPosition=1.


“Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/Dobbs_v._Jackson_Women%E2%80%99s_Health_Organization. Accessed 30 June 2022.


“19–1392 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (06/24/2022).” supremecourt.gov, U.S. Supreme Court, 24 June 2022, www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf.


Kennedy v. Bremerton School District


Kruzel, John. “Supreme Court Sides with High School Coach Who Led Prayer on Football Field.” The Hill, 27 June 2022, thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/3538082-supreme-court-sides-with-high-school-coach-who-led-prayer-on-football-field.


“Kennedy v. Bremerton School District.” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/Kennedy_v._Bremerton_School_District. Accessed 30 June 2022.


“21–418 Kennedy v. Bremerton School Dist. (06/27/2022).” supremecourt.gov, U.S. Supreme Court, 27 June 2022, www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/21-418_i425.pdf.


West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency


Sherman, Mark (AP). “Supreme Court Limits EPA in Curbing Power Plant Emissions.” Washington Post, 30 June 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court-limits-epa-in-curbing-power-plant-emissions/2022/06/30/cfd9cd2e-f87d-11ec-81db-ac07a394a86b_story.html.


“West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency.” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/West_Virginia_v._Environmental_Protection_Agency. Accessed 1 July 2022.


“20–1530 West Virginia v. EPA (06/30/2022).” supremecourt.gov, U.S. Supreme Court, 30 June 2022, www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/20-1530_n758.pdf.








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