It was a great term at the Supreme Court for issues like marriage equality, continuing to keep health care affordable and accessible and ending politically motivated gerrymandering. It was a less fortunate term when it came to blocking the use of lethal injections in executions. But what other big issues did the court weigh in on?
Here are four decisions that went under the radar in the summer term.
Federal Environmental Protections Have Been Blocked for Now
Stay in the loop
Never miss the news and analysis you care about.
In a 5-4 decision, the court blocked the Clean Air Act, a major Environmental Protection Agency initiative, with the majority ruling that it was too spendy to force big businesses to actually limit their toxic emissions. “The Clean Air Act required the regulation to be ‘appropriate and necessary,'” reports the New York Times. “The challengers said the agency had run afoul of that law by deciding to regulate the emissions without first undertaking a cost-benefit analysis.”
Panning the initiative, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that, “It is not rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits. Statutory context supports this reading.” The ruling means the EPA will have to rewrite the initiative and try again later.
Fair Housing Was Upheld
In a small step towards ending racial discrimination, the court ruled 5-4 that you don’t have to necessarily prove a law was intended to discriminate in order to still show that discrimination occurred. “The Supreme Court agreed in a 5-4 decision that the Texas housing department had violated the Fair Housing Act, and engaged in racial discrimination, by putting too much subsidized housing in predominantly black urban neighborhoods, and too little in white suburban neighborhoods,” explains QZ.com. “The disparate impact was that this discouraged black people from moving to white areas, and perpetuated segregation.” According to QZ.com this “disparate-impact” ruling could eventually be used to end discrimination in hiring practices, prisons and other places where racial bias is implicit and rampant.
The Court Agreed to Take Up Affirmative Action Again
SCOTUS already ruled once on Fisher v. University of Texas, the case where a young woman claims she wasn’t allowed into her first choice college because applicants of color were prioritized over her. In 2013 they sent the case back to the 5th Circuit, telling it to take a second swing at their decision. On the second try, the district court said it believed that Abigail Fisher still hadn’t proved discrimination because of affirmative action, and that caused Fisher to appeal to the Supreme Court again. The fact that they have agreed to rehear the case has many worried that it signals a likelihood that affirmative action may be doomed for good.
Unions May Be Weakened Even More
A California teacher is challenging a union practice of collecting partial fees from non-union members to pay for their representation in collective bargaining, a process which even non-union members benefit from due to increased earnings and other benefits. According to the teacher, any compulsory dues paying violates her first amendment rights to freedom of speech, since unions have PACs that generally support pro-Labor (and often Democratic) causes. The conservative group helping back her argues that even raises and school budget increases may be a violation of some teachers’ political beliefs. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, and many think this could be yet another nail in the coffin of union power.
“Leaders of some of the nation’s largest public sector unions issued a joint statement calling the lawsuit an effort to weaken labor rights,” reports Talking Points Memo. “‘The Supreme Court is revisiting decisions that have made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities – decisions that have stood for more than 35 years,’ said the statement from the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, California Teachers Association, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Service Employees International Union.”
It looks as if the next Supreme Court session may be nearly as exciting as this one was.