June can't end soon enough for the Obama administration, following two major blows from the U.S. Supreme Court. Just a few days after the high court unanimously ruled that the Obama White House has overreached its executive powers in so-called recess appointments, the Supreme Court ruled early today a key element of Obamacare was a no-go.
Simply put, and there's very little that is simple here, in a 5-4 decision, the conservative majority of the court said that companies can't be forced to offer insurance coverage for birth control. The justices pointed to something called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that protects for-profit corporations from the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.
Monday's ruling was the first major legal setback for Obamacare since the same court upheld it in a landmark 2012 5-4 vote.
But two for-profit corporations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, had challenged the health reform plan's contraceptive requirement. As written, Obamacare says most companies with more than 50 employees who do not provide contraceptive coverage face fines of $100 per day per employee. Hobby Lobby had estimated that the penalty would cost it $475 million a year for its 13,000 workers. Hobby Lobby argued that the mandate contradicted its religious convictions, particularly through the so-called "morning-after" pill, which it linked to abortion.
But the Supreme Court's liberal wing, including its three female justices, warned that if Monday's decision allowed some companies to avoid coverage for contraception, other companies would follow suit using religious waivers against such things as vaccines or blood transfusions.
In a stunning ruling that put freedom of the press on a shorter leash, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning rejected an appeal from a New York Times reporter facing jail time for refusing to identify a confidential source.
Reporter James Risen, in his 2006 book State of War, described an elaborate scheme surrounding something called "Operation Merlin," a plan to sabotage Iranian nuclear research by having a Russian scientist sell flawed blueprints to the Iranian government.
But the Obama White House wanted to know Risen's source for the information. And when he refused, he was found in contempt for refusing to testify in court.
And this morning, the Supreme Court issued a one-line order, siding with the Obama White House. Federal prosecutors had argued in their briefing to the high court that "reporters have no privilege to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources."
Every day in America, someone opens a public meeting, hearing or legislative session with a prayer. And almost as often, someone challenges its appropriateness.
But this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that an upstate New York town could open its meetings with a prayer from a "chaplain of the month." Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that "ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define."
But Justice Elena Kagan said the prayers didn't reconcile with the "First Amendment's promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government."
Two residents of Greece, N.Y., had sued, saying the prayers contradicted the First Amendment's prohibition of government establishment of religion. But a previous 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling had upheld the use of prayer in such settings because they "were deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country."
Sending a clear message that it had no desire to revisit the issue of carrying weapons into public settings, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning said it would not hear a challenge to a New Jersey law that restricts most residents from carrying guns in public.
The National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners Foundation had hoped that the high court would hear their objections to the New Jersey law, which requires citizens to prove a "justifiable need" to carry handguns, openly or concealed, outside the home. The state of New Jersey had already won two rounds of arguments in federal and appeals courts but the NRA was hoping for another shot at the law.
Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was refusing to hear an immigration case that stemmed from a city ordinance in the community of Fremont, Neb., that bars landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund sued the Nebraska city, saying that federal immigration law superseded any municipal ordinance. But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying that the ordinance did not conflict with federal law.
The Fremont, Neb., ordinance requires prospective tenants to obtain a so-called "occupancy license," declaring their immigration status.
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up two similar cases from Texas and Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a stunner Tuesday morning—states may ban affirmative action without violating the U.S. Constitution. In a 6-2 ruling, the high court upheld the right of states to enact bans against race preferences in university admissions.
In particular, the Justices said eight states—Washington, Michigan, California, Florida, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Hampshire—can proceed with their bans of racial preferences at universities. But the ruling doesn't yet jeopardize the current use of racial preferences in many of the 42 other states.
The only dissenting votes in this morning's ruling were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. In her dissent, Sotomayor warned that minority enrollment would decline as a result of the ruling.
"The numbers do not lie," said Sotomayor.
But writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the case wasn't about resolving the debate over affirmative action, but rather "who may resolve it."
The case emerged from Michigan, where voters passed an initiative in 2006 ending racial preferences. A federal appeals court had struck down the initiative, but it landed in the laps of the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the vote.
Kennedy said the U.S. Constitution doesn't forbid voters from ending such racial preferences.
At the height of the February debate at the Idaho Legislature over a pair of so-called "religious freedom" bills, supporters of the measures (which ultimately died) continually pointed to a case in New Mexico where some Christian photographers had been fined and admonished by the New Mexico Supreme Court for declining to work a same-sex ceremony.
"As you may be aware, a photographer in New Mexico who has a similar belief that same-gender marriage is against God's law was asked to photograph a same-sex wedding. The photographer had done portrait work for gay and lesbian clients, but because of her religious objection to same-gender marriage, she declined," Boise Republican Rep. Lynn Luker wrote to Boise Weekly in explaining his sponsorship of the bills.
But this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the photographers, thus letting the admonishment stand.
Elane Photography was sued by a same-sex couple after the couple argued that the wedding photography shop was a public business and was required to follow the same anti-discrimination laws as any other company.
Ultimately, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in August 2013 that the photographers' refusal to work the wedding ceremony was a violation of the state's Human Rights Act.
The U.S. Supreme Court swung open the doors this morning to individual political donors by lifting the caps on how much individuals can give to candidates, parties and political action committees during a two-year election cycle.
The biggest change will be that a single donor will now be able to give the maximum amount allowed by law to as many federal candidates, parties and committees as he or she wishes. The five justices appointed by Republican presidents made up the majority of today's ruling and the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents dissented.
Today's decision in McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission is just the latest in an ongoing challenge to how money lords over U.S. politics. Simply put, today's ruling puts more power in the hands of the nation's wealthiest donors to have a greater impact on federal elections.
However, today's decision does not alter the current limits on individual contributions to candidates for president or Congress, which currently stands at $2,600.
But there is no longer a cap on all contributions, which up until today was set at $123,200.
During the 2008-2009 school year, The Liberty, a conservative-leaning student newspaper at Oregon State University, noticed that its distribution racks were vanishing from campus. Police determined that that it was the university that was the culprit. Oregon State officials explained that they were simply enforcing a policy that restricts where newspaper bins could be placed and they were simply trying to keep the campus clean. But editors at The Liberty complained that they were a student newspaper and should be granted the same privileges as Oregon State's mainstream student newspaper, The Daily Barometer.
The dispute ended up in court and a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed the suit against the university. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the suit should move forward. The whole matter ended up in the laps of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled Oct. 7 that it shouldn't intervene and that the lawsuit should revive in the court of the U.S. District Court judge.
"It's the principle that matters," Heather Hackler, attorney for the newspaper told the Associated Press. "It also sends a message to public universities that they need to respect the rights of their students and the college campus needs to be a marketplace of ideas."
The United States Supreme Court gavels in a new term Monday, Oct. 7 when the high court is expected to take up limits on campaign contributions, a U.S. president's power to make recess appointments and conducting public prayer in government meetings.
Among the more significant cases is a constitutional challenge to federal campaign finance laws that sets an aggregate limit on the amount of money an individual can give to candidates and political parties.
Additionally, the justices have agreed to decide whether the use of prayer prior to town hall meetings violates the First Amendment's separation of church and state.
The court may also hear its first abortion arguments since 2007—a review of an Oklahoma law intended to the restrict the use of certain abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486.
Four of the Supreme Court justices are older than 75, but none is expected to retire in the coming year. Ginsburg, at 80, is the oldest member of the court. Scalia and Kennedy are 77, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 75.
Ginsburg made clear in a series of media interviews this summer that she will stay on the court as long as she is able to do the work.