Supreme Court has five final cases to decide, including gay marriage

Updated

The high court is saving the high drama for the end of its term.

As June dwindles, five cases are left for the Supreme Court to decide — including one that could legalize same-sex marriage across the country.

After announcing two decisions on Thursday, the court is scheduled to announce more decisions Friday and Monday — and it could add days beyond that. There’s no indication which decisions will be released on which days.

Here’s a rundown of what’s left to settle:

Same-sex marriage

In a landmark decision, the court will confront two questions. The first is whether states can ban same-sex marriage. The second is whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states.

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All eyes are on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote three of the court’s most important opinions on gay rights. At an oral argument in April, Kennedy asked tough questions of both sides, and at one point he said “it’s very difficult for the court to say, oh, well, we know better” what defines marriage than centuries of tradition limiting it to the union of a man and a woman.

Lethal injection

The justices must decide a challenge to the drug protocol several states use by to execute inmates.

The case is from Oklahoma. The question is whether the sedative midazolam puts condemned inmates into a coma-like state, protecting them from cruel and unusual punishment while two other drugs are given, or whether it merely paralyzes them while conscious, inflicting serious pain.

Justice Elena Kagan pointed out at the oral argument that the third drug in the Oklahoma protocol, potassium chloride, has been likened to being burned alive.

Redistricting

The court will decide an issue that goes to the very founding of the U.S.: Who controls the creation of congressional districts?

Arizona voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2000 stripping the Legislature of the power to draw districts and giving to an independent redistricting commission. It’s meant to avoid “gerrymandering” — the habit of legislators to draw bizarrely shaped districts that give their parties’ candidates the best shot at winning.

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The Legislature went to court, pointing out that Article I of the Constitution specifies that “the times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof” — and that only Congress, not state bodies, can change that.

Violent crime

The court could give thousands of federal prisoners new hope and potentially hamstring prosecutors in ruling on a federal law that sets mandatory minimum sentences for federal firearms offenders who already have three convictions for “violent felonies.”

Advocates say the Armed Career Criminal Act is unconstitutional, arguing that it’s too vague in defining a “violent felony,” sending away minor offenders for years.

Law enforcement — noting that the case involves an alleged neo-Nazi accused of manufacturing napalm — says it needs the leeway to interpret the law broadly, not only to get potentially dangerous criminals off the streets but also to use as bargaining chips in plea negotiations.

Power plant pollution

Three cases being considered together ask the court to force the Environmental Protection Agency to consider the economic cost of complying with regulations limiting emissions from power plants before it issues any rules.

During oral arguments in March, Justice Stephen Breyer said cost should logically be a factor in such decisions, observing: “It begins to look a little irrational to say, ‘I’m not going to take it into account at all.’”

But the government argued that the Clean Air Act made no reference to costs when it required the EPA should to adopt “appropriate and necessary” emissions rules.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, picking up on that argument, asked lawyers for the states and industry groups pushing the case whether the court has ever required the EPA to consider costs.”

“Is there any such decision?” she asked, to which the plaintiffs’ lawyers acknowledged that they couldn’t cite one.

This article first appeared on NBCNews.com.

Capital Punishment, Marriage Equality, SCOTUS and Supreme Court

Supreme Court has five final cases to decide, including gay marriage

Updated