Last week was a rather extraordinary week at the U.S. Supreme Court, with historic rulings that will change millions of lives. But the high court’s term didn’t end on Friday – the last three decisions came down this morning. And though the rulings may not generate international attention, today’s news matters, too.
Let’s take these one at a time.
In Glossip v. Gross, the justices narrowly endorsed a controversial method of execution. MSNBC’s Amanda Sakuma reported:
A controversial sedative can be used as the first in a lethal drug cocktail to carry out the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday, upholding the continued use of a chemical that has been at the center of a series of botched executions that drew increased scrutiny over how states handle capital punishment.In the case Glossip v. Gross, the question before the Supreme Court was whether a sedative called midazolam effectively made an inmate unconscious before executioners administered lethal doses in a three-drug cocktail. Three convicted killers in Oklahoma brought the challenge, their lawyers arguing that there is no guarantee that midazolam will work, creating a substantial risk of causing severe pain or complications.
The 5-4 ruling is available online here (pdf), and the breakdown falls exactly along the lines you’d expect: Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito in the majority; Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan on the other.
Many court observers considered oral arguments in this case to be among the most contentious in recent history, and with that in mind, it’s worth noting that while Alito wrote the majority decision, Breyer and Sotomayor both read their dissents this morning, only to have Scalia take the unusual step of reading his concurrence, basically to thumb his nose at Breyer, who wants the court to strike down capital punishment as itself unconstitutional.
Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was arguably the term’s most overtly electoral case. MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported:
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that an independent commission created by Arizona voters to draw congressional and state legislative districts is constitutional. The ruling will make it much easier for states to find ways to stop partisan lawmakers from drawing districts in a way that benefits their party.By 5-4, the justices ruled that the Constitution allows state to cut their legislatures out of the redistricting process.
The ruling is online here (pdf). The court majority included the four center-left justices and Kennedy.
Though this wasn’t the highest-profile case of the year, it’s a very big deal in political circles. The fact that states can allow independent commissions to draw congressional district lines – as compared to partisan state lawmakers – may very well affect congressional gerrymandering in a significant way.
And in Michigan v. EPA, the question was whether the Environmental Protection Agency unreasonably ignored economic costs when crafting regulations on arsenic, mercury, and other dangerous emissions. In yet another 5-4 ruling, the court concluded the EPA went too far. MSNBC’s Tony Dokoupil reported:
In a loss for the Obama administration, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled 5-4 against a cap on toxic power plant emissions.Had the decision been in favor of EPA regulations, it would have forced the industry to install high-tech scrubbers to remove mercury, arsenic and other pollutants, which disproportionately fall to earth in poorer neighborhoods. They enter the body as food from tainted waterways or are simply ingested with each unavoidable breath. They are particularly dangerous for children and unborn babies, but everyone exposed suffers.
The EPA argued that it had considered the economic impact – preventing deaths and health problems has a positive economic effect – but the court’s conservatives were unmoved. The ruling is online here (pdf).