The Supreme Court will rule as soon as this week on abortion, immigration and affirmative action in three massively important cases that could prove to be three big wins for conservatives.
Decisions are expected in the biggest abortion case before the Court since 1992, an affirmative action case addressing race-based college admissions policy, and a review of the constitutionality of President Obama’s order deferring deportation for 4 million illegal immigrants. Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent death deprives conservatives of the majority they’ve enjoyed on the court for the last twenty years, but the new eight justice court could still work in their favor.
At issue in the first case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, is a Texas law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, and requiring all abortion clinics in the state to have capabilities equivalent to an outpatient surgery center. Pro-abortion activists argue the law places an illegal burden on a woman’s ability to access abortion, but the state argues the law protects women’s health. The Fifth Circuit court upheld the Texas law.
In the event of a tie on the Supreme Court, the decision made by the lower appellate court stands, effectively making the appellate court’s ruling the final word on the controversy. The Supreme Court is likely to tie on this ruling, in which case the Fifth Circuit ruling upholding the law would stand. That would result in the shuttering of more abortion clinics in the state.
The second case, U.S. v. Texas, is a challenge to the Obama’s executive order granting four million illegal immigrants legal status and work permits. Here, two positive outcomes for conservatives are possible. Should the justices split evenly (and oral arguments seemed to suggest this was the case), the Fifth Circuit ruling against Obama will be affirmed.
There is also a good chance some (or all) of the Court’s liberal jurists will side with the conservative justices. The Supreme Court has demonstrated some reticence about the growing power of the presidency in recent rulings. In a 2014 case the justices unanimously ruled that the president had not validly exercised his recess appointment power in filling several seats on the National Labor Relations Board, suggesting the court is in the mood to restrict executive abuses.
The final case is brought by a Texas woman who claims the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action admissions policy discriminated against her because she is white. In this case, a tie will not result because Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the proceedings. If this case is decided along ideological lines (as is likely) the UT policy, and similar ones around the country, will be struck down.
There remains, as ever, an x-factor in Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has repeatedly hinted at recalcitrance about casting a decisive vote in a controversial case with a vacancy on the Court. His timidity may result in remands to lower courts to resolve various issues. The Court only has a handful of decision days remaining on its calendar, so decisions in each case will be handed down in short order.
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