The two hottest Supreme Court decisions this term
The United States Supreme Court issued two rulings last week that captured the attention of the nation and nominated headlines. While both rulings were expected somewhat, at least one of them surprised Court observers in its unanimous margin.
California vs. Texas
For a third time, the United States Supreme Court has turned back a legal challenge to Obamacare, continuing to solidify the legal status of the health care law.
In the case, Texas and 19 other conservative states attempted to seek the overturning of Obamacare. Their argument was passed on the passage of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which repealed the individual mandate, one of the key funding and taxing portions of Obamacare. The argument here was that the law was unconstitutional without this taxing provision.
In U.S. District Court, Judge Reed O'Connor agreed with Republicans and found Obamacare to be unconstitutional. The case was appealed by 17 states - led by California - to the 5th Judicial Circuit. The decision was a partial win for both sides, with the Court ruling 2-1 that the law may be unconstitutional but disagreeing with the basis for the decision.
California and others appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which issued its ruling last week. In a 7-2 decision, Justices ruled that states like Texas and others lacked the standing to overturn the verdict. The three liberal judges of the court were joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Comey Barrett, Thomas, and Kavanaugh. Only Alito and Gorsuch dissented.
This marks the third time that the Court has refused to overturn an Obamacare challenge, but the numbers are also growing. In National Federation of Business vs. Sebelius, the Court upheld Obamacare by a 5-4 vote, although it did rule that states could not be forced to expand Medicaid. In King vs. Burwell, the Court made the same ruling, but this by a 6-3 majority.
At the moment, there are no other court challenges to Obamacare.
Fulton vs. Philadelphia
This case surprised observers in its end result.
The City of Philadelphia had been working with a variety of groups on providing foster care services. Among those groups was Catholic Social Services. However, Catholic Social Services refused to provide adoption services to same-sex couples, citing religious belief. In response, Philadelphia ended its contract with the organization. Catholic Social Services sued, and the case wound up in the United States Supreme Court.
The end result was a surprising one: In a 9-0 decision, the Court ruled that Philadelphia was legally wrong to end its contract with Catholic Social Services. However, beneath the 9-0 decision, the Court showed extensive disagreement. In his opinion, Justice Roberts ruled more on a technicality than anything else. He found that Philadelphia was wrong because of the specific contract issued by the city of Philadelphia, and not because of any first amendment concern. Specifically, the contract allows Philadelphia to make exceptions to its own policy at its choosing. As such, while Philadelphia was in the wrong, the Court's decision was very narrow in scope and avoided making a ruling on the more controversial religious freedom question.
Roberts' opinion was joined by the Court's three liberals and Justices Kavanaugh and Comey Barrett. The Court's three most conservative members, led by Justice Alito, concurred in the ruling by expressed "disappointment" about the reasoning, with Justice Alito arguing that the ruling left claims of religious liberty in a more confused state. It also issued no broader guidance to cities that operate similarly, meaning that the case may be repeated at a later date. As such, while the outcome of the case was considered a win for religious organizations, it was not the broad, overarching win that they were hoping for.
As such, advocates like Fulton also declared a partial victory, noting that they believed the ruling of the case still protected their rights to enact non-discrimination language. It seems extremely likely that future cases will have to make a more expanded decision in this regard. Furthermore, the case was ultimately remanded to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, meaning that advocates are, to an extent, right back where they started.