Rulings in Review: Supreme Court Decisions on Some Important Cases This Year Will Be Felt in the States for Quite Some Time

By Soronen, Lisa | State Legislatures, September 2016 | Go to article overview

Rulings in Review: Supreme Court Decisions on Some Important Cases This Year Will Be Felt in the States for Quite Some Time


Soronen, Lisa, State Legislatures


The U.S. Supreme Court decided six--arguably seven--"big" cases this term. All but one directly affects the states. In some cases, the absence of a ninth justice--the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia remains vacant--made all the difference. But in a few cases it made no difference at all.

Redistricting

Evenwel v. Abbott

Since 1964, when the Supreme Court established the principle of "one person, one vote" in Reynolds v. Sims, states have been required to apportion legislative districts "equally." Although the court has refused to decide this issue at least three times in the last 25 years, that changed this year with Evenwel v. Abbott. The question the high court chose to address in this case was, what populations do you include in apportionment calculations, the entire population or just registered voters? It makes a big difference. The maximum total-population deviation between Texas Senate districts is about 8 percent; but the maximum voter-eligible population deviation between districts exceeds 40 percent. The court concluded unanimously that Texas may redistrict using total population "based on constitutional history, this court's decisions and longstanding practice."

Abortion

Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt

The justices held 5-3 that requiring doctors to have admitting privileges in local hospitals and abortion centers to meet the requirements of surgical centers creates an unconstitutional "undue burden" on women seeking an abortion. Texas argued the two requirements would "protect the health of women who experience complications from abortions."

But according to the court, nothing in the record indicated that the admitting-privileges requirement advanced women's health, because very few women who receive abortions need to be hospitalized. Instead, the requirement placed a "substantial burden" on a woman's ability to get an abortion because about half of Texas' clinics closed as a result.

Likewise, the court concluded the surgery-center requirement does not benefit patients. For those who have abortions via medication, if complications arise, they almost always occur after the patient has left the facility. Also, Texas does not require that much riskier procedures, like childbirth and colonoscopies, be performed in facilities meeting surgery-center standards.

The surgery-center requirement places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion, the court said, because it will further reduce the number of clinics (initially about 40) to seven or eight.

Affirmative Action

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

In this case, the court ruled 4-3 that the university's race-conscious admissions program is constitutional.

Texas's Top 10 Percent Law, passed in 1997, guarantees high school students who finish in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes admission to any of the state's public universities. The rule was later amended to guarantee admission to UT Austin to students graduating in the top 7 or 8 percent, filling up to 75 percent of the freshman class. Other students are admitted based on a combination of their grades, test scores and their "personal achievement index." Race is considered as a factor in one of the two components of an applicant's personal achievement index.

The court rejected Abigail Fisher's argument that the university's use of race is unnecessary. This is the first affirmative action victory for an educational institution since Grutter v. Bollinger (2003).

Bribery

McDonnell v. United States

The court unanimously reversed former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell's federal bribery conviction in McDonnell v. …

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