The U.S. Supreme Court is approaching its scheduled recess for the summer, but before that happens the court is expected to rule on high-profile cases regarding affirmative action, immigration and abortion.
Decisions will be handed down in the most important abortion case in almost 25 years, an affirmative action lawsuit accusing a Texas university of discriminating against white applicants, and a challenge to President Barack Obama’s executive order that granted legal status and work permits to four million immigrants in the country illegally.
The outcomes of the cases will directly affect the lives of millions of Americans, but with the court down to just eight justices following the death of Antonin Scalia earlier this year, two of the decisions could get slightly complicated.
Justice Elena Kagan is recused from the affirmative action lawsuit, since she previously worked on it as solicitor general, so a four-judge majority could decide the case. But in the other two cases, a 4-4 ruling would result in a tie, in which case the lower court rulings would stand — essentially giving those courts the final say in the matter.
The immigration case, U.S. v. Texas, centers on an executive order issued by Obama that would effectively halt the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants — mostly those with children who are legal citizens — and expand a program that allows those under the age of 16 who are in the country illegally to stay.
Texas and 25 other states sued the Obama administration over the action, arguing that the plan is unconstitutional since it conflicts with current federal immigration law. The administration, though, is arguing that the states have no standing to sue, since immigration law falls under the purview of the federal government.
A lower court previously struck down the Obama action as unlawful and issued an injunction on its implementation until the Supreme Court rules in the case.
During oral arguments the country's top court appeared to be divided 4-4. If that split upholds, the lower court ruling would stand, preventing Obama’s plan from taking effect. If the court rules in favor of the Obama administration, which seems unlikely given that the court is divided evenly along ideological lines, the case would be thrown out and the administration could begin implementing the policy.
The abortion case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, stems from a Texas law passed in 2013 that requires all abortion providers to adhere to the same building standards as outpatient surgical centers. Under the law, doctors at the abortion centers must also have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles — nearly 50 kilometers — of their clinic.
Since the law’s passage, the number of abortion clinics in Texas has plummeted from 42 to 19, and abortion activists say the number could drop even lower if the law is fully implemented. Whole Woman’s Health, the plaintiff in the case, claims the requirements are unnecessary and overburdensome. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Health Department of State Health Services, though, argues that the new regulations are necessary to protect the safety of patients seeking abortions.
Since a federal appeals court has already voted to uphold the law, a tie in the Supreme Court would result in the full implementation of the abortion regulations.
The affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas, arose after a white woman, Abigail Fisher, sued the University of Texas claiming the school denied her admission based on her race.
Thanks to an unusual law in Texas, the state grants automatic admission to the top 10 percent of students of each high school to its state university. For about 25 percent of other students, the school bases its acceptance decision on several factors, including the student’s race.
Fisher’s grades weren’t high enough to put her in the top 10 percent of her class, so she couldn’t take advantage of the rule. She was denied admission in 2008, and when she found out UT admitted minority students with lower grades than hers, she sued the school for race-based discrimination.
The university claims its race-based selection policies are necessary to provide a sufficiently diverse campus community, while Fisher’s attorneys say the 10 percent program is enough to ensure that minorities are included in the selection process.
With Kagan recused from the case, a tie is impossible, so if it is decided along ideological lines, the UT policy will be struck down, which could have major ramifications for universities with similar policies around the country.
The court could also rule that it doesn’t have sufficient evidence to rule in the case and send it back down to the circuit court.