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The Supreme Court released its final decisions of the 2015 term on Monday. The most closely watched was Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court’s most significant abortion ruling since 1992. In a 5-3 decision, with Justice Breyer writing for the majority, the Court struck down two Texas abortion regulations that would have sharply reduced the number of abortion providers in the state. Justice Alito registered his disagreement with the Court’s holding in a lengthy, strongly worded written dissent, portions of which he read from the bench.
For further reading: Oyez’s Body Politic offers an interactive walk through the history of abortion at the Supreme Court, from Roe to Whole Woman’s Health. The New York Times has SCOTUS reporter Adam Liptak’s story on the decision, an approving editorial lamenting that even three justices voted to uphold the law, an approving Linda Greenhouse lamenting the muted tone on Breyer’s opinion, and a roundup of reactions to the decision. The Economist analyzed Justice Kennedy’s votes in this case and in last week’s affirmative actions decision. Finally, ISCOTUS Director Christopher Schmidt dissected how Justice Breyer revised abortion doctrine in a post on this blog.
On Monday the Court also issued its decision in McDonnell v. United States, vacating former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s corruption conviction. The Court unanimously held that McDonnell was convicted under a reading of federal corruption law that relied on too broad a reading of what was an “official act.” In a SCOTUSblog symposium, Fred Wertheimer, President of Democracy 21, criticized the ruling: “The Supreme Court in this case leaned over backwards to protect officeholders and pretty much ignored the interests of citizens in honest government and the dangers of allowing officeholders to sell their office.” The National Law Review found much to like in the ruling, writing that Court resisted “the criminalization of ordinary politics—as distasteful and unseemly as that can often be.” Robert Bauer of The Washington Post suggests that this decision puts the responsibility on voters to “catch the crooks” in politics and vote them out of office.
In its final opinion of the term, Voisine v. United States, the Court held 6-2 that for purposes of firearm prohibition for convicted felons, a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” includes reckless domestic assault. Justice Thomas had already registered his strong feelings on this case during oral arguments when he broke his 10-year streak without asking a question to challenge the federal government’s lawyer. So it was no surprise that he wrote a strong dissent in this case. ” The Washington Post discussed the rarity of seeing the Court’s most conservative member, Justice Thomas, and the Court’s most liberal member, Justice Sotomayor, together as the lone dissenters. The Hill.com explained that for gun control advocates, this decision was “a victory for public safety and women and children affected by domestic violence.” At Slate, Nora Caplan-Bricker wrote that this was but a “hollow victory” for gun control.
An Eventful Term Comes to a Close:
The term stretched from October 5, 2016 to June 27, 2016 and the Justices decided 80 cases during that time. Scotusblog breaks down every holding from this term, here. Its complete “October Term 2015 Stat Pack” is here. And get a glimpse of the Court’s last day from Mark Walsh of Scotusblog.
New York Times reporter Adam Liptak gives the inside scoop on how reporters cover the Supreme Court.
The most significant event of the term was, of course, the passing of Justice Scalia. The end of the term sparked a new round of assessments of Scalia’s legacy. Lissandra Villa of Time.com explained that “Scalia’s conservative, originalist presence on the court could have changed the outcome” in key cases. Richard Wolf of USAToday.com considered how the Court maneuvered while “rowing with eight oars.”