(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court only has one scheduled day left this term, and that means the justices are expected to hand down opinions in the remaining cases on Monday.
Those include cases on abortion, government corruption and a ban on gun ownership by individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses.
Last week the Court gave a big win to supporters of affirmative action, allowing race to be used as a factor when accepting applicants to universities. An even divide between the justices also effectively knocked down the President Obama’s immigration program.
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has left an eight-member court with the possibility of additional split decisions.
In what could be the most important abortion case in 25 years, clinics and doctors have challenged a Texas law in an attempt to reverse course on new regulations.
In 2013, Texas passed HB2, which contains the two provisions at issue in this case: 1) a requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital; and 2) a requirement that abortion facilities comply with the requirements for ambulatory surgical centers.
The plaintiffs in the case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, argued that there’s no evidence that the law promotes women’s health, and that it is really about impeding women’s access to abortion. If the law goes fully into effect, the challengers contend, the number of clinics in Texas will drop to 10 or fewer.
Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, the agency that enforces the challenged law, says that Texas is trying to ensure patient safety and improve standards of care.
The challengers won in the trial court, but an appeals court reversed it. When the Supreme Court took the case, it reinstated the trial court order blocking the law from fully going into effect while it considered the case.
This was the first major case the court heard after the February 13th death of Justice Scalia, and his absence was palpable during oral arguments. The liberal justices, in particular the three women, went after the Texas attorney, leaving no doubt that they believe the law is not justified by medical necessity.
Kennedy, so often the swing justice, was difficult to read, but seemed at least somewhat troubled by some aspects of the Texas law.
If Justice Kennedy thinks the regulations have gone too far, he will likely join the liberal justices in striking them down 5-3; if not, the court will likely divide 4-4, affirming the lower court opinion and leaving the regulations in effect, but making no law for the rest of the country.
However, a 4-4 split would apply to all three states in the Fifth Circuit –- Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
There is also a slight possibility that the Supreme Court could send the case back to the trial court for the introduction of more evidence.
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was convicted in 2014 by a Virginia jury of official corruption, for conduct related to his relationship with businessman Jonnie Williams.
Williams gave gifts and cash loans to McDonnell and his wife, who were in dire financial straits, and McDonnell arranged meetings and took other action to facilitate Williams’ attempt to secure approval for a tobacco-based supplement called Anatabloc.
The jury convicted McDonnell of several official corruption charges, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed the conviction and rejected McDonnell’s request to stay out of prison while he asked the Supreme Court to consider his case.
However, the Supreme Court surprised many people when it granted McDonnell’s request to stay out of prison and then in January agreed to hear the case.
This is McDonnell’s last hope to have his conviction overturned and stay out of prison.
The narrow legal issue here is whether the meetings that the former governor arranged and other actions he took constituted “official acts” for purposes of federal law.
McDonnell’s request seems likely to attract the support of a majority of the justices, given the reaction of the justices during oral arguments. However, a 4-4 tie would affirm the Fourth Circuit opinion and his conviction.
This case, Voisine v. United States, is noteworthy because Justice Clarence Thomas in March used it to ask his first questions during oral arguments in a decade.
One of the petitioners in the case, Stephen Voisine, claimed that his state domestic violence conviction shouldn’t have prevented him from owning a gun under federal law. Voisine’s case was consolidated with another similar case, brought by William Armstrong, both from Maine.
Although they are very likely to lose, Thomas used the oral argument as an opportunity to ask a total of 11 questions, all suggesting that the statute that barred the petitioners from gun ownership raised serious Second Amendment concerns.
“This is a misdemeanor violation. It suspends a constitutional right. Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?” said Thomas during arguments.
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