June is going to be a gigantic month at the Supreme Court, with cases involving gay marriage, the Affordable Care Act, and the death penalty.
The 2015 decision docket continues a string of meaningful summers for the high court going back to 2012, when it sided with the Obama administration in a major case involving the Affordable Care Act. In 2013, it decided a pair of cases involving same-sex marriage, as well as one involving voter ID laws. And last year, it took on cases involving women’s health and labor unions.
But even if you’re not a Supreme Court or legal junkie, this month’s docket will be one to follow — and it could be one of the most consequential strings of decisions in the high court’s history.
Obergefell v. Hodges
This case encompasses others involving marriage equality, and it could lead to a landmark decision that would, in effect, give same-sex couples the constitutional right to marry.
At the heart of the case are two questions: Does the U.S. constitution — specifically, the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause — require states to provide a license to marriage to gay couples? And does it require states to recognize an out-of-state marriage and provide benefits to couples who were lawfully married out of state?
It could lead to a landmark decision that would, for all intents and purposes, legalize gay marriage throughout the country. And it could also roil the 2016 presidential race at a time when it starts to gain steam, as Republican candidates remain split on the issue.
Continuing a remarkable trend over the past decade, a majority of American voters say they would back a Supreme Court decision that grants same-sex couples the right to marry. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday, 56 percent of voters would back such a decision, compared with 38 percent who would oppose it.
But there’s a clear partisan split — 70 percent of Democrats would support that Supreme Court decision, compared to just 34 percent of Republicans. On this issue, Independents (61 percent) align more with Democrats.
During oral arguments, justices offered mixed signals. Most of the attention focused on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is expected to be the swing vote in the case. He expressed both concerns about redefining the concept of marriage, as well as excluding gay couples from the institution.
King v. Burwell
It’s not a stretch to say this case could be more meaningful for the future of Obamacare than the 2012 case. In 2012, most of the law had not been implemented. But three years later, the potential effects of taking benefits away from millions of people looms over the case.
This legal challenge centers on four words — “established by the state.” The challengers argue that the federal government does not have the power to issue tax credits, or subsidies, to individuals purchasing health insurance through federal marketplaces.
That’s because, they charge, the law’s authors intended for individual states to establish exchanges on which people could buy insurance. The federal government ended up controlling 37 states’ marketplaces, mostly from Republican-led states resistant to the law.
But supporters of the law — including its authors — scoff at the premise of the challenge.
“The authors of the ACA never intended for state boundaries to become fences,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said on a conference call with reporters earlier this year. “It would be devastating to millions of families … It would do nothing short of throwing our health care system into chaos.”
The potential ramifications are enormous. The non-partisan RAND Corporation estimated this year that about 8 million people would lose coverage if that part of the law is overturned. Enrollment in the exchanges would decline by about 70 percent. Insurance premiums would skyrocket by about 47 percent in the individual market. And according to the nonpartisan advisory and consulting firm Avalere Health, those relying on subsidies could see whopping 122 percent to 774 percent premium increases.
Glossip v. Gross
This case centers on whether an individual drug administered in death-penalty executions constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Plaintiffs argue that the drug in the case, midazolam, does not produce unconsciousness before the state subsequently injects inmates with other drugs that cause paralysis and then death.
The state of Oklahoma argues that midazolam is safe, effective, and humane. But the drug has come under intense scrutiny following the botched execution in 2014 of Clayton Lockett, who regained consciousness during the process and eventually died of a heart attack. A lower court has ruled in favor of the state.
The case comes in the midst of an increasingly charged debate over the future of the death penalty, as even red-state Nebraska has moved to abolish it.
More cases you should be familiar with
Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans: The case revolves around the Confederate Flag — specifically, whether a state can ban it from appearing on speciality license plates or whether it qualifies as free speech.
Texas Department of Housing v. Inclusive Communities Project: A housing discrimination case that centers on the concept of “disparate impact,” a legal theory that has helped minorities and others to prove discrimination by showing that certain housing practices have discriminatory effects on their populations.
Zivotofsky v. Kerry: It tackles whether parents’ desire to have their child recognized as born in “Jerusalem, Israel,” interferes with the president’s power of recognition. The U.S. says that Jerusalem’s status must be resolved through negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and it does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.