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Wednesday, November 29, 2023


June is peak season for Supreme Court decisions. It is the final month of the court’s annual term, and the justices tend to save their biggest decisions for the term’s end.

Here are four cases you should follow:

The 2010 health care law — also known as Obamacare — is before the court yet again, in a case known as California v. Texas. As in the earlier cases, conservative lawyers and state officials are asking the justices to invalidate the law.

The details get technical, but the bottom line is that the justices appear likely to uphold the law, based on their questions during oral arguments in November.

(Those technical details: In 2012, the court upheld the law’s health-insurance mandate on the grounds that it was a tax and that Congress clearly has the authority to levy taxes. Since then, Congress and President Donald Trump reduced the amount of the tax to zero. As a result, the conservative lawyers argue that the mandate is no longer a tax and no longer constitutional — and that the entire law should be thrown out.)

The repeated Obamacare rulings do help polish the court’s image: A Republican-dominated court gets multiple chances to uphold the same Democratic accomplishment.

Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee is the most important voting rights case in almost a decade.

The narrow outcome seems all but certain: The court’s conservative majority will uphold two Arizona measures. One requires election officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precinct; the other makes “ballot harvesting” — the collection of ballots for delivery to polling places — a crime in most circumstances.

The larger question is whether the ruling will be so broad that it will also effectively endorse new voting laws that states have passed this year. Since Trump lost re-election last year and falsely blamed fraud for his defeat, several states have passed laws in the name of enhancing election security. Those laws are a mixture of common-sense provisions (or at least debatably so) and partisan provisions intended to make voting more difficult, especially in heavily Democratic areas.

The Roberts court has generally sided with Republican state officials when they have restricted voting access.

Like many cities, Philadelphia uses private contractors to screen potential foster parents. One of those contractors, a Catholic social services agency, has asked for the right not to place children with same-sex couples. Philadelphia has said that all contractors must follow the city’s anti-discrimination policies.

The crucial question in the case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, is whether same-sex couples deserve the same protection against discrimination as racial minorities — or whether religious groups can define marriage as being only between a woman and a man.

The justices’ questions during oral arguments seemed to point to a ruling in favor of the Catholic agency. That would restrict the impact of the 2015 ruling establishing a right to same-sex marriage, making clear that L.G.B.T.Q. Americans could not expect the same protections as other groups. It would also raise questions about whether the newly conservative court might one day revisit that 2015 ruling.

After Brandi Levy, a 14-year-old in central Pennsylvania, failed to make the varsity cheerleading team at her public high school, she posted an angry, vulgar message on Snapchat. The school responded by suspending her from the junior varsity team for a year. The case, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., raises the issue of how much schools can regulate online behavior.

During oral arguments, the justices seemed skeptical of the punishment’s severity. But many legal experts are not sure they will use this case to issue a sweeping ruling about student speech and social media. They could also issue a narrow ruling — and one that may not follow ideological lines — that returns the case to a lower court and leaves the grander questions for another day.


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