The Supreme Court didn’t stop with important rulings last week. Before they excused themselves for summer vacation, they ruled on several more cases.
In Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Scalia wrote the Court’s 5-4 opinion. Scotusblog reports: “When Congress orders an agency to begin regulating an industry, but says it should do so only if “appropriate and necessary,” the agency must take costs into account before it issues any orders,
This decision temporarily blocked a ruling by the EPA that it would go ahead and regulate power plants while delaying, until it actually issued specific controls to specific plants, any review of how much it would cost to abide by regulation. Scalia said the agency did not have to follow any particular method of gauging the costs, but it had to fashion some way to calculate that prior to doing any regulating.”
This is the kind of mischief Congress courts when it delegates lawmaking authority, something it does not have the power to do in the Constitution. Congress should hash out these rules themselves, then make a law, rather than rely on Executive branch bureaucrats to fill in the blanks of pre-approved legislation.
Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is another 5-4 opinion, this time written by Justice Ginsburg. Arizona passed a state constitutional amendment to give redistricting power to an independent commission. The proponents of the measure argued that the commission would be more free from political pressure and lead to more sensible districts with less gerrymandering.
The legislature was not happy about its constituents removing some of its power, and so they sued. The AZ legislature argued that the amendment violated the Elections Clause of the United States Constitution (Article 1 Sec. 4) which reads in relevant part, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” The legislature argued that their power to redistrict came straight from the U.S. Constitution, and that the people of Arizona could not change it.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the amendment shall stand, and that the word “legislature” as mentioned in the constitution really meant a body or group with the power to make laws. Justice Ginsburg did give a reason as to why our Constitution’s authors didn’t simply write that however. Justice Roberts, always a wildcard, takes a much different stand than in earlier cases this term and goes for a more narrow, textual based analysis. He says in part, writing for the dissenters:
Just over a century ago, Arizona became the second State in the Union to ratify the Seventeenth Amendment. That Amendment transferred power to choose United States Senators from “the Legislature” of each State, Art. I, §3, to “the people thereof.” The Amendment resulted from an arduous, decades-long campaign in which reformers across the country worked hard to garner approval from Congress and three-quarters of the States.
What chumps! Didn’t they realize that all they had to do was interpret the constitutional term “the Legislature” to mean “the people”? The Court today performs just such a magic trick with the Elections Clause. Art. I, §4. That Clause vests congressional redistricting authority in “the Legislature” of each State.
Chumps is not a word typically used in Supreme Court opinions.
Glossip v. Gross decided a group of death row inmates’ suit against Oklahoma. They claimed part 1 of the lethal injection cocktail, a drug called midazolam that is administered to render unconsciousness, was so unreliable, that its administration amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
In, yes, another 5-4 decision, the Court in an especially animated and divided posture, ruled midazolam is constitutional. This time Kennedy went with the conservatives. Both Sotomayor, and Breyer read their dissents from the bench, and:
Breyer’s dissent drew what can only be described as scorn from Justices Scalia and Thomas, both of whom wrote their own concurring opinions (each joined by the other) just to respond to Breyer. Scalia – who eliminated any lingering doubt about the rancor among the Justices on this question by reading from the bench as well – focuses on what he viewed as the legal shortcomings of Breyer’s “gobbledy-gook” argument: not only has the Supreme Court never suggested that the death penalty is “categorically impermissible,” he emphasizes, but the Constitution “explicitly contemplates” the use of the death penalty as a punishment. And Thomas’s opinion seeks to make clear that there is a category of crimes for which the death penalty is not only appropriate but perhaps necessary by reciting the details of one gruesome murder after another.
In the next post regarding the Court, we’ll take a look at the final orders, and case selection choices started for next term, October 2015