Before its recess at the end of June, the United States Supreme Court handed down some momentous decisions. The nine justices, under Chief Justice John Roberts, tackled some of the highest profile cases in the nation, and saved the decisions for the very end of the 2012 term.
Maryland v. King
In a 5-4 ruling, SCOTUS held that someone arrested for probable cause could have their DNA logged the same way fingerprints and photos have been taken and analyzed. The court held that it was a reasonable procedure in line with the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure. Justice Antonin Scalia broke with his conservative base to join three liberal judges for the dissent.
Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics
The court ruled unanimously against genetic diagnostic lab Myriad Genetics’ attempts to patent specific genes, most notably those commonly associated with breast cancer. The court’s stated “a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated”.
Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc.
Federal government funds have been provided to private groups to help fight AIDS, but the money came with a condition: the groups had to explicitly speak out against prostitution. In a 6-2 decision, the majority of the court ruled this as a violation of the First Amendment, the right to free speech. Private organizations should not be expected to change their views just because the federal government has a different opinion.
Fisher v. University of Texas
Better known as “the affirmative action case”, this case revolved around a prospective student suing the University of Texas, alleging that diversity policies led to her (a white woman) not getting accepted at the college of her choice. The case ruled against her in a 7-1 decision, noting that her academic qualifications were well below what the school accepted, though some did note the arbitrary nature of the school’s use of race in their admissions policy. The sole dissent came from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who felt that the lower court’s decision (upholding the policy) was adequate.
Vance v. Ball State University
A lesser-known case, focusing on harassment lawsuits. The court gave a rule in favor of a narrow definition of the title “supervisor”, restricting its definition to the individual with the power to fire an employee. In such a case, an employee could be harassed by a superior, but if that superior cannot fire the employee, then no action can be taken. The dissenting opinion listed several examples of how one whom is traditionally considered a supervisor could lack the ability to fire the victim of his harassment.
Shelby County v. Holder
Certainly the most troublesome decision from a human rights perspective, the court ruled 5-4 against Section 4b of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This section required changes in voting rules in certain districts to be subjected to preclearance. The majority stated that the section was unnecessary as it had not been changed in over 40 years. Justice Ginsburg stated in her dissent, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Two hours after the vote was announced, Texas began to advance a voter ID law and a redrawn district map which had been dismissed prior to the election as discriminatory. South Carolina’s attorney general plans to advance a voter ID law that was effectively blocked before the last election.
Hollingsworth v. Perry
The Prop 8 vote. The vote was 5-4 along party lines, and the majority chose to stay with the District Court’s ruling that California’s Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriage, violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Same-sex marriages in California resumed two days later.
United States v. Windsor
With the same 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the controversial Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. With DOMA ruled unconstitutional, same-sex couples now have the same legal rights as opposite-sex couples.
Now that gay marriage is legally equal to straight marriage, at least on a legal level, it is inevitable that more states will recognize same-sex couples.