Texas Cases to Watch for as Supreme Court Term Starts to Close

The U.S. Supreme Court is wrapping up its term, and that means at least three big-ticket Texas cases may be decided in the coming weeks.EXPAND
The U.S. Supreme Court is wrapping up its term, and that means at least three big-ticket Texas cases may be decided in the coming weeks.
Photo by UpstateNYer

It seems there's almost always a Texas case that could have major implications for the entire country depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court decides it. Last year, a Texas case, Obergefell v. Hodges, became the high point of the Supreme Court's term when the decision announced at the end of June led to the court's affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry. This year we've got three cases that will be at the center of major opinions from the high court.

The Supreme Court is rolling into June, the final month of its annual term, which tends to be the time when the justices announce their decisions on some of the most controversial cases. Opinions are typically released on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and on the third Monday of each sitting. As we get closer to the end of the term, we'll be keeping a sharp eye out for certain Texas cases that are due to be decided. Here are a few we're keeping an eye on: 

United States v. Texas: This case is technically about immigration, but it's also a really interesting question about presidential power. Back in 2014, President Obama issued an executive order announcing the federal government would defer deportation and offer work permits for about 4 million undocumented immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Of course, the states didn't take kindly to the President's executive action. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined up with 25 other Republican-led states, sued and won orders from two lower courts blocking the President's plan from being put into action. Texas lawyers claim Obama is trying to change immigration law by going around Congress with the executive order.

Meanwhile, Obama's lawyers say Texas hasn't suffered any harm from the order. They also maintain Obama was simply exercising his powers as Commander-in-Chief when he issued the order in the first place. 

However the court rules on this case, the decision will likely bring immigration issues into the 2016 presidential election rhetoric in an even bigger way. If the justices find in favor of the United States, millions of undocumented immigrants covered by this program and by the program it stems from, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals set up by Obama in 2012, will be allowed to stay. If the court rules in favor of Texas or simply splits 4-4 on the decision, both of Obama's immigration programs will likely be struck down, as Politico has noted. 

Fisher v. University of Texas: This case centers on a woman named Abigail Fisher who apparently really wanted to go to the University of Texas-Austin. Fisher grew up in Sugar Land, and both her father and her sister went to UT, so she wanted to go there too. However, when Fisher applied to the school in 2008, UT gave automatic admission to students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Fisher had graduated with a 3.59 GPA, scored an 1180 of 1600 on her SAT and didn't land in the top 10 percent, so she had to compete with everyone else for 841 spots that go to lower-tiered students.

UT evaluated her grades, her submitted essay and her extracurricular activities and decided not to accept her. They felt her academic record was weak, according to ProPublica. But Fisher has never accepted this and continues to insist she was rejected because she's white, and her lawsuit before the court claims she was denied equal protection of the law because race was a factor in deciding who was admitted. 

Back when the justices heard this case, the late Justice Antonin Scalia indicated he'd like to see race-based decisions abolished, but Scalia's death has left the conservative block on the court without a key vote and a crucial voice on this. Justice Elena Kagan isn't weighing in on this one because of her early work with the Obama administration, so it looks like the decision will come down to the regular swing vote of Chief Justice John Roberts's court, Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy has voted against affirmative action before, but he never joined up with Scalia to try to abolish it. So basically, there's no telling how this one will turn out, but it's very possible that affirmative action may become a thing of the past.

Whole Women's Health vs. Hellerstedt: This one is about a single bit of legislation passed in the state legislature in 2013, House Bill 2, but it could change abortion law for the entire country, depending on how the high court rules. HB2 says abortions can be performed only at a clinic that meets the standards of an outpatient surgical center and employs doctors who have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The bill has been, shall we say, controversial ever since it first hit the flood of the state legislature. 

Former state senator Wendy Davis rocketed to political fame and the Democratic nomination for governor based on her filibuster opposing the bill in the summer of 2013. Despite the filibuster, HB2 was ultimately pushed through the Lege in a special session called by then-governor Rick Perry. Soon afterward, a coalition of abortion providers sued, challenging the law as unconstitutional. Before HB2 passed, there were about 40 abortion clinics in the state; now there are fewer than nine.

Since then, HB2 has bounced through the court system while other, similar laws passed in conservative-leaning state legislatures across the country have done the same. In their arguments before the court, lawyers for the clinic maintained that allowing HB2 to be fully enacted will force most of the clinics in Texas to close permanently. However, lawyers for Texas say states have broad authority to enforce health and safety standards as they see fit.

In the past, the Supremes have held that states may not put an "undue burden" on a woman seeking an abortion, but there's no telling how this court will decide. Kennedy is the resident swing vote of the high court and all, but while he's leaned liberal on some issues, like gay rights, he's voted to uphold abortion restrictions in the past. On the flip side, though, Kennedy didn't sound like he's was buying into the justifications of the Texas lawyers, so there's no telling how this one will turn out. 

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