The Court has issued decisions in a number of cases since my last post, but several of the most highly anticipated cases still remain. In addition to the typical Monday decision day, the last of which is next week (the 29th), the Court has added two decision day on Thursday and Friday this week. There are now 7 cases that were heard this term but still undecided. It’s possible that the Court will wrap up this week and not use Monday, but probably more likely that it will spread decisions over the 3 days that are currently on its calendar.
So an updated recap of what remains (ordered by date of oral argument):
- Disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project (argued Jan 29). The FHA prohibits denial of housing to a person “because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Certainly, any form of individualized, intentional discrimination would be “because of” the person’s protected status and therefore illegal; this is termed “disparate treatment.” But what about policies that are facially neutral as to status but in reality will almost always be obstacles for members of a certain demographic? Does enforcing a policy that has a “disparate impact” constitute denial of housing “because of” race or other protected status?
This case involves the allocation of tax credits and the impact on housing voucher programs. Ordinarily, landlords are legally entitled to decline to accept Section 8 housing vouchers, under which the government pays part of the rent for low-income renters — only landlords who have received a tax credit must accept vouchers. The state agency allocated most tax credits in predominantly non-white neighborhoods. The effect of that policy is that white neighborhoods have comparatively few landlords who are required to accept housing vouchers. Hence this suit, alleging that the tax credit allocation policy had a disparate impact on minorities who were seeking housing in historically white neighborhoods.
- Congressional redistricting by independent bodies, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (argued March 2). Frustrated with political gamesmanship and claims of racial discrimination in the process of drawing Congressional districts, voters in Arizona amended the state constitution to empower an independent body to draw the districts. Interestingly, Congressional districts are never mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but it does state that “times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” (Art. I § 4.) Arizona’s legislature seized upon this to challenge the AIRC. Certainly, most people would not call the AIRC “the legislature,” but arguably the phrase refers to any body that makes statutory laws, and a state constitution can vest the legislative power in one body, in a bicameral system, or broken up among multiple bodies with specially defined legislative functions. In addition to the question of whether the Constitution permits the people of Arizona to prescribe this system, the Court must decide whether the legislature has standing to bring this case.
- Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), King v. Burwell (argued March 4). Its constitutionality is established, but there’s a question about whether the specific language in the law allows for tax subsidies for people who get their insurance through the federal exchange instead of through their state. Useful details in this article.
- Role of cost-benefit analyses in EPA regulations, [3 cases] v. EPA (argued March 25). Important issues about what the EPA must consider when it regulates power plants. Fuller analysis is here.
- Criminal law, Johnson v. US (argued April 20): (1) Whether mere possession of a short-barreled shotgun should be treated as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act. (2) Whether the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act is unconstitutionally vague.
- Same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges (argued April 28). One of the most high-profile cases of the term.
- Death penalty drugs, Glossip v. Gross (argued April 29). A challenge to the “three-drug cocktail” commonly used in executions.
I’ve attended the last two decision days, walking into the Court at about 8:30. Last Thursday, there was barely any public line at that time, but yesterday, the line was getting close to capacity. With only three days left and so many significant cases, I would expect attendance to become more popular, so would suggest getting there as early as possible. (The lawyer section has not been full, if you happen to be a member of the Supreme Court Bar. But that may well change soon.)