Today in the Supreme Court…


My favorite Supreme Court watcher, Dahlia Lithwick, is hosting her yearly round table on SCOTUS decisions over at Slate. Joining her this year are Judge Richard Posner and Professor Walter Dellinger.

The Supreme Court handed down a number of decisions today, but not the big one on the Affordable Care Act. That will come Thursday, and you can expect the internet equivalent of projectile vomiting from a lot of people when that comes down, no matter how it’s decided. I won’t even hazard a guess on this thing. Seriously, it could be 9 different decisions, with Scalia’s being a tracing of his hand with the middle finger raised and it wouldn’t surprise me at this point.

Arizona’s immigration law basically went down today, no matter what Governor Brewer says about the heart of the bill remaining. When you lose 3 of the 4 counts and the Court gives you a nudge toward a way that the fourth can be overturned, you pretty much lost. That didn’t stop Justice Scalia from throwing a hissy fit in his dissent.

The Supreme Court doubled down on its much vilified Citizens United decision of two years ago by issuing a 5-4 unsigned opinion. Charles Pierce summed up the two decisions this way:

It was an interesting day for our old friend, the 10th Amendment, which reads, if I recall correctly, “Congress shall make no law that disturbs the local rednecks.” Jan Brewer, the duly elected crackpot governor of Arizona, praised the Supreme Court for continuing to allow brown people in her state to be rousted for their papers by calling it “a victory… for the 10th Amendment.” Of course, at the same time, the Court also exercised the little-known second paragraph of the 10th Amendment, which reads, if I recall correctly, “The various States shall make no law that inconveniences the rich guys who buy us dinner,” by blowing up a campaign-finance law in Montana that had stood for 100 years. So, if you’re keeping score at home, “states rights” now mean that your gardener can be asked to produce his papers on his way to your house, and a billionaire from Colorado can buy your governor. I hope that clears things up.

The Supreme Court also ruled today that it’s cruel and unusual punishment to impose a mandatory sentence of life in prison without benefit of parole on juveniles. It’s a very narrow ruling, as juveniles can still be sentenced in such a way–it just can’t be a mandatory sentence. Even so, it was a 5-4 decision, which means 4 Justices didn’t see a problem with not allowing judges or juries to decide whether youth or extenuating circumstances would merit a lighter sentence.

And now we wait for Thursday.

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →