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(Supreme Court sketch: Art Lien)

The U.S. Supreme Court gets a second shot at the Affordable Care Act this morning, with arguments set to start any minute in King v. Burwell.

If you were hoping to catch the arguments via live stream, well, you can’t. That’s because the nation’s highest court still does not allow cameras in the courtroom.

A number of open government organizations are taking advantage of the public interest in this case to make their case for the need of live coverage there, via the public announcement below.

In the meantime, some media outlets will be having reporters shuttling in and out of the courtroom with reports on the questioning and we’ll be posting some of those here as we see them.

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asking about standing of challengers to sue, per Wall Street Journal live blog:

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Here’s the mid-argument update from SCOTUSblog:

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Justices move from standing to questions about reading the statute literally — as challengers ask — and the problems with that.  More from SCOTUSblog:

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From Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen:

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Here’s what Justice Anthony Kennedy was asking, per SCOTUSblog update:

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Questioning going overtime:

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Plenty of questioning on the merits means likely no ruling based upon lack of standing, says SCOTUSblog:

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Justice Kennedy pushed government lawyer Michael Carvin, asking if “pressuring” states into creating their own exchanges is problematic. His response, per WSJ:

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Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor jump in, per WSJ:

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Questioning of the Solicitor General, arguing in favor of the reading that subsidies were availalbe under either exchange, wasn’t much easier. Per SCOTUSblog:

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Arguments have ended.  Here’s a few post-game predictions from legal experts and court watchers:

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News

Supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court is hearing argument today in a redistricting dispute out of Arizona that could bear directly on North Carolina voters.

In the case, aptly captioned Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commissionthe state legislature sued an independent redistricting commission approved by voters in 2000 to draw state and congressional voting lines.

The lawmakers contend that the delegation of that responsibility from them to the commission violates the Election Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for . . . Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”

SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe has more on the legal arguments in the case here, but of more import to North Carolina voters is the impact the court’s decision may have on developing efforts to reform the redistricting process here.

Two bills are now pending in the General Assembly that would change the overtly partisan nature of drawing voting lines in North Carolina.

House Bill 92, sponsored by Rep. “Skip” Stam and others, calls for a more bipartisan approach to map-drawing but keeps ultimate approval authority with lawmakers.

House Bill 49 on the other hand — sponsored by Rep. Charles Jeter and others —  delegates the map-drawing to an independent commission, which then presents three plans from which lawmakers can choose. If they don’t agree on a plan within a set period of time, the commission itself picks the redistricting plan that becomes state law.

The latter bill, which would require a constitutional amendment, is more like the Arizona law before the nation’s highest court, except that it still rests ultimate approval with the lawmakers — absent their failure to act.

But even that degree of delegation may be at risk, depending on how the Supreme Court rules.

As the Brennan Center for Justice points out here:

If the Supreme Court were to conclude that the Elections Clause prohibits citizen efforts to take the power to redistrict away from elected politicians, the decision could have far-reaching ramifications. A growing number of states in recent years, including California, have given independent commissions the power to set the boundaries of their congressional districts. In fact, almost half of the states now use redistricting commissions in some form, including as a backup if the legislature is unable to pass a redistricting plan. Efforts to adopt similar sorts of reforms are currently underway in Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin – with Arizona and California frequently serving as models for proposed reforms.

 

News

Supreme courtThis morning, a majority of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block same-sex marriages in Alabama pending the high court’s decision on the constitutionality of similar marriage bans in other states — making Alabama the 37th state in which such marriages are permitted.

The court is scheduled to hear cases out of Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in April, with a ruling expected in June.

Allowing yet another state to move ahead with gay marriage led many to speculate that a majority on the nation’s highest court were moving towards acceptance of the argument that state bans are in fact unconstitutional.

Fueling that speculation was a dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas, joined in by Justice Antonin Scalia, chastising his colleagues for not staying Alabama marriages.

Thomas wrote:

This court looks the other way as yet another federal district judge casts aside state laws without making any effort to preserve the status quo pending the court’s resolution of a constitutional question it left open in United States v. Windsor [the court’s 2013 decision striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act].

This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question. This is not the proper way to discharge our . . . responsibilities. And, it is indecorous for this Court to pretend that it is.

A federal judge had already ruled in January that Alabama’s ban was unconstitutional, but stayed the ruling until today in order to give the state time to appeal. State Attorney General Luther Strange then headed straight to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking that relief.

With that deadline and the possibility of federally-sanctioned same-sex marriages looming, Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore issued an order last night prohibiting state probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to such couples. 

(This was not the first time Moore defiantly tangled with the federal courts, as the New York Times noted earlier today. Readers may remember Moore’s refusal in the early 2000s to obey a federal judge’s order requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from a Montgomery building — a move which led to his removal from the Chief Justice post. He became Chief Justice again in 2013.)

But once the high court refused to issue a stay order, probate judges across the state defied Moore’s order and began marrying gay couples.

As Robert Barnes at the Washington Post correctly points out, the dissent by two of the justices does not necessarily mean that the remaining seven all voted in favor of denying a stay.  Rather, it means only that Thomas and Scalia chose to give their reasons for voting otherwise.

Wrote Barnes:

Some justices may have thought Alabama should receive a stay, but did not join Thomas’s dissent. All that is clear from Monday’s action is that a majority of the nine justices turned down the request, and only Thomas and Scalia gave reasons for their actions. 

News
(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

Things at the U.S. Supreme Court may seem a bit quiet right now, with conferences and oral arguments not scheduled to start up again until later in the month, but don’t let that lull you into a sense of calm.

Once the justices reconvene, all hell could break loose, with same-sex marriage, Obamacare, lethal injection and redistricting among the issues being reviewed.

“The term went from being one of the more uneventful terms in recent years to potentially one of the biggest ones in a generation,” SCOTUSblog editor Amy Howe said.

For a look at what big issues have been argued and decided as well as what’s in queue, read the update by CNN’s Ariane de Vogue here.

Commentary

Credit Ian Millhiser of Think Progress with the excellent headline that appears above as well as the following story that appeared on the group’s website yesterday:

ROn Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in Holt v. Hobbs, establishing that a Muslim inmate may grow a half-inch beard “in accordance with his religious beliefs,” despite a prison policy prohibiting him from doing so. This result is not particularly surprising. During oral argument the justices appeared sympathetic to the inmate, who listed as “Gregory Houston Holt AKA Abdul Maalik Muhammad.” And Mr. Muhammad had strong legal arguments supporting his case.

In the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito convincingly rebuts the prison’s justifications for requiring Muhammad to shave. Among other things, the prison claimed that an inmate might hide contraband, such as a razor or illegal drugs, in their beard if they were permitted to grow one. According to Alito, however, the prison’s claim that an inmate might smuggle items in a half-inch beard, is “hard to take seriously.” The prison, for example, does not require inmates to shave their heads, so “it is hard to see why an inmate would seek to hide contraband in a 1/2-inch beard rather than in the longer hair on his head.”

Though Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joins Alito’s opinion, she also penned a two sentence concurring opinion explaining why Tuesday’s decision is a proper application of an individual’s religious freedoms — and why she believes that the Court’s birth control decision in Hobby Lobby was erroneous. “Unlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.,” Ginsburg explains, “accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief. On that understanding, I join the Court’s opinion.” Read More