WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ended its term Monday, ruling on the constitutionality of a lethal injection drug, congressional redistricting and Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
The court also announced it will take a second look at another controversial case: Fisher v. University of Texas, an affirmative action case the court originally heard in 2012.
In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of the drug midazolam was constitutional and could continue.
The Oklahoma death row prisoners who appealed the drug’s use argued that the drug did not work as intended, putting prisoners in a deep state of unconsciousness, unable to feel the pain of subsequent injections designed to paralyze the body and stop the heart. They argued that this made use of the drug a form of cruel and unusual punishment outlawed by the Constitution.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. delivered the court’s opinion, which ruled against the prisoners, determining that they had “failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain.”
In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized the majority’s shift of the burden of proof and its assertion that the evidence proved midazolam to be effective at keeping the prisoner from feeling pain.
“Oh both counts the Court errs,” she said. “As a result, it leaves petitioners exposed to what may as well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.”
Four states use midazolam in their execution process. Oklahoma has announced its intentions to resume executions following the court’s decision. States began using the drug after other drugs became unavailable, mainly because the European companies that made them refused to sell them for executions.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined the majority opinion. Scalia and Thomas each wrote concurring opinions. Breyer wrote a dissent, which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined. They argued the death penalty was likely unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual. Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan joined Sotomayor’s dissent.
It is constitutional to use independent commissions to draw congressional districts, the court ruled in a 5-4 vote.
The decision came after the Arizona State Legislature appealed, arguing that the state legislature should have control over drawing congressional and state legislative districts rather than the bipartisan Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. They argued that the Constitution’s election clause gives states the right to prescribe the “time, place and manner of holding elections,” and since the commission was put in place by popular vote, it violated the Constitution.
The court ruled against the state legislature, under the justification that the democratic ballot measure that sought to decrease gerrymandering fell under the banner of “legislature” prescribed by the Constitution. In the majority opinion, Ginsburg quoted a 2005 law review article on gerrymandering: “The voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”
Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan joined Ginsburg. Roberts dissented and was joined by Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Scalia also wrote a dissent, which was joined by Thomas.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Environmental Protection Agency must consider the cost of implementing regulations for power plants before putting them in place.
Scalia wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito. Kagan wrote a dissenting opinion in favor of the EPA, which was joined by Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor.
Coming up: Affirmative action
The court announced it will revisit the case of Fisher v. The University of Texas in the fall, a case it ruled on in 2013.
Abigail Fisher sued for discrimination after she was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, arguing her application was not accepted because she was white. The court remanded the case, sending back to a lower court for review, but has now agreed to hear it again after the university revised its policies.
The University of Texas guarantees admission to Texan high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class. They make up about 75 percent of the freshman class. The remaining applicants are chosen based on a variety of factors, one of which is race and ethnicity.
If the court rules in favor of Fisher, it could be a serious blow to affirmative action.
Reach reporter Nadia Dreid at [email protected] or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
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