The Best and Worst Decisions of the Supreme Court's June Term

The United States Supreme Court; copy space.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 02, 2019 12:20 PM

Most of us have long since lost the illusion that the Supreme Court is a politically independent judicial body. After all, you have Bloomberg tracking how many times "conservative" justices joined their "liberal" counterparts in close cases. (It was 10 times in 17 cases this term.) So, any notion that a Supreme Court ruling is "good" or "bad" will more likely be based on your personal politics and how they align with the outcome.

In an effort to avoid the moment's political rancor, however, we've decided to name the Court's best and worst decisions this summer using some other, more fun criteria. Here's a look:

The Good

Regardless of your political affiliation, and despite Justice Clarence Thomas's dissent (which was only joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch), we can all agree that not-even-thinly-veiled racism during jury selection is something the criminal justice system simply cannot abide. And a Mississippi's prosecutor's use of 41 of 42 peremptory challenges on black jurors in a black man's trial for murder is beyond the pale. "A court confronting that kind of pattern cannot ignore it," Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted in the 7-2 opinion, and we're glad the Court didn't in Flowers v. Mississippi.

On a more fun note, the Court OK'd trademark protection "immoral" and "vulgar" marks, which should lead to an uptick in potty-mouthed applications and more interesting days for USPTO employees. And the justices opened the door for quicker liquor licenses, a ruling sure to lift everyone's spirits.

The Bad

After wandering straight into the morass of political gerrymandering, the Supreme Court backed as quickly away, saying the issue presented a political question beyond the Court's purview. It is a seemingly odd stance, given that the Court significantly reduced the scope of the political question doctrine to rule on gerrymandering efforts in 1962, and that many of these same justices reviewed similar questions just last year. And now the Court has taken the definitive stance that it cannot take a stance on the issue. Again, regardless of your political bent, the idea of any party using their place in power to further entrench that power by disenfranchising voters is disheartening.

The Ugly?

In another punt from the Court this term, Chief Justice John Roberts joined four liberal justices to send the Commerce Department's proposed 2020 census citizenship question back to the drawing board. It was another odd non-decision: While the Court dismissed the supposed explanations for bringing back the question as "more of a distraction," it gave Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross the opportunity to come up with a more reasonable reason for the decision. (And that's without even considering evidence that Republican strategists viewed re-introducing the question would be "advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.") For the Court to say, essentially, "All of your excuses provided so far in an extensive legal record fail scrutiny, please come back with some new and better ones after the fact," sets a dangerous precedent.

So far, the Supreme Court has ducked some of the most controversial topics for its fall term. But that doesn't mean its upcoming decisions won't be just as contentious.

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