June is a Huge Month for the Supreme Court

June 16th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

From now until the end of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court will churn out decisions on some of the most widely publicized, pivotal cases of the year. 

By July, the high court is expected to issue rulings on everything from the legality of certain lethal injection drugs, to same-sex marriage, to subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Supreme Court Justices convened on Monday, and will meet every Monday this month (as well as this Thursday), on what are known as "decision days."

Here are five of the most important cases that will affect you: 

Glossip v. Gross: Lethal Injection Drugs

The past year or so has been a big one for the death penalty in the U.S., with a number of highly publicized mismanaged executions prompting a public debate over the efficacy of certain drugs used in the process. As pharmaceutical companies have shied away in recent years from continuing to provide states with the traditional lethal injection drugs used to kill death row inmates, states have turned to other drugs, like midazolam––a sedative, not an anesthetic––instead. In the most egregious cases, this has led states such as Nebraska to buy 300 executions' worth of illegal drugs from a mysterious foreign supplier. 

But inmates in Oklahoma filed suit to question the efficacy of midazolam, citing concerns over their right to a humane death by the state. One of the four inmates to file suit, Charles Warner, was executed in January after the Supreme Court denied a stay on his execution. During the 18-minute procedure, Warner muttered "my body is on fire" and that "no one should go through this. I'm not afraid to die." 

During oral arguments, some justices were sympathetic to the inmates' case, while others felt their plea was a "backdoor" effort to undermine the practice itself. In the event that the court sides with the inmates, states facing shortages of approved injection drugs could be made to scramble to obtain either new drugs, or rely on antiquated methods like firing squads, gas chambers, and electric chairs (which some are already turning to) to kill their death row inmates. The case comes as capital punishment is slowly falling out of public favor, with traditional supporters like conservatives voicing their opposition to it. 

Obergefell v. Hodges (and others): Same-Sex Marriage

Same-sex cases are some of the most watched, and most contested, to go through the Supreme Court, and this one is certainly no exception. This year, the high court has a litany of same-sex cases on its plate that could change the face of legalized gay marriage. Obergefell v. Hodges, for one, will address the discrepancy of what's called a "circuit split," brought when a Cincinnati appeals court upheld a state ban and bans in other states. That ruling basically said that states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states that allow them. But the Cincinnati ruling went against a number of recent rulings by federal district and appellate courts striking down bans to same-sex marriage in many of the three dozen states that have legalized it. 

As Slate points out, most of those rulings have relied on broad notions about dignity and quality for gay couples, but if Supreme Court justices decide that reading wrong, it could mean the reanimation of any number of bans: in about two-thirds of states where same-sex is legal, that's only because of federal court rulings. 

However, if the justices rule against the states defending their bans in Obergefell v. Hodges, that would likely clarify the law and result in the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

King v. Burwell: Affordable Care Act, or, Obamacare

​​Under Obamacare, states had the option to set up their own internal system of healthcare exchanges for residents to choose from, but many states relied on the federal government to set up the exchanges for them. And it is these states that conservatives took issue with when they sued the government, arguing that only states with their own exchanges are eligible for doling out subsidies to low-income residents, and that states with government-run exchanges cannot accept tax credits to subsidize eligible residents. The Obama administration maintains that all states are eligible for subsidies. 

If the Court sides with the Obama administration, things stay more or less how they have been. But if it goes the other way, some 7.5 million people across 34 states stand to lose their subsidies, which will result in higher healthcare premiums for private insurers, and a potential sharp rise in the number of uninsured people, according to the Huffington Post.

Walker v. Texas Division, Sons Of The Confederacy

While those first three cases are likely to draw the most attention, there are others which have broad implications. This one, out of Texas, is a classic First Amendment battle over the right of states to let drivers choose specialty license plates bearing a memorial confederate flag for Sons of Confederate Veterans. The group says that the plates, which are available to drivers in nine states, are a celebration of "sacrifice, independence and Southern heritage," but Texas deemed the plates offensive. 

The case could lay out rules for the freedom of expression with the Confederate flag, which has many obvious associations with some of the darker chapters of America's history.

Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project

Another case out of the Lone Star state examines whether or not the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which outlawed race discrimination in housing decisions, only bars against intentional discrimination, or extends to race-neutral policies that affect minorities, like zoning laws that block low-income housing construction. If the Court finds that "disparate impact" policies such as zoning laws or bank lending are not covered by the law, civil rights advocates could have a much harder time invoking litigation under the 1968 legislation. Observers have called this case the most significant race case of the bunch.