The Heritage Foundation’s annual Scholar’s and Scribes event held on July 8th discussed the Supreme Court’s 2013 – 2014 term. The discussion about the cases focused around women’s health, the First Amendment, and racial discrimination.
A member of the scholars’ panel, John Malcom, Director of Legal and Judicial Studies at Heritage, remarked that this was an exceptionally good year for conservatives, although the positive results were achieved through narrow victories.
The most recent case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, was the topic of an in-depth discussion. Due to the political backlash and misreporting about the decision from the mainstream press and the political Left, this case became controversial overnight.Through the further validation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), the decision also lessened the impact of the Affordable Care Act by allowing nonprofits to have more freedom in deciding women’s health care plans. By a vote of 5-4 this was a huge win for conservatives that will also translate into a cause celebre for the War on Women crowd in the upcoming election.
In regards to the First Amendment, McCullen v. Coakley analyzed the relationship between First Amendment rights and women’s health. The case questioned the use of 35 foot buffer zones for protection against violence outside of abortion clinics. The case remains controversial due to Hill vs. Colorado (2000), better known as the “Mother May I” case. This case denied the right to hand out flyers or conduct protests within eight feet of an abortion clinic; yet protection against violence was not specified. Due to the contradiction between the two cases, McCullen vs. Coakley was denied by a vote of 9-0.
The case of Noel Canning v. NLRB was perhaps the most important win for conservatives. In this instance, the court unanimously denied President Obama’s use of recess appointments while the Senate was pro forma. Since both the press and the citizenry have been speculating about the extent of President Obama’s legitimate use of executive power, the Supreme Court clarified the limits of presidential power in this case, while it also validated the importance of separation of powers in our bipartisan legislature.
Meanwhile, the court’s decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action allowed Michigan to ban affirmative action at all public colleges. Although affirmative action procedures are in place at most colleges and universities, they were denied in Michigan since each state has the freedom to decide how to resolve racial differences within its borders.
With Justice Kagan abstaining, the case was affirmed by a vote of 6-2.
Speaking for the minority opinion, Justice Sotomayor delivered a strong dissent, which stressed the importance of promoting diversity through affirmative action. Even so, the case addressed the implications of states’ rights in the US Constitution.
The 2013-2014 Supreme Court rulings have been influential in acknowledging the importance of our individual freedom and liberties. While the liberal justices on the court had plenty of opportunities to influence the outcome of these cases, it is astonishing that the decisions were so heavily weighted toward the conservative side of the political spectrum. These results demonstrate that despite the Democrats’ control of the Senate and the White House, the court’s decisions in favor of individual liberty will have a positive impact on the national political agenda.