BREAKING NEWS: In a landmark victory for gay rights, a divided Supreme Court ruled that state prohibitions on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution.
The Supreme Court will be back at work Friday putting the finishing touches on a historic term, with one major decision completed and a landmark ruling on same-sex marriage to be announced.
The court on Thursday delivered a pair of decisions that delighted civil rights groups and the Obama administration. In one, it said that the protections of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 extend beyond policies that are intentionally discriminatory and forbid actions that appear neutral but have the effect of harming minorities.
More prominently, the justices upheld a major part of the Affordable Care Act that said subsidies intended to help low- and moderate-income Americans buy health insurance are available to all who qualify, not just to those who live in states that have set up insurance marketplaces.
The 6-to-3 ruling in the ACA case was a major victory for President Obama and seemed to ensure that his signature domestic achievement will endure after he leaves office.
The justices will announce more decisions Friday morning, and the most closely watched will be whether they decide that the Constitution requires states to offer marriage to gay couples as well as straight ones.
The court’s answer could mean that same-sex couples nationwide have the right to marry. A series of lower-court rulings have extended marriage rights to gay couples in 36 states, and public opinion polls have recorded a surge in approval for such marriages.
Besides Friday, the court is scheduled to issue decisions Monday, which is scheduled to be the final day of the term. The court does not announce in advance which cases it will be deciding
Besides same-sex marriage, other important decisions await.
The court is considering whether Congress meant for the Environmental Protection
Agency to consider costs when coming up with regulations to limit emissions of mercury and other hazardous pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.
Congress ordered the EPA to study whether it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate the pollutants from power plants but was silent on whether that study should include the costs of regulation.
The justices are also reviewing how far states may go in trying to keep partisan politics out of congressional redistricting.
Arizona voters in 2000 voted to turn over redistricting to an independent commission. But Republicans who control the state legislature say that the Constitution’s Election Clause gives that responsibility to the legislature.
The justices also are considering how states may execute prisoners using lethal injection, which was the subject of rancorous oral arguments in April. Lawyers for death row inmates in Oklahoma allege that the use of a sedative called midazolam has resulted in troubling executions that violate the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.