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United States Supreme Court Update: A Look At The Major Cases Published This Term

The United States Supreme Court issued several landmark opinions this term amongst the most unique of circumstances. It was the first time since 1919 that the Supreme Court building was closed due to a pandemic. The Supreme Court also experimented with remote oral arguments in May. 

The term featured a wide range of closely watched topics including DACA, the rights of LGBTQ employees, the Second Amendment, Presidential power, Free Exercise of religion, the Electoral College, abortion and more. It was a term in which Chief Justice Roberts remained as the ideological center of the Supreme Court after the departure of Justice Kennedy. The Chief voted in the majority this term a staggering 97% of the time. ( 

Here is a brief summary of the major opinions released by the Supreme Court over this term: 

Bostock v. Clayton County (Gorsuch, J.)

 In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court recognized that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Specifically, the Court held that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination “because of . . . sex” is broad enough to include discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity.  

According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, an employer violates Title VII if it “intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee” or “if changing the employee’s sex would have yielded a different choice by the employer.”  In other words, if an employer fires a male employee because he is attracted to other men, but would not fire a woman who was attracted to men, the employer has discriminated against the male employee on the basis of sex and in violation of Title VII.  

In addition to protecting members of the LGTBQ community from employment discrimination, the ruling in Bostock strongly suggests the inclusion of LGBTQ individuals in other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of “sex,” including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Affordable Care Act. Subsequent lawsuits may urge courts to extend the protections afforded by Bostock to cover discrimination by schools and health care providers.  

Prepared by: Jeffrey Renaud | 

Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California (Roberts, C.J.

In a 5-4 opinion, Chief Justice Roberts opined that the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). DACA was first created by the Obama administration in 2012 in an attempt to provide the children of undocumented immigrants with an opportunity to work in the United States and remain in the country free of the threat of deportation, among other federal benefits. In 2017 the Trump administration sought to rescind the program but, in doing so, SCOTUS ruled that it had violated the APA by “failing to consider important aspects of the [immigration] problem” before rescinding the DACA program. 

It should be noted that SCOTUS did not uphold the legality of DACA, nor did the court rule that the Trump administration had no authority to rescind DACA. Instead, SCOTUS simply ruled that the Department of Homeland Security went about the rescission improperly and violated the APA in the process. Judge Alito best characterized the majority opinion in that “[SCOTUS] tells the Department of Homeland Security to go back and try again.” 

Prepared by: Jeffrey

County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, Et Al. (Breyer, J.) 

In a 6-3 decision written by Justice Breyer, which resolved a split in the Circuit Courts of Appeal, SCOTUS considered whether the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) “requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source, here, groundwater.” The County of Maui operates a wastewater reclamation facility in Hawaii from which roughly 4 million gallons of treated wastewater per day is pumped into four deep injection wells. This ef­fluent, which contains a number of regulated pollutants, mixes with and travels approximately one-half mile through groundwater where it then discharges to the Pacific Ocean. Several citizens’ groups argued that this amounted to an unpermitted discharge from a point source to a navigable water, which is regulated under the CWA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit program. The County of Maui argued that the discharge was not regulated under the CWA because a point source did not ultimately deliver the pollutant to the navigable water. 

SCOTUS took a middle ground approach and held that the CWA requires a discharge permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the “functional equivalent” of such a direct discharge. The Court identified seven factors potentially relevant to the question of functional equivalency, including the time and distance that the pollution travels, which Justice Breyer deemed likely to be the most important factor in most cases. Other factors include “the nature of the material through which the pollutant travels and the extent to which the pollutant is diluted or chemically changed as it travels.” 

Prepared by: Jeffrey

 Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association (Thomas, J.

In a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS held that the Forest Service had the authority to authorize a natural gas pipeline to be built under the Appalachian Trail. Environmental groups challenged whether a federal agency could authorize a pipeline through “lands” of the National Park System. SCOTUS held that the Appalachian Trail is not a “land” under the National Park System. Instead, the Trail is considered a “right of way”, akin to an easement, held and administered by the National Park Service. The land upon which the right of way exists is administered by the Forest Service, which, due to this legal classification, has the authority to approve a tunnel 600 feet beneath the Trail. 

As a result of this decision, SCOTUS removed one legal barrier to the construction of a 600-mile natural gas pipeline that would run underground along the Appalachian Trail from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina. However, several legal barriers remain before construction may begin because the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected several other permits for the project. 

Prepared by: Jeffrey 

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York 

In a per curiam opinion, SCOTUS vacated the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upholding a New York City rule prohibiting firearm owners possessing a premises license from transporting their firearms outside of New York City. Under the New York licensing structure for firearm ownership, a license to carry a firearm is not valid within New York City “unless a special permit granting validity is issued by the police commissioner” of New York City. Residents of New York City without a carry license are limited to a “premises license” which allows the licensee to have and possess a firearm in their dwelling. Under New York City rules, holders of a premises license were only permitted to transport their firearms to one of several designated target ranges within city limits. As such, they could not transport their firearms to ranges outside of city limits or to a second home within New York. Petitioners challenged the validity of the rule under the Second Amendment, the dormant Commerce Clause, and constitutional right to travel interstate. 

Subsequent to the SCOTUS granting review, in July of 2019 New York City amended its rules to permit holders of a premises license to transport firearms outside of the city provided that the firearm is transported unloaded, in a locked container, with the ammunition carried separately, and the transportation is continuous and uninterrupted. In light of this rule change, the SCOTUS vacated the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and remanded for further proceedings to allow the parties to amend their pleadings. 

Prepared by: Michael

Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Roberts, C.J.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is an executive branch agency that regulates consumer debt products. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB was created as an independent agency, meaning that its leadership could only be removed for cause, unlike the heads of many other executive branch agencies, who can be removed at will by the President. (Other independent agencies include the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Social Security Administration.) Unlike most of these other independent agencies, however, the CFPB was led by a single director. In what was, in essence, a 5-4 decision (see below), the Supreme Court struck down the part of the Dodd-Frank Act that provided for the CFPB to have a single director removable only for “inefficiency, neglect, or malfeasance” on the basis that that provision violated the separation of powers. 

The Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, decided not to extend case law that affirmed the constitutionality of independent agencies headed by commissioners who were only removable for cause to the CFPB because almost all prior independent administrative agencies have been led by multi-member commissions. The Court noted few exceptions to removal protection being available to offices headed by a single person, none of which had power comparable to the CFPB. Accordingly, the Court held that a single director wielding this much power was incompatible with the Constitution, which avoids concentrating power in a single person—with the exception of the President—because a single-director CFPB could easily drift from the President’s, and people’s, control. (The dissent would have extended case law to cover the CFPB, disagreeing that the Constitution commanded the President’s ability to remove officers at will at all and showing that the exceptions noted by the majority were not so anomalous.) 

The question then shifted to whether this unconstitutional grant of power to the CFPB director meant that the entire CFPB and Dodd-Frank Act were unconstitutional, a position that petitioner Seila Law LLC pushed (but the Solicitor General did not). This question was answered in the negative by a 7-2 vote, with the four dissenters agreeing that the director’s removal protection is severable from the other provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act. Thus, the CFPB lives on, but with a director who is removable at will by the President. This could, of course, change if Congress decides to change the structure of CFPB leadership to have a multi-member directorate like most other independent agencies. 

Prepared by: Matthew

 Chiafalo v. Washington (Kagan, J.)

Colorado Department of State v. Baca (Per Curiam) 

As many of us learned long ago, when we vote for President, our votes are not counted in the national aggregate, but instead (with the exceptions of Maine and Nebraska) our votes are counted on a state-by-state basis, with the winner of the state’s popular vote winning that state’s electoral votes. These votes are cast by electors in the Electoral College. Most states have laws to ensure that the electors chosen actually vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote, including pledges to support the state voters’ choice for President, replacing defecting electors, and punishing defectors with fines. In Chiafalo, three Washington state electors who voted for Colin Powell instead of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election were fined for doing so. Those electors challenged the fines in state court as violating their free speech rights under the First Amendment. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court decided that a state may enforce an elector’s pledge to support the state voters’ choice for President. 

Because there is little in Article II, § 1 of the Constitution, as amended by the Twelfth Amendment, beyond allowing states to appoint electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct”—a broad grant to states with no corresponding grant to the electors—the Court turned to historical practice. History indicated that electors quickly settled into a non-discretionary role when it came to casting ballots in the Electoral College and that those instances where electors had cast ballots for others as anomalous. Considered together, the Court determined that states are allowed to sanction electors when they breach their pledges. 

Prepared by: Matthew 

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (Roberts, C.J.) 

In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts, the United States Supreme Court held that the application of a provision in the Montana State Constitution to prohibit aid to a school controlled by a “church, sect, or denomination” is in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution. In 2015, the Montana Legislature established a program for the awarding of tax credits to taxpayers who made donations to participating student scholarship organizations in an effort to provide tuition assistance to parents sending their children to private schools. In administering scholarships under this program, participating organizations are required to comply with the “no-aid” provision of the Montana State Constitution, which bars any direct or indirect public assistance to sectarian schools. In an effort to memorialize this restriction, the Montana Department of Revenue promulgated “Rule 1” to explicitly prohibit the use of scholarships administered pursuant to the tax credit program for tuition at any school “owned or controlled in whole or in part by any church, religious sect, or denomination.”

 The question presented to the Court in this case was whether the Free Exercise Clause prohibited applying Montana’s no-aid provision to bar religious schools from the scholarship program. The Free Exercise Clause protects religious observers from laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that the Montana State Constitution provision in question explicitly excluded religious schools from receiving government aid “solely because of religious status”, thereby putting religious and secular schools on unequal footing. Distinguishing between religious status and religious use, Chief Justice Roberts explained that the application of the “no-aid” provision of the Montana State Constitution to exclude religious schools purely based on whether the schools were characterized as religiously-affiliated schools is a status-based determination and is not based on use. In this case, the application of the Montana State Constitution resulted in otherwise eligible schools being denied scholarships under the tax credit scholarship program simply because of such schools’ status as “religious-affiliated” schools.

 Applying the “straightforward rule” of strict scrutiny to instances of discrimination in the awarding of public benefits based on religious status alone, the Court found that Montana’s interest in separating church and State by denying the awarding of scholarships to non-secular schools on the basis of such schools’ religious status alone, was not narrowly tailored or sufficiently compelling to pass muster under the Free Exercise Clause. 

Prepared by: Julia

 Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, et al.  (Thomas, J.) 

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home (“Little Sisters”), by removing, for now, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s threat of monetary fines under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  This decision protects government provided exemptions that were issued to shield conscientious objectors who choose not to fund or facilitate contraception and abortion as otherwise required by U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) regulatory mandates under the ACA. 

In its holding for the Little Sisters, the Court found that the federal government had properly exercised its administrative rule making authority when it promulgated religious and moral exemptions to its own HHS guidelines to the ACA.  The Court observed that, absent the exemptions, HHS guidelines would otherwise have required the Little Sisters to choose between violating sincerely held religious beliefs and closing their doors to the sick and poor elderly patients they serve.  The Court rejected Pennsylvania’s procedural challenges to the exemptions. 

Writing for the Court, Justice Thomas stated that: “We hold that the Departments had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”  The First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) prominently undergird the Court’s decision.  As the Court had previously observed regarding similarly situated conscientious objectors in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U. S. 682, (2014), more than six years prior to siding with the Little Sisters:   

“They sincerely believed that human life begins at conception and that, because the challenged methods of contraception risked causing the death of a human embryo, providing those methods of contraception to employees would make the employers complicit in abortion.” Id., at 691, 720. 

The Court again observed that the contraception and abortion coverage mandates substantially burdened free exercise, explaining that “[if] the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price.” Id., at 691.  In so vindicating the government’s exemptions over Pennsylvania’s procedural challenges, Justice Thomas explained: 

“For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother. . . . But for the past seven years, they—like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision—have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.” 

The Court remanded this case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals for potential further substantive challenge of the exemptions.  Therefore, it is widely predicted that Pennsylvania will further challenge the exemptions as arbitrary and capricious application of the guidelines.  For now, the Little Sisters and similarly situated conscientious objectors will take some comfort in Justice Alito’s concurring opinion.  Although joined only by Justice Gorsuch, Justice Alito wrote separately to state: “I would hold not only that it was appropriate for the Departments to consider RFRA, but also that the Departments were required by RFRA to create the religious exemption (or something very close to it).  I would bring the Little Sisters’ legal odyssey to an end.”  On the other hand, Justice Kagan’s competing concurrence harkens ominously otherwise for the Little Sisters.  Because the remaining members of the majority remained either split or undeclared on whether they would uphold the substantive application of the exemptions, Pennsylvania may yet attempt a subsequent trip to the Supreme Court in this case.  Justice Breyer joined Justice Kagan while Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh remained silent on the prospects of this further potential challenge. 

Prepared by: Brian 

Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel (Alito, J.) 

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that two California Catholic schools had the First Amendment right to choose who teaches religion classes to its students free from government scrutiny.  In companion cases, Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel, the Court rejected two fifth-grade teacher challenges of school decisions not to renew their employment contracts.  The schools left the expired contracts un-renewed due to poor teacher performance evaluations, in the classroom.  Because these teachers were primarily religion teachers, the schools successfully argued that the reasons for termination were not the proper subject of litigation under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Decisions about who teaches religion are unassailable from government evaluation, even though the employment decisions did not involve differing interpretations or methods for conveying church doctrine. 

Important to the Court’s holding, the teachers had taught in-depth classes on the Catholic faith to their students for several hours each week, integrated Catholic values into other subjects, prayed daily with their students, and accompanied them to Mass and other religious services. The trial courts had erroneously ruled that government officials were right to critique the schools’ decisions about whether these teachers could effectively teach in these schools because it was poor evaluations regarding teaching approaches and effectiveness, not doctrine, which resulted in separation. The 7-2 reversal makes clear that a religious schools’ motivation for employment decisions regarding religion teachers is immaterial when upholding First Amendment free exercise protection. 

Justice Alito wrote for the majority that for these religious schools “educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission.” The Court observed “the close connection that religious institutions draw between their central purpose and educating the young in the faith.” 

Of historical significance, the Court’s decision built on a previous unanimous 2012 ruling regarding the firing of a Lutheran schoolteacher.  See, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision, 565 U.S. 171 (2012).  In that case the Court made clear that the First Amendment protects not only hierarchical clergy but also many denominations that rely on non-ordained employees to pass the faith on to the future generations.  The Court rejected formalistic requirements like the employee having a religious or clerical sounding title.  Both the Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. James Catholic cases arose from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that found that federal discrimination laws do apply to teachers within a religious organization even serving an important religious function if they lack the title or training to be considered a religious leader.  The Supreme Court again rejected such a narrow reading of the First Amendment. 

In overturning the Ninth Circuit, the Court reiterated a longstanding observation that: “The First Amendment protects the right of religious institutions to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in North America, 344 U.S. 94, 116 (1952).  Applying this guiding principle to Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. James, the Court further stated: “The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission. Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.” 

Religious schools should be confident that it is not only decisions about ministers that remain free from government entanglement but also hiring and firing decisions about the lay members of its religion teacher rank-and-file.  So long as an employee is tasked with imparting the faith to a religious employer’s students, in a way that the school deems to be of some central or meaningful degree, the Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. James school cases make clear that these employment hiring and firing decisions are sacrosanct and protected. 

Prepared by: Brian

 Trump v. Vance (Roberts, C.J.

In 2019, the New York County District Attorney’s Office served a subpoena on Mazars USA, LLP, President Donald Trump’s personal accounting firm, for financial records of the President and his businesses. Such documents are being sought in an ongoing grand jury investigation. President Trump sued the district attorney and Mazars in federal court to stop enforcement of the subpoena, arguing that he enjoys absolute immunity from state criminal process under Article II of the U.S. Constitution and the Supremacy Clause. The District Court and Second Circuit agreed that presidential immunity did not bar enforcement of the subpoena. 

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that Article II and the Supremacy Clause did not preclude the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting President, nor did either require a heightened standard for one. In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court reached far back into the early days of the republic to the treason trial of former Vice President Aaron Burr. In the course of those proceedings, Burr moved to subpoena certain documents from President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson resisted the subpoena. Chief Justice Marshall, presiding over the trial—Supreme Court justices used to sit on lower courts during the year—rejected the prosecution’s immunity argument. Since then, Presidents have accepted Marshall’s ruling that the President is subject to subpoena. This includes when President Richard Nixon initially resisted producing tape recordings sought in conjunction with the Watergate investigation, but, after the Court rejected Nixon’s executive privilege argument, released the tapes. 

The difference here is that federal authorities were prosecuting Burr and Nixon, but this case involves a prosecution by state authorities. The President’s primary contention was that complying with a state criminal subpoena would divert him from his duties. Limiting this objection to the additional distraction caused by the subpoena, the Court rejected this argument as contradicting the Burr and Nixon cases noted above. The Court also rejected the President’s stigma and harassment based arguments and, thus, could not conclude that the absolute immunity sought is either necessary or appropriate under Article II or the Supremacy Clause. 

The Court also rejected the President’s argument that a heightened standard should apply, stating that the President is entitled to the same protections available to other citizens. Additionally, the Court noted that the President could raise constitutional challenges and impediment-based arguments that are subpoena-specific. Because this case was limited to the absolute immunity and heightened standard arguments raised, the Court ordered the case remanded to the District Court so that the President could raise other appropriate arguments if he so desired. 

Prepared by: Matthew 

Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP (Roberts, C.J.

Also in 2019, three congressional committees issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Mazars seeking financial information relating to the President and his businesses. The committees’ reasons for seeking the documents were varied. The Financial Services Committee issued the subpoenas in their “efforts to close loopholes that allow corruption, terrorism, and money laundering to infiltrate our country’s financial system.” The Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence issued its subpoena to investigate foreign efforts to undermine the country’s political process. The Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a subpoena on the basis that the President may not have accurately represented his financial affairs, which could pertain to illegal conduct, conflicts of interest, compliance with the Emoluments clause, and ethics concerns. 

This case posed the question of whether the House exceeded its constitutional authority in issuing the subpoenas. The Court noted that congressional subpoenas must have a valid legislative purpose and cannot be sued for law enforcement. The President argued that a demanding standard akin to the “demonstrated, specific need” standard applied in the Nixon Watergate subpoena case applied here. The Court disagreed because, unlike in the Nixon case, there was no claim of executive privilege here. The House argued that it should only need to show a valid legislative purpose or that the subpoenaed documents “concern a subject on which legislation could be had.” The Court rejected this standard, too, because it failed “to take adequate account of the significant separation of powers issues raised by congressional subpoenas for the President’s information.” 

The Court, in another 7-2 decision, determined that a balanced approach is necessary in these cases. The Court listed four non-exhaustive factors for courts to consider: (1) “whether the asserted legislative purpose warrants the significant step of involving the President and his papers”; (2) whether “a subpoena [is] no broader than reasonably necessary to support Congress’s legislative objective”; (3) “the nature of the evidence offered by Congress to establish that a subpoena advances a valid legislative purpose; and (4) “the burdens imposed on the President by a subpoena.” Because the courts below did not take adequate account of the separation of powers concerns described by the Court, the cases were vacated and remanded for further proceedings. 

Prepared by: Matthew Stiles | 

McGirt v. Oklahoma (Gorsuch, J.) 

In a 5-4 opinion, the Court ruled that land reserved for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation since the 19th century remains “Indian country” under the Major Crimes Act (MCA), which grants the federal government exclusive jurisdiction to try certain major crimes committed by enrolled members of a tribe on that land.  Justice Gorsuch issued the opinion, holding that Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to prosecute Jimcy McGirt, a member of the Creek Nation who was convicted of sex crimes against a child by the state of Oklahoma within the Creek Nation boundaries.    

McGirt argued that Oklahoma could not exercise jurisdiction over him because under the MCA, any crime involving a Native American victim or perpetrator, or occurring within recognized reservation boundaries, is subject to federal jurisdiction, not state jurisdiction. 

McGirt’s crimes were committed on lands described as belonging to the Creek Nation in an 1866 treaty and federal statute.  The Court noted that an 1856 treaty promised that “no portion” of Creek lands “would ever be embraced or included within, or annexed to, any Territory or State” and that the Creek Nation would have the “unrestricted right of self-government,” with “full jurisdiction” over enrolled Tribe members and their property.  The Court also noted that once a federal reservation is established, only Congress can diminish or disestablish it through a “clear expression of congressional intent.”  The Court rejected Oklahoma’s argument that Congress never established a reservation in the first place, finding that such a conclusion “would require willful blindness to the statutory language.” 

Prepared by: Jonathan

 June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo (Breyer, S.) 

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court in June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo reversed the Fifth Circuit’s ruling and held unconstitutional a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a state-authorized hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. In effect, the application of this law would have left just one doctor able to provide abortions in the state because other doctors had not yet gained admission privileges or were outside of the given range.  The Court’s plurality opinion was written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  

This case follows a nearly identical case in 2016, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the Supreme Court deemed admitting privileges unconstitutional due to the undue burden the law would place on individuals seeking an abortion.  

In addition to holding that the Louisiana law created an undue burden, another issue in the case was third-party standing, a principle that has allowed abortion providers to bring a suit in place of abortion patients for years.  The Supreme Court declined to rule on this issue, effectively maintaining the status quo of allowing providers to file suit on behalf of patients.  

Chief Justice Roberts wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment.  Roberts indicated that while he maintained his previous dissent from the majority opinion in Whole Woman’s Health in 2016, he joined the majority judgment in June Medical out of respect for the court precedent that was set by Whole Woman’s Health.  Specifically, Roberts recognized that the Louisiana law at issue imposed an equally severe burden on access to abortions as the law at issue in Whole Woman’s Health.  However, Roberts reinforced that the court must rely on the standard as set in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which asks only if an abortion restriction imposes an “undue burden.”  Thus, under this standard, courts may not balance benefits against burdens.  

The decision in June Medical was an overall win for abortion rights advocates, but Roberts’ opinion concurring in the judgment implies a willingness to re-examine the constitutional validity of Planned Parenthood v. Casey in the future under circumstances where its constitutional validity is more directly implicated. 

Prepared by: Jeffrey

For more information regarding the Supreme Court’s most recent term or any of the decisions referenced above, please contact Attorney Richard Dighello at 860.548.2633 or or Attorney Jeffrey Bausch at 203.786.8314 or For additional inquiries regarding Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C., please visit our website at

Disclaimer: The information contained in this material is not intended to be considered legal advice and should not be acted upon as such. Because of the generality of this material, the information provided may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without legal advice based on the specific factual circumstances.