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Highlights from Supreme Court term:...

Highlights from Supreme Court term: Rulings on Trump, regulation, abortion, guns and homelessness

By: Mark Sherman, Associated Press ,    Lindsay Whitehurst, Associated Press - July 8, 2024

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ended its term by ruling that former presidents have broad immunity from prosecution, a decision that almost certainly means Donald Trump won’t stand trial before the November election. That closely watched ruling, which drew sharp dissent from the minority justices, was among a cluster of consequential opinions handed down in the court’s busy final few weeks.

Here’s a look at the major cases the court decided this year.

Presidential immunity

Ruled for the first time that former presidents have broad immunity from prosecution in a decision that extends the delay in Donald Trump’s trial in Washington on charges of election interference and all but rules out a trial before the November election. The justices returned the case to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who would preside over a trial. She must now sort out what is left of special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment of the former president.

Majority: Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Dissent: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson

Insurrection clause

Ruled unanimously that states cannot invoke the post-Civil War “insurrection clause” to keep candidates for president and Congress off the ballot. The justices reversed a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court finding that former President Donald Trump, as part of his effort to overturn his election loss in 2020, intentionally organized and incited the crowd of supporters who violently attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

Majority (unsigned opinion): Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett (in part)

Concurring in judgment: Sotomayor, Kagan, Jackson, Barrett

Jan. 6

Narrowed a federal obstruction charge that has been used against hundreds of people who took part in the violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as well as Trump. The court ruled in the case of a former Pennsylvania police officer and returned it to a lower court to determine if the obstruction charge, enacted in 2002 and meant to discourage tampering with documents sought in investigations, can be used against him. The decision also could have implications for Trump’s prosecution on election interference charges.

Majority: Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Jackson

Dissent: Barrett, Sotomayor, Kagan

Abortion pill

Unanimously threw out a legal challenge from anti-abortion doctors to the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone in 2000 and more recent decisions easing access to the medication, one of two pills used in medication abortions. The justices determined that the doctors did not have the legal right, or standing, to sue, reversing an appellate ruling that would have rolled back some FDA decisions that make mifepristone easier to obtain, including receiving the drug by mail, and allow it to be used for longer in pregnancy.

Majority: Kavanaugh, Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, Barrett, Jackson

Chevron

Overturned a 40-year-old decision that has been cited thousands of times in federal court cases and used to uphold regulations on the environment, public health, workplace safety and consumer protections. The court decision colloquially known as Chevron, long targeted by conservative and business interests, called on judges to defer to federal regulators when the words of a statute are not crystal clear. The Supreme Court held that judges, not regulators, should decide the meaning of federal laws.

Majority: Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett

Dissent: Kagan, Sotomayor, Jackson

Guns

Upheld a 1994 law intended to protect victims of domestic violence. The law prohibits people who are under domestic violence restraining orders from having guns. The 8-1 decision reversed an appellate ruling striking down the law based on the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision expanding gun rights.

Majority: Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Jackson

Dissent: Thomas

Wealth tax

Upheld a tax on foreign income that was enacted by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by Trump. By a 7-2 vote, the justices rejected an effort by conservative and business interests to strike down the tax as a violation of the Constitution, which might have doomed a much-discussed but never-enacted wealth tax on billionaires.

Majority: Kavanaugh, Roberts, Sotomayor, Kagan, Jackson

Concurring in judgment: Barrett, Alito

Dissent: Thomas, Gorsuch

Redistricting

Preserved a Republican-held South Carolina congressional district in a 6-3 decision, reversing a lower court ruling that found the state Legislature discriminated against Black voters. Dissenting liberal justices warned the court was insulating states from claims of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. State lawmakers moved 30,000 Black residents out of the district to strengthen Rep. Nancy Mace’s hold on it.

Majority: Alito, Roberts, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett

Dissent: Kagan, Sotomayor, Jackson

Bump stocks

Struck down a ban on bump stocks, rapid-fire gun accessories used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The 6-3 decision found that the Trump administration overstepped when it changed course from predecessors and banned bump stocks, which allow a rate of fire comparable to machine guns. In a dissent, liberal justices warned the decision could have “deadly consequences.”

Majority: Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett

Dissent: Sotomayor, Kagan, Jackson

Consumer protection

Upheld the method of funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which does not depend on yearly appropriations from Congress. By a 7-2 vote, the court reversed a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found the funding structure violated the Constitution.

Majority: Thomas, Roberts, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Jackson

Dissent: Alito, Gorsuch

NRA and free speech

The court unanimously cleared the way for the National Rifle Association to sue a former New York state official. Backed in part by the Biden administration and represented by the ACLU, the gun-rights group said Maria Vullo pressured companies to blacklist it following the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The opinion said the First Amendment prohibits government officials from using their power to punish or suppress speech.

Majority: Sotomayor, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Kagan, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Jackson

Purdue Pharma

By a 5-4 vote, rejected a nationwide settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that would have allocated billions of dollars to combat the opioid epidemic, but also provided a legal shield for members of the Sackler family who own the company. The settlement had been on hold since last summer after the Supreme Court agreed to weigh in.

Majority: Gorsuch, Thomas, Alito, Barrett, Jackson

Dissent: Kavanaugh, Roberts, Sotomayor, Kagan

Air pollution

Voted 5-4 to pause the Environmental Protection Agency’s air pollution-fighting “good neighbor” plan while legal challenges continue, in response to a plea from energy-producing states and the steel industry.

Majority: Gorsuch, Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh

Dissent: Barrett, Sotomayor, Kagan, Jackson

SEC

Ruled 6-3 that people facing civil fraud complaints from the Securities and Exchange Commission have the right to a jury trial in federal court, rather than be limited to an in-house proceeding. The decision stripped the agency of a major tool in fighting securities fraud and could have far-reaching effects on other regulatory agencies.

Majority: Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett

Dissent: Sotomayor, Kagan, Jackson

Social media and governmental coercion

Threw out a lawsuit by Republican-led states that claimed federal officials unconstitutionally coerced social media platforms to take down controversial social media posts on topics including COVID-19 and election security. The court voted 6-3 that the states and other parties had no legal right, or standing, to sue over their claim that the government leaned on the platforms to limit conservative points of view.

Majority: Barrett, Roberts, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kavanaugh, Jackson

Dissent: Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch

Social media and state regulation

In a limited ruling, the court kept on hold social media laws in Texas and Florida that would limit how Facebook, TikTok, X, YouTube and other social media platforms regulate content posted by their users. But the court’s majority recognized that the platforms are much like newspapers and have a constitutional right to make choices about what to include and exclude from their space. The cases will continue in federal appeals courts: One court had upheld the Texas’ law; another found the Florida law probably is unconstitutional.

Majority: Kagan, Roberts, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Jackson

Concurring in the judgment: Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch

Emergency abortions

The Supreme Court cleared the way for Idaho hospitals to provide emergency abortions, for now. In a limited order, the court found it should not have gotten involved in the case over Idaho’s strict abortion ban so quickly. By a 6-3 vote it reinstated a lower court order that had allowed hospitals in the state to perform emergency abortions to protect a pregnant patient’s health.

Majority: Roberts, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Jackson

Dissent: Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch

Homelessness

The justices found that cities can enforce bans on homeless people sleeping outside in public places. The majority found such laws don’t violate the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment when shelter space is lacking. The opinion overturned an appeals court ruling that applied to nine states in the West, including California, which is home to one-third of the nation’s homeless population.

Majority: Gorsuch, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Kavanaugh, Barrett

Dissent: Sotomayor, Kagan, Jackson

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