Supreme Court Concludes Term With Death Penalty Ruling, Looks Ahead to Abortion and Affirmative Action Cases


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday issued the last of its opinions for this term — on the death penalty, anti-pollution regulations, and the power of independent commissions to draw congressional and state legislative districts. In addition, the court issued a set of orders that set up cases to be heard next term on affirmative action and abortion.

By a 5-to-4 vote, the court upheld the use of the controversial drug midazolam as part of a three-drug cocktail used in carrying out the death penalty.

By the same 5-to-4 split, the court blocked a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate mercury emitted into the air by coal and oil fired power plants. In a case with potentially important ramification, the Court said the EPA has to consider costs before it decides to regulate.

And by a 5-to 4 vote different in composition, the court upheld an Arizona constitutional amendment — adopted by referendum — that stripped the state legislature of the power to draw legislative and congressional district lines. The court said the people of the state were entitled to set up an independent redistricting commission as a way of removing some of the partisanship from the drawing of district lines by state legislators.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that opinion, declaring that while referenda are a more recent invention, they are consistent with the framers’ notion of resting ultimate decisionmaking with the people.

If the decision had gone the other way, it would have upended independent commissions in at least a half-dozen states, including California.

Justice Anthony Kennedy provided the fifth and deciding vote in all three cases, siding with the liberals in the independent commission case, and with the conservatives in the EPA and death penalty cases.

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SOURCE: Nina Totenberg

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