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The Supreme Court: One Step Forward…About Three Steps Back

Another United States Supreme Court term has ended. Lots has been covered in the news about the Court’s decisions. But what does it mean for Gray Panthers NYC priorities? A couple of decisions were not too bad. Many, we believe, were horrendous.


Here is a breakdown of some of the major decisions:


The “Chevron Doctrine”: What It Is, and Why It’s a Big Deal That It Got Overturned

To put it simply, the “Chevron Doctrine” is a law principle where federal courts usually felt “compelled…to defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous or unclear statute that Congress delegated an agency to administer.” The origin of the “Chevron Doctrine” case, just to be clear, was a 1984 Supreme Court case titled Chevron U.S.A., Inc v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. It was a unanimous decision.


The Chevron Doctrine was overturned this Supreme Court term. It will now be up to the lower courts to decide how to interpret these unclear statutes. Considering this Court’s record on a wide range of issues, leaving the Supreme Court responsible for interpreting unclear statutes is not at all comforting. It could undermine a wide range of work, from what the Environmental Protection Agency does to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ authority when it comes to nursing home staffing mandates.


Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Now with Less Power on Interstate Air Pollution


The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, halted something called the “Good Neighbor Rule,” which regulated interstate pollution and could potentially mean that states have a blank check to pollute neighboring states. This is how we’re reading this... If that is indeed the case, it will be detrimental to the environment, not to mention detrimental to relationships between neighboring states.


This, along with the striking down of the Chevron Doctrine, is extremely concerning to Gray Panthers NYC because of how it weakens the EPA at a time when our planet is burning. 


A Mixed Bag on Abortion


After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, there was understandable concern regarding how the Supreme Court would rule on other abortion cases. The news, from that standpoint, was a mixed bag. Of note:


  1. A case came before the Supreme Court on the question of whether doctors can perform abortions in Idaho in a case where a woman’s health is at risk. The case was returned to a lower court, meaning that abortions under said circumstances can continue…for now. But the future remains uncertain on whether states are required to allow for abortions when a woman’s health is at risk.

  2. In better news, the court upheld access to an abortion pill called mifepristone in a unanimous decision. 


A Mixed Bag on Gun Control, As Well


We don’t know if readers want the good news or the bad news first. But we’ll start with the bad news, then head to the good news.


The bad news is that a federal ban on bump stocks for guns was struck down. For the record, bump stocks are devices “added to the butt of a rifle that harnesses the gun’s recoil or the backward movement felt by a person when the bullet is fired.” A semi-automatic weapon with bump stocks can fire the number of bullets per minute comparable to machine guns. So the fact this ban was struck down is devastating, and we fear that it will result in mass shooters being able to shoot more people, more quickly.


Now to the good news. The Supreme Court found that a ban on domestic abusers possessing guns is constitutional. Thank goodness, because there are so many domestic abuse situations where it would be utterly terrifying if an abuser possessed a gun.


Now to Save the Worst for Last…The Immunity Case


The Supreme Court ruled that a President of the United States has immunity from prosecution for official acts. This has a potentially chilling impact when it comes to Presidents who commit otherwise illegal acts while in office.


The founding fathers were not perfect, but one thing they got right was in not giving a sitting President of the United States absolute power. This expansion of power is potentially dangerous, and means that a president without restraint or respect could do real harm to the United States. George Washington is certainly rolling in his grave with that one, given how he went to great pains to make sure that nobody, including him, was to become a king with absolute power.


To Conclude


We’ve highlighted two positive updates as well as five questionable or negative rulings. So, the math is pretty close when it comes to saying that it is “one step forward, three steps back.” The United States deserves better than one step forward, three steps back from the Supreme Court. 


And if you care about the Supreme Court, well, vote! In the next four years, there are likely to be Supreme Court justices who retire and/or die, and whoever is elected will therefore have a major opportunity to reshape the Court. We, the voters, therefore remain the most powerful tool in holding this oft-befuddling Supreme Court accountable.


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