Barack Obama

2014 Was a Lousy Year for Obama at the Supreme Court

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Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

The time has come to look back and review the highs and lows of the year that's rapidly coming to a close. How did things go at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014? Depends on who you ask. For President Barack Obama, 2014 clearly ranks as a year of defeat, disappointment, and embarrassment. What made 2014 such a lousy year at SCOTUS for the former constitutional law lecturer? Here's a brief summary of Obama's five biggest legal losses of the past year.

* Bond v. United States. In this 9-0 defeat, the Supreme Court rejected what it called the Obama administration's "boundless" interpretation of a federal chemical weapons law. At issue was the federal prosecution of a woman who had smeared some toxic materials on the doorknob, car door handle, and mailbox of her husband's mistress, causing a slight burn to that woman's thumb. According to the Supreme Court, the Obama administration had to lose the case because otherwise its erroneous approach would "transform the statute from one whose core concerns are acts of war, assassination, and terrorism into a massive federal anti-poisoning regime that reaches the simplest of assaults."

* Riley v. California. Does the Fourth Amendment require the police to obtain a warrant before searching the cell phones of individuals they have placed under arrest? The Obama administration said no: "The search of a cell phone is no more intrusive than other actions that the police may take once a person has been lawfully arrested." The Supreme Court, however, said yes: "Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple, get a warrant." Once again, the White House lost 9-0.

* National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning. In January 2012 President Obama invoked his recess appointment power to add three new members to the National Labor Relations Board without first obtaining approval by the Senate. The problem was that the Senate was not actually in recess at the time. Two years later, the White House failed to obtain a single vote in support of this unilateral exercise of executive power. "For purposes of the Recess Appointments Clause," the Supreme Court ruled, "the Senate is in session when it says it is."

* Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. In 2012 the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. When Obamacare returned to the high court two years later, however, the results were less amenable to the White House. In Hobby Lobby, a 5-4 majority held that the health care law violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by forcing several closely held religious corporations to cover certain methods of birth control in their health care plans.

* King v. Burwell. This one is not technically a defeat for the White House—at least not yet. But the Court's decision last month to hear oral argument in the case obviously came as a supreme disappointment to the White House and its allies, who thought the legal challenge lacked merit and should be dismissed. At issue here is whether the Obama administration has violated the text of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by allowing tax credits to go to individuals who purchased insurance from health care exchanges established by the federal government, not by the state in which they reside. According to the federal health care law, however, such tax credits are limited to individuals who bought insurance at an "Exchange established by the State." Does that statutory language exclude the various exchanges established by the federal government in states which failed or refused to establish their own? If the answer to that question is yes, then Obamacare will suffer a terrible blow at the hands of the Supreme Court in 2015.

NEXT: Steve Scalise's Legislative Record is a Bigger Problem Than His Past Speaking Gigs

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  1. Republicans are going to save obamacare regardless of what SCOTUS says. Probably through directly fixing the language about the exchange subsidies or opening up medicare for even more people. Book it.

    1. Bilbo, your comment made me very, very angry. Mostly because I suspect you are correct.

    2. i would not be surprised.

      Too many of them view their role as blabbering about reducing the scope of government at election time but when push comes to shove their role alwasy becomes simply being tax collectors for the welfare state.

      1. Back in the olden timey days, the bad little kid in the classroom would grab an open bottle of ink and throw it at some good little kid and yell “Think quick!” The good kid would panic and try to catch the ink to avert disaster, but he’d invariably get ink all over himself and a few things nearby and haplessly go about cleaning it up in a frenzy before the teacher found out.

        Well one day, one of these little victims really did think quick — and casually stepped aside to dodge the flying ink jar. The thrower was horrified and wound up doing the cleanup.

        Uh, let’s see, this was a parable. Oh yeah, the Republican party is the kid who always catches the ink bottle. They need to step aside for once and let the Democrat kid get in trouble.

    3. Partly because if they actually do repeal it, my suspicion is it may hurt them electorally in the short run. The dems would spin it of course as plutocrats taking medicine out of poor people mouths, and a lot of people will eat that right up. Criticizing the ACA may win you applause, but actually taking it down may well come across as ‘too far’ to a lot of people who otherwise might no bother voting.

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  3. Didn’t the Bond arrest and prosecution start under the previous administration?

    1. Considering that she was sentenced in 2008, it’s safe to say that her arrest and prosecution did not begin under the Obama administration.

      However, I don’t see the prosecutors dropping the charges anytime after 2009, either.

      Side comments: What the hell has happened to reporting? Is it impossible for reporters to include basic details like relevant dates, statutes, and jurisdictions? Also, why does Chief Justice Roberts feel the need to grandstand with his opinions?

  4. I still think there should be consequences to politicians who take actions that are shot down unanimously by the Supreme Court. If you can’t even get one Justice to agree that your law/action is constitutional then you should have known it was unconstitutional and therefore represents a violation of your oath of office. If it is an executive order, punish the president. If its a bureaucratic action, punish the department Secretary. If its a law, punish everyone who voted for it.

    What should the punishment be? Well, what is appropriate for someone who violates the oath of office?

    1. Product managers who take an idea a couple million dollars into development only to see it fall apart due to bad planning get cut back all the time. Two such disasters and they’d be OUT.

      Advantages off the top of my head of canning legislators after three strikes:

      1 – They’d be punished.
      2 – The pork-barrelers and tribalists and lo-fo-vos who elected them would be punished. They’d not only lose their guy, they’d have to pony up for a special election (or go unrepped).
      3 – The DNC or RNC, whichever the cannee belongs to, would be punished because they, too, would have to put up big bucks for the replacement guy’s campaign.
      4 – After 2 and 3, big money might be a lot more careful about whom they back.

      Oh man, you’ve got me monologuing.

    2. If the president murdered his wife, perhaps the Supreme Court would find the act unconstitutional, and simply require that it be redacted.

  5. former constitutional law lecturer

    Thank you for using an accurate term.

  6. 2014 was a REALLY lousy year at the Supreme Court for individual Rights. see the Heien v. North Carolina case — If police stop you for a non-crime (because they are too stupid to know the law they get paid to enforce), they can keep the fruits of their illegal search incident to arrest for non-crime. So officers can continue just making it up as they go.

    The Justices are acting like a group of teen-age girls – police groupies. “Oh Officer, I just love your uniform, club, and sunglasses. Even if you are dumb as a rock.”

    The KGB would be happy here.

    1. I know in the old days you could be arrested for ‘suspicious behavior’ or something like that. It was what they used to arrest suspected mobsters for holding secret meetings. Not arresting them for any specific criminal activities admitted in such meeting, just the suspicion that they were ‘bad guys.’

      I don’t think the same violation is used today, but that’s what this sounds like.

      It’s also not likely a question of them not knowing the law; rather, legislators have designed the law to be ‘flexible.’ They subscribe to the school of ‘legal realism,’ a school of thought that does not understand that a flexible law, or a law enforced at the discretion of the police of prosecutor or judge, is, by definition, a bad law.

  7. A lousy year for Obama is a good year for America.

  8. In fairness, Bond was a bi-partisan effort that started under the Bush Admin, by a federal prosecutor that is now a Republican member of Congress.

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