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.