Supreme Court

SCOTUS Just Agreed to Rule on Abortion and Obamacare. Is Obama's Immigration Plan Next?

The Supreme Court's 2015-2016 takes shape.

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Credit: OZ in OH / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

The Supreme Court's 2015-2016 term is shaping up to be a big one. When the Court opened for business in early October, the docket already included major cases dealing with asset forfeiture and the Sixth Amendment, affirmative action in higher education, and the legal privileges afforded to public-sector unions. But in the last two weeks, the docket has expanded even further in size and scope.

First, on November 6, the Court consolidated seven cases that center on the Obama administration's scheme for accommodating religiously affiliated organizations, such as hospitals, colleges, and charities, that object to providing their employees with certain forms of birth control under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This dispute represents the fourth time in five years that the Supreme Court will weigh in on the legal merits of Obamacare.

One week later, on November 13, the Court agreed to revisit the hot-button issue of abortion. Sometime in Spring 2016 the justices will hear oral arguments in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, a case that asks whether a pair of strict Texas requirements regulating abortion doctors and facilities actually serve a legitimate public health purpose, or whether those regulations instead amount to an undue burden that interferes with the exercise of constitutional rights. This case has the potential to be the biggest abortion decision since 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Court narrowly upheld 1973's Roe v. Wade.

But just in case those disputes aren't interesting enough for you, it now looks like the Supreme Court could also add immigration to the mix. As Lyle Denniston reports at SCOTUSblog, the Obama administration is expected to file a petition this week asking the Supreme Court to overturn last week's decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which barred the federal government from implementing President Obama's controversial executive action on immigration, a program officially known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). The underlying issue in this case, which is known as Texas v. United States, is whether the executive branch's implementation of DAPA runs afoul of the public notice-and-comment procedures required of all "substantive" administrative agency rules under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The White House maintains that its immigration action is merely a "policy statement" and is therefore exempt from normal federal rulemaking procedures and requirements. But the 5th Circuit took a different view. "At its core," the 5th Circuit wrote, "this case is about the [Obama administration's] decision to change the immigration classification of millions of illegal aliens on a class-wide basis. The states properly maintain that DAPA's grant of lawful presence and accompanying eligibility for benefits is a substantive rule that must go through notice and comment, before it imposes substantial costs on them, and that DAPA is substantively contrary to law."

In other words, by the time its current term comes to a close in late June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court may well hand down decisions on some of the biggest and most contentious issues in American politics, from affirmative action, unions, and criminal justice, to abortion, Obamacare, and immigration. Stay tuned.