Supreme Court makes major rulings on abortion, gun rights, corruption

Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to decide whether a Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to abortion in Washington, U.S.  June 27, 2016. © Kevin Lamarque
The US Supreme Court has struck down abortion restrictions in Texas, ruled that domestic violence misdemeanor convictions are valid grounds to lose gun ownership rights, and raised the bar for prosecuting public officials on corruption charges.

In the Texas abortion law case, known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court threw out a previous ruling by an appellate court in a 5-3 decision. Justices Breyer, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan were in the majority, while Thomas, Alito and Roberts dissented.

The Texas law, known as HB2, required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and facilities similar to surgical outpatient centers. While the state said that the requirements were necessary to protect women’s health, abortion right groups argued that the law was crafted to make it more difficult for women in Texas to obtain abortions.

The decision was immediately hailed by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also praised the ruling as a "victory for women."

"Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the Constitution protects not just the theoretical right to abortion, but the right of a woman to actually get one without unwarranted interference from politicians,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU.

The Texas law’s restrictions “harm women’s health and place an unconstitutional obstacle in the path of a woman’s reproductive freedom,” President Barack Obama said in a statement praising the Supreme Court ruling.

Former Texas state Senator Wendy Davis, who famously filibustered against the law in 2013, said that today made it "all worth it."

The Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), on the other hand, said he was "disappointed in the Court’s decision" and that the GOP will continue to "fight to protect women’s health and promote life."

Justice Clarence Thomas was the only member of the court who would have upheld the Texas statute outright. Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, two other conservative-leaning members of the Court, said that they favored more analysis, according to SCOTUSblog.

The Court also ruled against two plaintiffs in Voisine v. United States, a case with implications for gun ownership rights. Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong had argued that a federal law that barred them from owning firearms because of misdemeanor domestic violence convictions violated their constitutional rights.

In a 6-2 ruling, the court upheld the opinion that domestic violence convictions can result in gun ownership restrictions, even if the misdemeanor is only the result of recklessness rather than intent. Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer and Alito were in the majority, with Thomas and Sotomayor dissenting.

During the oral arguments for the case in February, Thomas actually broke his decade-long streak of not asking questions, grilling the government's attorney on whether any other constitutional rights could be suspended due to a misdemeanor conviction.

The third announcement on Monday was the unanimous decision to vacate the conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell on corruption charges.

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.”

For something to qualify as political corruption, the government official would have to take formal action on a pending matter, not just set up meetings, the court ruled. A lower court will decide whether to set a new trial for McDonnell.

Monday's announcements were the last opinions to be issued by the Supreme Court this term.