This Sunday, June 26, marks the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, vindicating the constitutional right of gay couples to marry. Like so many other important decisions in recent years, the outcome was 5-4 with Justice Kennedy providing the crucial fifth vote. The ruling legalized same-sex marriage in every state and territory of the United States.
But what if Obergefell had been set for the Court’s current term instead? The scenario is not hard to imagine. After all, the case was among the last group of cases to be granted cert for the Court’s 2014 calendar, barely making the cut for oral argument in the last week of the Court’s April sitting. Any further delay and the case would have surely been put off until the current term.
And so Obergefell and gay and lesbian Americans could have been subject to the same fate that many others have faced this term: indecision and delay. With the vacancy created by Justice Scalia’s death in February and the Senate’s refusal to fill the vacancy, the Court has been short-handed with only eight members and unable to resolve a number of important cases. So far, the Court has split 4-4 in four different cases, including a workers’ rights case (Friedrichs v. CTA) and an immigration case (United States v. Texas). Further, the Court has also punted to the lower courts on cases regarding the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate (Zubik v. Burwell) and the ability of consumers to vindicate their rights guaranteed under consumer protection laws (Spokeo v. Robins). The Court’s indecision in these cases has left millions of Americans in a state of uncertainty as to their rights and protections under the law. Read more