Eroding our rights in the legal system
The Supreme Court took on five cases that limit the ability of Americans to defend themselves in a court of law.
1. In Shinn v. Ramirez, the court ruled 6-3 that federal judges cannot hear new evidence from death row inmates, arguing that their state-appointed lawyers did not provide constitutionally adequate defense, eviscerating the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. The Sixth Amendment guarantees everyone the right to an effective, competent attorney, even if they can’t pay.
In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that the “perverse” decision “hamstrings the federal courts’ authority to safeguard [the Sixth Amendment] right” and that the “Court’s decision will leave many people who were convicted in violation of the Sixth Amendment to face incarceration or even execution without any meaningful chance to vindicate their right to counsel.” Across the term, the court chipped away at incarcerated people’s rights, and made it more difficult for them to bring writs of habeas corpus, which are one of the most powerful means of challenging wrongful convictions and sentences.
2. In another 6-3 ruling, the court chipped away at our Miranda rights—the rights given to people in the United States upon arrest since the 1966 ruling Miranda v. Arizona, requiring that law enforcement inform suspects of their right to remain silent, to have legal representation, and against self-incrimination. In Vega v. Tekoh, the court ruled 6-3 along partisan lines that Americans cannot sue officers who fail to inform them of their right to remain silent and right to an attorney during an arrest. By removing consequences for violating someone’s Miranda rights, the court almost certainly made it more likely that law enforcement will infringe upon people’s rights and put their legal status and safety at risk.
3. The Supreme Court’s assault on the Constitution included going after Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. In Egbert v. Boule, the court held—again 6-3 along partisan lines—that border patrol officers who violate the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure cannot be sued. That gives these officers more power to search the homes of anyone within 100 miles of a border without fear of consequence.
That ruling does not just affect immigrants. It’s everyone who lives within the border zone—nearly two out of three Americans. The ruling does not take away your Fourth Amendment rights under the Constitution. It just makes it easier for border patrol, and potentially other federal law enforcement agents, to get away with violating them.
4. The Trump-packed court majority denied every stay of execution application that came before its last session, eliminating rights for vulnerable people facing execution. The Supreme Court denied the emergency stay of execution petitions and overruled two stays of execution ordered by lower courts, allowing all 13 people who applied for relief to be put to death.
Four of the people awaiting execution had intellectual disabilities. Four were challenging Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols—a state which has a cruel history of botched executions—but the court refused to halt their executions. Ultimately, one of the people executed in Oklahoma, John Grant, asphyxiated on his own vomit during the lethal injection. A lower court had stayed Grant’s execution, but the Supreme Court reversed that order and pushed the execution forward; he was killed just hours later.
5. The court used its shadow docket to shield police who use excessive force from accountability. In Rivas-Villegas v. Cortesluna and City of Tahlequah, OK v. Bond, the Court reversed two lower court decisions denying qualified immunity for officers involved in two excessive force cases. One of the cases involved a fatal shooting. Qualified immunity shields police officers from accountability for their actions in excessive force claims, allowing them to essentially torture at will. Doing so almost certainly makes it more likely that officers will use excessive force. This is from the shadow docket, so no judges’ fingerprints are on the decision.
Eroding our voting rights
6. In three voting rights cases, the Supreme Court instituted racially gerrymandered maps in three separate states. In a trifecta of voting rights cases—Merrill v. Milligan, Wisconsin Legislature v. Wisconsin Elections Commissionand Ardoin v. Robinson—the court continued its assault on the Voting Rights Act through three shadow docket decisions that undermine Black voting power.
In February, the court allowed Alabama to reinstate a racist voting map after a lower court held the map was unlawful. Several weeks later, the court threw out a Wisconsin Supreme Court redistricting ruling that adopted a map adding a majority-Black seat to the state legislature. And in the last week of the term, the court intervened to revive Louisiana’s racially gerrymandered congressional map, which had been blocked by a lower court.
7. The court made it extremely difficult for immigrants to get help when the government violates their rights. In Garland v. Gonzalez, the court’s conservative supermajority ruled 6-3 on partisan lines that noncitizens cannot receive class-wide injunctive relief when the government violates the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). As a result, when the government violates the rights of a whole class of noncitizens, courts are unable to require immigration officers to provide relief like bond hearings to all affected people; instead, each individual noncitizen must separately request and be given a bond hearing.
On the same day, June 13, the court issued an 8-1 decision in Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez, holding that noncitizens are not entitled to specialized bond hearings after being detained for more than six months. Together, these two cases leave many vulnerable non-citizens without recourse to defend their rights and could leave people in detention indefinitely.
8. The court also harmed resident immigrants, leaving thousands without recourse to challenge unfair Board of Immigration Appeals decisions. In Patel v. Garland, the court ruled that federal courts cannot review decisions made by immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals—leaving some of the most vulnerable among us without recourse to challenge unfair decisions. Pankajkumar Patel, who has lived and worked in the US for more than 30 years and raised a family here, was denied permanent residence status because of a mistake on his driver’s license application years ago. The Supreme Court shut down his ability to fight that decision, and he and his wife face deportation proceedings without recourse.
Harming vulnerable communities and tribes
9. The court denied US citizens living in Puerto Rico their right to access certain Social Security benefits US v. Vaello-Madero. Jose Luis Vaello Madero was a recipient of SSI benefits while living in New York, and then moved to Puerto Rico in 2013. He continued to receive benefits, but when the government discovered he had moved, they ended his benefits and sought to claw back $28,000 from him. He sued, arguing that the exclusion of Puerto Rico residents—US citizens—violates the Equal Protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The court held that the US government can deny SSI benefits to disabled US citizens living in Puerto Rico—residents who are overwhelmingly Latino and people of color. More than 300,000 people were affected by this ruling.
In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor noted that the decision is especially devastating because Puerto Rico has no congressional representation, and therefore has no other means to correct the “punishing disparities suffered by citizen residents of Puerto Rico under Congress’ unequal treatment.”
10. The court issued a devastating blow to tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, upending decades of precedent and basic principles of federal Indian law to strip power away from tribes in criminal justice matters on native lands. National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Fawn Sharp called the ruling “an attack on tribal sovereignty and the hard-fought progress of our ancestors to exercise our inherent sovereignty over our own territories.”
“It was only a few months ago that Congress loudly supported tribal sovereignty and tribal criminal jurisdiction with the passage of the Violence Against Women’s Act, reaffirming the right of Tribal Nations to protect their own people and communities, but make no mistake, today, the The Supreme Court has dealt a massive blow to tribal sovereignty and Congress must, again, respond.”
11. The court made it harder for victims of illegal FBI surveillance on Muslim communities to vindicate their rights. In FBI in .Fazaga, the court held that the FBI can hide its discriminatory surveillance of Muslim Americans under “state secrets,” barring the plaintiffs’ religious discrimination claims. Those claims were based on evidence that the government illegally spied on those attending mosques in violation of their constitutional religious liberties and federal law, illegally videotaping their homes and recording conversations in several California mosques.
Upending environmental protections
12. In addition to the more widely reported West Virginia v. EPA, which attacked the Clean Air Act, the court also went after the Clean Water Act and the health and safety of communities, this time from the shadow docket. In Louisiana v. American Riversthe Court issued a radical environmental decision that revived a Trump-era policy, upending decades of precedent and settled law giving states and tribes authority to protect their waters.
The ruling severely limits the authority of states and tribes to restrict environmentally risky projects, such as pipelines and coal export facilities. The Supreme Court—again—gave no reasoning for shredding 50 years of precedent, issuing only a one-paragraph opinion siding with polluting industries over the tribes and communities whose safety is on the line.
These 12 decisions demonstrate why the legitimacy of the court is in question. It’s not “simply because people disagree with an opinion,” as Chief Justice John Roberts whined earlier this month. It’s because the radical, extreme majority has been dismantling core tenets of the Constitution and settled law, undermining the will of the majority of Americans, throwing out decades—even centuries—of precedent, and demonstrating that it is an existential threat to the rule of law.
The court’s next term, starting in just two weeks, will feature cases that threaten LGBTQ rights, environmental safety, election integrity, affirmative action, and more. That includes Moore v. Harper, an effort by Republican legislators in North Carolina to declare themselves the sole arbiters of federal elections, putting them above the state’s constitution and the state’s courts. The specious and radical theory they’re arguing—the “independent state legislature” theory—is based on an early 19th-century document that “is a well-known fake.” In other words: fraud.
The Supreme Court has lost legitimacy, and there isn’t much time to correct it. Congress and President Biden must expand the court today to ensure our safety, liberties, and futures.