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NPR Special Coverage: Court Issues Opinions On Major Cases

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The U.S. Supreme Court issued opinions on four major cases this week that dealt with same-sex marriage, affirmative action in college admissions and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In an NPR special, journalists and guests discussed the court's decisions and the implications of the rulings going forward.

Host: Linda Wertheimer

Guests: Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor; Nina Totenberg, NPR legal affairs correspondent; Tom Goldstein, publisher of and contributor to SCOTUSblog; Wendy Kaufman, NPR correspondent; and Michael Fauntroy, associate professor of political science at Howard University


The Cases

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin: The court issued an opinion Monday in a case that was a challenge to the University of Texas' affirmative action admissions process. Abigail Fisher said she was denied admission to the university because of race. In a 7-1 vote, the court sidestepped the underlying issue of the case and instead sent the case back to the lower courts with instructions to conduct a more thorough factual inquiry. The justices ruled that the lower court "did not hold the university to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated" in an earlier Supreme Court ruling — 2003's Grutter v. Bollinger. (Read the ruling)

Shelby County v. Holder: On Tuesday, the court struck down what is seen as the linchpin of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. By a 5-to-4 vote, the court invalidated the formula — adopted most recently in 2006 — used to determine which states and local governments had to get federal approval for changes in their voting laws. The decision frees nine mostly Southern states from this "pre-clearance." Many voting-rights advocates were angered and dismayed by the court's decision, and critics say it could lead to more lawsuits. (Read the ruling)

United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry: Both of these cases dealt with the issue of same-sex marriage, but in different ways. In United States v. Windsor, the court ruled 5-4 on Wednesday to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law that confines marriage to a man and a woman. As NPR's Liz Halloran reports, the court's decision does not embrace a national constitutional right to same-sex marriage but makes married gay couples living in states where their unions are legal eligible for federal benefits already enjoyed by married heterosexual Americans.

Hollingsworth v. Perry involved California's controversial Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriages in the state. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority, that supporters of the law did not have standing to bring the case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge a lower court's ruling that invalidated the law. While this allows same-sex marriages to continue in California, it does not have broader implications across the country, and the justices avoided the underlying issues. (Read both rulings with annotations)

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