In a preview of a major constitutional showdown at the Supreme Court over same-sex marriage, the Obama administration said Friday that a federal law denying financial benefits to legally wed gay and lesbian couples is unconstitutional.
The Justice Department filed the first of a series of briefs in a pair of cases dealing with the multi-layered issue, outlining the executive branch's positions.
The high court will hear oral arguments next month on the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 congressional law that says, for federal purposes, marriage is defined only as between one man and one woman.FULL STORY
Justice Clarence Thomas spoke from the bench Monday during a Supreme Court session, ending a nearly seven-year span of silence.
And he broke his streak to seemingly mock his alma mater, Yale, by making a joke about the competence of Yale lawyers when compared to their Harvard colleagues, according to two witnesses.
Thomas is known for being one of the less boisterous justices on the high court. He often leans back in his chair and stares at the ceiling. He uses written opinions to express himself.
The last time he spoke during oral arguments was February 22, 2006, in a capital appeal, Holmes v. South Carolina. Near the end of the argument, Thomas offered a brief question about standards a judge can use when allowing evidence in a criminal case.
Editor's note: A diagnosed schizophrenic convicted of killing eight people in Florida in the late 1970s is awaiting word as to whether his execution will go forward. John Ferguson had been scheduled to be executed Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET at the Florida State Prison, but a district court has granted him a stay. Read below for updates.
[Updated at 11:30 p.m. ET] Â There will be no execution of John Ferguson Tuesday night. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-second attempt by state authorities to allow the lethal injection of the Florida death row inmate to proceed as scheduled.
Editor's note:Â We're live blogging from the Supreme Court today as the nation waits to see how the justices will rule on the health care law. You can follow along below as CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears and Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey ToobinÂ get the latest details live from the court as well as analysis when the opinion is delivered. Watch live coverage and analysis on CNN TV, CNNâ€™s mobile apps andÂ http://cnn.com/live.
[Updated at 12:23 p.m. ET] President Obama touted the benefits of the law he championed as he reacted to the Supreme Court's ruling.
"By this August, nearly 13 million of you will receive a rebate from your insurance company because it spent too much on things like administration and CEO bonuses and not enough on your healthcare,â€ť Obama said.
Other benefits include lower drug costs for seniors as well as denying insurers the option to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions. It also provides free preventative care in certain cases and issues credits to those who canâ€™t afford their health insurance premiums.
Each state will decide its â€śown menu of optionsâ€ť and they're welcome to come up with ways to cover more people and improve costs, Obama said.
The president said he respects concerns about the bill and he understands that people are worried that it was politically driven, but he said it should be clear by now he didnâ€™t push for the act because it was â€śgood politics."
â€śI did it because I believed it was good for the American people,â€ť he said.
[Updated at 12:16 p.m. ET]Â President Barack Obama on Thursday called the Supreme Court's decision upholding his signature health care law "a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law."
"Theyâ€™ve reaffirmed a fundamental principle, that here in America, the wealthiest nation on Earth, no illness or accident should lead to any familyâ€™s financial ruin,â€ť Obama said.
[Updated at 12:12 p.m. ET] Â Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minnesota, responded to the ruling by saying, "This is a turning point in American history. Â We will never be the same again with this denial of liberty interests. But also it is a black cloud pragmatically speaking on economic recovery. Â There will be no hope of economic recovery between now and the election. We have exhausted now our legal solutions to be able to rid the nation of Obamacare. Now, we have to look for a political solution."
[Updated at 11:57 a.m. ET] GOP presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney is speaking now regarding health care.
â€śI will act to repeal Obamacareâ€ť if elected president, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said. â€śObamacare was bad law yesterday. Itâ€™s bad law today.â€ť
He wet on to cite the economic impact of the healthcare law. It raises taxes and cuts Medicare by hundreds of millions of dollars, while adding trillions to the national debt. It â€śpushes those obligations onto coming generations.â€ť
Romney said that in light of the Supreme Court decision, Americans must decide if they want more government and more deficits and if they want to lose their preferred insurance or if they want to â€śreturn to a time when the American people will have their own choice in healthcare.â€ť
â€śThis is a time of choice for the American people. Our mission is clear: If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we have to replace President Obama,â€ť he said.
[Updated at 11:55 a.m. ET] Vicki Kennedy, the wife of late Sen. Edward Kennedy released the following statement regarding the health care ruling.
"I applaud the decision by the United States Supreme Court this morning, upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. We still have much work to do to implement the law, and I hope we can all come together now to complete that
work. The stakes are too high for us to do otherwise.
As my late husband Senator Edward Kennedy said: 'What we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.'"
[Updated at 11:49 a.m. ET]Â The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it is for comprehensive healthcare reform, especially for the poor, but it opposes the Supreme Court decision for three reasons.
"First, ACA allows use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover such abortions, contradicting longstanding federal policy. The risk we identified in this area has already materialized, particularly in the initial approval by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of â€śhigh riskâ€ť insurance pools that would have covered abortion.
Second, the Act fails to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protection, both within and beyond the abortion context. We have provided extensive analyses of ACAâ€™s defects with respect to both abortion and conscience. The lack of statutory conscience protections applicable to ACAâ€™s new mandates has been illustrated in dramatic fashion by HHSâ€™s â€śpreventive servicesâ€ť mandate, which forces religious and other employers to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacient drugs.
Third, ACA fails to treat immigrant workers and their families fairly. ACA leaves them worse off by not allowing them to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges created under the law, even if they use their own money. This undermines the Actâ€™s stated goal of promoting access to basic life-affirming health care for everyone, especially for those most in need."
[Updated at 11:37 a.m. ET] Â Lots of reaction from the political world on this decision, which was seen as an issue that could sway the upcoming election.
But just as much as this is a political issue, the real impact is on everyday Americans.
The Supreme Court ruled largely in favor of the U.S. on Arizona's immigration law, but it upheld the most controversial provision involving police checks on people's immigration status.
So what did we learn and what can we glean from their decision? Bill Mears, CNN's Supreme Court producer, breaks down the decision piece by piece:
1. Others states better tread carefully
By striking down three of the four major provisions and upholding the idea of federal authority on this issue in pretty sweeping comments, the Supreme Court has signaled other states with similar laws that they better tread carefully or make sure their laws do not to reach too far.
In Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion, his main point was that the national government has significant power to regulate immigration issues. And so that lets states know that while they have some place to play in the issue, the federal government still reigns supreme.
While the court didnâ€™t tell Arizona and other states what they could and couldnâ€™t do when they conduct a traffic stop - for example how long police can hold someone, whether the law would amount to racial profiling - this opinion is essentially Â guidance moving forward. Their opinion was certainly not a complete smackdown of Arizona's law. Instead, it left some things pretty ambiguous.
2. The one provision upheld could be challenged again
The provision that was upheld by all eight ruling justices -Â commonly called the "show me your papers" provision - allows local law enforcement, when performing other state law enforcement functions, to check on the immigration status of those people they stop for another reason. That part was upheld because the justices said it was complementing existing federal policy. That's as long as police werenâ€™t singling people out specifically for racial reasons. The court essentially said that if police stop someone properly, or are involved in a domestic dispute, it was perfectly proper to at least check an immigration status and then consult with federal officials.
But in upholding that provision, the court was very careful to say that depending on how this is implemented, it could very well be overturned one day. The overall lawsuit brought against the law is a facialÂ challenge, which means it was being opposed and believed to be unconstitutional before it went into effect. Â What the court is saying when it comes to the "show me your papers provision" is that the justices are going to uphold it for now, allow Arizona to implement it and depending on how they enforce it, deal with it later.
If in the future a challenge is brought claiming that people are being detained for an extended time or racial profiling isÂ occurring, it could be challenged in the state and federal courts again, now that it can actually be implemented as a law. The justices have essentially said they will give ArizonaÂ the benefit of the doubt that they will enforce this in a way that meets aÂ constitutionalÂ muster test.
Itâ€™s a signal to other states that if they are going to have similarÂ provisions,Â they too have to be careful.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has ruled the Defense ofÂ Marriage Act, the federal law that defines marriage as a union between a manÂ and a woman, discriminates against gay couples.
In the unanimous ruling, a three-judge panelÂ agreed with a decision made by a lower court in 2010 that DOMA isÂ unconstitutionalÂ on the basis thatÂ it interferes with an individual state's right to define marriage.
â€śInvalidating a federal statute is an unwelcome responsibility for federal judges; the elected Congress speaks for the entire nation, its judgment and good faith being entitled to utmost respect,â€™â€™ the ruling said. â€śBut a lower federal court such as ours must follow its best understanding of governing precedent, knowing that in large matters the Supreme Court will correct mis-readings.â€ť
At issue is whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry.
"If we are right in thinking that disparate impact on minority interests and federalism concerns both require somewhat more in this case than almost automatic deference to Congress' will, this statute fails that test," said the three-judge panel.
In the ruling, the judges said that they weighed various factors. While they noted that the law does discriminate against a group that has, like manyÂ others, faced oppression, they did not view the federal law as something fueled by anti-homosexual Â sentiment.
â€śAs with the women, the poor and the mentally impaired, gays and lesbians have long been the subject of discrimination,â€™â€™ the ruling said. â€śIn reaching our judgment, we do not rely upon the charge that DOMAâ€™s hidden but dominant purpose was hostility to homosexuality. The many legislators who supported DOMA acted from a variety of motives, one central and expressed aim being to preserve the heritage of marriage as traditionally defined over centuries of Western civilization.â€™â€™
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley hailed the ruling by the appeals court.
â€śTodayâ€™s landmark ruling makes clear once again that DOMA is a discriminatory law for which there is no justification," she said in a press release. "It is unconstitutional for the federal government to create a system of first- and second-class marriages, and it does harm to families in Massachusetts every day. All Massachusetts couples should be afforded the same rights and protections under the law, and we hope that this decision will be the final step toward ensuring that equality for all.â€ť
Last year President Obama announced thatÂ the Justice Department would no longer argue for the constitutionality of the ban on same-sex marriage.
"My Justice Department has said to the courts, we don't think the Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional," the president said on "The View" earlier this month. "This is something that historically had been determined at the state level and part of my believing ultimately that civil unions weren't sufficient."
In an interview with ABC this month, Obama also officially expressed support for members of the same gender to legally wed.
"I've just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Obama said in the interview.
The Supreme Court has tossed out the Texas redistricting map for congressional and legislative seats drawn up a federal court, giving a partial victory to GOP lawmakers.
At issue were competing maps for the Texas state legislature and Congress – created first by Republican lawmakers that favored their political base and later by a federal judicial panel to give minorities greater voting power.
The map drawn by the federal judicial panel had been imposed after Democrats and minority groups in Texas challenged the Republican lawmakers' plan, which Texas' GOP-led state legislature approved.
Texas officials are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and temporarily block a controversial congressional redistricting plan from going into effect Monday.
The state's attorney general, Greg Abbott, filed an emergency "application" with the justices, saying a map approved by a federal panel in San Antonio is "fatally flawed." It would increase the number of districts dominated by minorities, especially Hispanic voters.
The court-drawn map was imposed after Democrats and minority groups in Texas challenged the original plan approved by the GOP-led state legislature.
Those seeking public office can begin filing their candidacies Monday, prompting the state's time-sensitive appeal to the high court. "Elections should not proceed based on legally flawed maps that are likely to be overturned on further review," Abbott said in a written statement.
The Supreme Court could allow the court-approved plan to remain in effect for now, or order the judicial panel to redraw the map, a process that could shorten the time candidates would have to campaign. The state's primary election is set for March.
Texas is getting four new congressional seats - more than any other state - after the latest census showed its population grew by 4 million people. The plan drafted by the three-judge panel would give minorities the majority in three of those congressional districts, and could give Democrats more seats statewide.FULL STORY
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to President Barack Obama's sweeping health care reform law, the court announced Monday.
Oral arguments will likely be held in late February or March, with a ruling by June.
A key issue to be considered by the high court's nine justices is whether the "individual mandate" section of the law - requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or face financial penalties - is an improper exercise of federal authority. Various states have argued that if that linchpin provision is found unconstitutional, the entire law will have to be scrapped.FULL STORY
The Supreme Court put the brakes on a massive job discrimination lawsuit against mega-retailer Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., saying sweeping class-action status that could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of current and former female workers was simply too large.
The ruling Monday was a big victory for the nation's largest private employer, and the business community at large.
The high-profile case– perhaps the most closely watched of the high court's term– is among the most important dealing with corporate versus worker rights that the justices have ever heard, and could eventually impact nearly every private employer, large and small.
Gisel Ruiz, Executive Vice President for Wal-Mart U.S., said in a statement the company was "pleased" with the court's ruling.
"Walmart has had strong policies against discrimination for many years. The Court today unanimously rejected class certification and, as the majority made clear, the plaintiffsâ€™ claims were worlds away from showing a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy," the statement said. "By reversing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the majority effectively ends this class action lawsuit.
â€śWalmart has a long history of providing advancement opportunities for our female associates and will continue its efforts to build a robust pipeline of future female leaders.â€ť
The case is Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (10-277).
The Supreme Court has affirmed a federal order against California to reduce its overflowing prison population, a situation the majority said "falls below the standard of decency."
The 5-4 ruling from the justices came in a classic battle over state versus federal authority, focusing on whether U.S courts can step in and essentially run state prisons when officials have repeatedly violated basic constitutional guarantees afforded inmates.
Twila Busby and her two sons died horribly in their little cream-colored house. No one who has examined this case in the nearly 17 years since the triple murders will doubt that. But lingering questions of guilt and innocence, of changing alibis, and the fairness of a criminal trial have now captured the attention of the Supreme Court.
The justices will decide this week whether a convicted killer on Texas death row deserves another chance to prove he did not commit the crime.
"All the district attorney has got to do is turn over the evidence and test it, and let the chips fall where they may," Henry "Hank" Skinner told CNN in an exclusive death row interview. "If I'm innocent I go home. If I'm guilty I die. What's so hard about that?"
Members of the victims' family respond that their pain has only grown as this inmate, in their minds, continues to delay justice through endless appeals.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan was easily confirmed Thursday as the next associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, completing the 50-year-old native New Yorker's climb to the peak of the American legal profession.
The 63-37 vote was more than enough to blunt any possibility of a last-minute Republican delay or filibuster. Opposition during three days of Senate floor debate was relatively subdued.
Kagan is set to begin a lifetime position as the nation's 112th justice. Administration officials anticipate she will sworn into office Saturday, when she takes the traditional constitutional and judicial oaths. She will then assume her court duties immediately.
Her brisk confirmation was a political victory for President Barack Obama - who placed Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the high court last year - and for Senate Democrats.
Kagan was the administration's solicitor general when Obama nominated her on May 10 to replace retired Justice John Paul Stevens. She will become the current court's youngest member and third woman.
The Supreme Court has ruled against a Christian campus group that sued after a California law school denied it official recognition because the student organization limits its core membership to those who share its beliefs on faith and marriage.
At issue was the conflict between a public university's anti-discrimination policies and a private group's freedom of religion and association.
The 5-4 ruling was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was on the bench a day after her husband passed away.
The law school, wrote Ginsburg, "caught in the crossfire between a group's desire to exclude and students' demand for equal access, may reasonably draw a line in the sand permitting all organizations to express what they wish but no group to discriminate in membership."
In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, "I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today's decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country." He was supported by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
In another dramatic victory for firearm owners, the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional Chicago, Illinois' 28-year-old strict ban on handgun ownership, a potentially far-reaching case over the ability of state and local governments to enforce limits on weapons.
A 5-4 conservative majority of justices on Monday reiterated its two-year-old conclusion the Constitution gives individuals equal or greater power than states on the issue of possession of certain firearms for self-protection.
"It cannot be doubted that the right to bear arms was regarded as a substantive guarantee, not a prohibition that could be ignored so long as states legislated in an evenhanded manner," wrote Justice Samuel Alito.
The court grounded that right in the due process section of the 14th Amendment. The justices, however, said local jurisdictions still retain the flexibility to preserve some "reasonable" gun-control measures currently in place nationwide.
In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer predicated far-reaching implications. "Incorporating the right," he wrote, "may change the law in many of the 50 states. Read in the majority's favor, the historical evidence" for the decision "is at most ambiguous."
He was supported by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
Top White House officials expressed confidence Friday that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan will earn the respect and votes of senators during her confirmation hearings, which begin next week.
In a conference call with reporters, senior political aide David Axelrod dismissed suggestions Kagan's lack of judicial experience and political service in two Democratic administrations will hurt her chances to sit on the high court.
"We know it's an extremely polarized political climate, and we are preparing to make a vigorous case," for her confirmation, he said. "We are prepared and she is certainly prepared to respond. And we anticipate once the hearings are done, she'll take her seat on the court."
A lawsuit brought by a breast cancer patient against a major drug company will go forward after the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the dispute.
The justices without comment Monday turned aside an appeal from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, maker of drugs for hormone replacement therapy.
[Updated at 9:32 p.m. ET] The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a stay of execution for Utah inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner, who is scheduled to be executed by firing squad at 2 a.m. ET.
[Updated at 5:56 p.m. ET] Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert has declined inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner's request to temporarily stay Gardner's anticipated execution by firing squad. The execution is scheduled for 2 a.m. ET.
[Updated at 4:01 p.m. ET] The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado, has denied the motion to delay the firing squad execution of convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner, which is scheduled for 2 a.m. Friday in Utah.
[Posted at 12:46 p.m. ET] Hours away from his scheduled execution by firing squad, Utah death-row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner has asked Gov. Gary Herbert for a temporary stay, according to the state Department of Corrections.
The three-page letter was delivered to Herbert shortly before 10 a.m., the department said in a statement on its website. It was signed by Gardner's attorneys and asks the governor to "issue a respite or reprieve pursuant to your executive power under the Utah Constitution."
The request is currently under review, according to the statement.
In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule Thursday on Gardner's appeal for a last-minute stay of execution.
The Supreme Court has turned away a lawsuit filed against U.S. officials by a Canadian man who was seized in New York, accused of having terrorism connections and sent to Syria, where he claims he was tortured.
At issue was whether Maher Arar could continue to press his claim for damages in federal court, and whether top U.S. law enforcement officials had immunity. Despite being a foreign national, he said he had a constitutional "due process" right to press his claims in federal court.
The justices Monday did not explain whey they rejected the case.
A war memorial shaped like a cross that has been at the center of a Supreme Court fight has been torn down by vandals from its remote perch in a California desert.