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Dueling Supreme Court decisions deliver us both a win and a loss

Dueling Supreme Court decisions deliver us both a win and a loss

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Although Republicans have been in and out of power in Washington DC over the years, they have nevertheless been relentlessly successful in their quest to fill the American judiciary with Federalist Society-approved ultra-conservative judges who can extend and implement the GOP’s reactionary ideology even when they’ve been voted out of control of the executive and legislative branches of government.

The strategy has been largely successful with the Supreme Court now having a decidedly right-ward bent after the appointment of three justices nominated by Donald Trump to the bench.

Despite this stacking of the judicial deck, however, the latest edition of the Supreme Court has a mixed record when it comes to the automatic sanctioning of Republican priorities through their constitutional decisions.

Take the two rulings that the court announced today, for example.

In the first case, the justices decided as you might expect from a majority Catholic court, ruling that Philadelphia can’t force a Catholic adoption agency to certify same-sex couples as foster parents.

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Despite the fact that the decision was an unprecedented exception to anti-discrimination laws, the ruling was unanimous, with the liberal justices agreeing with the premise that enforcing LGBTQ rights was less important than allowing the Catholic organization to freely express its discriminatory religious beliefs.

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While this particular ruling was somewhat narrow in scope, it was a decision that was sure to inspire delight among the religious right who likely see it as another step on the way to their ultimate goal of restricting women’s rights to control their own reproductive destiny.

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Another decision announced by the Supreme Court today, however, defies the expectations that a right-leaning court would simply rubber-stamp any major GOP priorities.

In a ruling that has Republican politicians likely weeping and wailing and moaning and gnashing their teeth, the court decided in a 7-2 opinion to reject the latest attempt by Republican state governments to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

While the case, California v. Texas, had the potential to be the nail in the coffin for the nation’s health care insurance system, instead it proved to be the death knell for GOP attempts to overturn it.

Despite an outcome that preserves pre-existing condition coverage mandates and prevents the loss of medical insurance for millions of Americans, the ruling was based narrowly on a lack of standing by the Republican-led states that brought the suit to actually sue in the circumstances of this case.

Given that the suit was ostensibly concerning the legality of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance that was part of the original iteration of the Affordable Care Act — a provision that was later removed by Republicans after Trump took power — the issue was moot in the court’s eyes, as the lack of current concrete damages meant that there was no actual reason for the suit.

Today’s decisions, taken as a whole, indicate that despite the Supreme Court’s current rightward bent, the outcome of any individual case can still be unlike what you might expect.

Still, the importance of rebalancing the ideological divide in a court dominated by justices nominated by Republican presidents cannot be ignored.

The nation dodged a bullet in the Obamacare ruling today, but there is no guarantee that future rulings on divisive issues of major importance will be decided as favorably for the majority of the country as the court moves forward.

Perhaps if Democrats can muster the courage to eliminate the filibuster, the Supreme Court can be expanded to redress its currently lopsided partisan majority.

Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter. 

Original reporting by Nina Totenberg at NPR and by Elura Nanos at Law & Crime.

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