Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On The Supreme Court’s Decisions In Zubik v. Burwell and Spokeo v. Robbins

[On Monday, the eight justices of the Supreme Court were unable to come to a final decision on the merits in two separate cases.  In Zubik v. Burwell, involving an administrative accommodation to the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act for religiously affiliated nonprofits, the Court remanded the case to the lower courts for further consideration, explicitly expressing “no view on the merits of the cases.”  In Spokeo v. Robbins, the Court failed to reach the key question in the case, which involved whether Congress can statutorily create rights that confer standing for plaintiffs to sue when those rights are violated.  The decision leaves unresolved a split among the Circuit Courts of Appeals on this question.]

“In its decisions in Zubik and Spokeo today, the Supreme Court’s eight members could not serve their highest function under the Constitution, which is to definitively resolve legal disputes so that our laws apply uniformly across the Nation. 

“The Court’s failure to reach a decision in Zubik v. Burwell leaves undecided the question of whether women employees of some nonprofits will continue to have seamless access to health insurance coverage for contraception.  Similarly, the Court’s decision to remand Spokeo v. Robbins for further proceedings leaves unsettled law across the country on how and whether consumers can enforce statutory protections in court.  The Spokeo case raises important privacy questions about Americans’ power to take action when incorrect information is posted about them online, but its implications for how statutes are enforced in court are far greater. 

“The Court’s inability to make final decisions in these two cases means that important questions impacting women’s health and consumer rights remain mired in legal uncertainty.  Our Constitution ensures equal justice for all; not a patchwork of different rights in different parts of the country.  This is precisely why the Senate must proceed with a public hearing and a vote for Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated two months ago to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.”

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