The Supreme Court has lately been very active in matters that affect healthcare in the United States.

Covid Issues

The Court invalidated restrictions on religious gatherings in New York and California during the height of the pandemic.  These rules were the result of scientific studies that showed large group gatherings presented a high risk of disease transmission.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered large businesses to either require vaccinations against Covid or routinely test employees.  This rule was interdicted, and scientists predicted 6,500 lives could have been saved and 250,000 hospitalizations averted if these rules had been permitted.

Environment

Last year, the Court invalidated the Clean Power Plan, a measure that would have required power plants to install energy efficient devices and show progress toward sustainable energy.  The decision rested upon the belief that “major questions” must be explicitly legislated.  Critics of the decision felt that this emasculates regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency in their missions to protect public health, as they need some degree of discretion to fulfill their missions.   

Firearms

The Second Amendment has enjoyed a heyday with the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court.  It  recently invalidated a New York law that required a person to show cause for a license to carry a gun outside the home.  This overturned a precedent established in 1911.

The Supreme Court is not alone in its apparent zeal to promote guns.  For instance, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals ruled unconstitutional a federal law that banned gun possession by people who are under restraining orders due to domestic violence.

Women’s Rights

The court overturned a 50 year constitutional right, when it decided that abortion is not protected by the US constitution.  The implications are protean, not the least of which are the ambiguities that resulting state laws have created.  For instance, does emergency medical care include abortion services?

On the Docket

Other cases with important implications for health may soon come before the Supreme Court.  Education is a major determinant of health, and observers believe that the court will invalidate affirmative action plans.  At present, Medicaid recipients can challenge in court state denials of federal benefits.  A pending case would deny enrollees the right to do this.  The Supreme Court may soon rule on the FDA’s long standing approval of abortion pills.      

Summary

I lifted most of the content of this blog entry from a “Viewpoint” published in the May 9, 2023 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  It ends as follows:

The Supreme Court’s six conservative justices are bringing vast changes to the public health legal landscape.  The Supreme Court is impairing the government’s ability to act in the public interest and undermining safeguards for groups that have been historically marginalized.  Yet far from affecting only a subset of US individuals, the justices are weakening public health with health and equity on the line.

The piece is obviously left leaning, but, regardless of the politics, it is clear that, especially on matters pertaining to health, the judiciary in the US is tending toward intervening in matters that have profound consequences on the health of Americans.

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Left or not, the article is “right on”

  2. Kathleen and Frank FioRito says:

    Clear and concise analysis. Thank you, Jim.

  3. Helen says:

    I long for the days when I thought that most Supreme Court justices had judicial rather than political temperaments. The recent decisions outlined here leave me breathless.
    The Supreme Court began with three members. Eleven, anyone? Even if subsequent administrations enlarge the number, at least that will be a further lessening of the power of individual justices.

    1. Helen says:

      Or maybe thirteen while we’re at it.

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