The SC has held out on releasing its most interesting rulings until the very end. The two gay marriage* cases, the Voting Rights Act, and the affirmative action case. The opinions should be out any day now, possibly as soon as tomorrow.
Perry v. Brown is the case about Proposition 8, the California state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and banning recognition of gay marriages carried out previously or elsewhere. United States v. Windsor is the case about DOMA, the federal law that exempts states from having to recognize gay marriages from other states, and banning federal recognition of such marriages.
If the rulings go against both California and the United States, it could be a major victory, depending on the reasoning used. The "best" ruling from the gay rights point of view would be a ruling that the laws discriminate against gays, must therefore satisfy strict scrutiny, and fail to do so. However, the court could use narrower reasoning; for example, rule that California need not perform gay marriages but must recognize them under the full-faith and credit clause, and rule that DOMA is unconstitutional not because it is discriminatory but because it exceeds Congress' authority.
The court could rule against the US but in favor of California, effectively making it a state issue. That would still be a win, since it's feasible if not convenient to temporarily move to get married, the resulting marriage would be recognized for federal purposes, and the full-faith and credit clause could be used to litigate recognition in the states that don't perform gay marriages.
Of course they could rule in favor of California and the US, which would actually move things backward since DOMA isn't currently being fully enforced due to adverse lower court decisions. It's hard to see how the court could rule in favor of the US but against California, unless it was on some very narrow basis that didn't really do much for anybody.
My prediction: CA and US lose but on the narrow grounds described above.
Shelby County v Holder is the case challenging the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which apply only to certain states. As I've mentioned before, this case is asking the wrong question - preclearance, to the extent it is a good idea, should apply everywhere, not just places picked 50 years ago - and it was brought by the wrong people. The challenge should have come from a voter somewhere not covered, asking why Congress is not extending the same protection people in the South get.
The slight problem for the liberals on the court is that in an earlier case (NW Austin) , 8 out of 9 justices, including some of the current liberals, signed onto an statement that "current needs have to generate the current burden", and Shelby County argues there should be a mechanism to evaluate current needs so that a state or county that's clean can get back the same authority other states and counties have. But in the oral arguments the liberal justices basically argued that Shelby County specifically is definitely still a racist kind of place and ought to be covered anyway, and whether some other places should or shouldn't be covered is irrelevant to the case at hand. Furthermore, even the conservatives seemed sympathetic to the feds argument that you get back the authority by persuading Congress you're clean and getting them to change the law.
My prediction: Shelby County loses, probably at least 6-3.
Fisher v University of Texas is the case challenging the rather weak vestiges of affirmative action that still exist in Texas. Texas has a rule that anyone in the top 10% of their high school class gets admission into any state school. This rule accounts for most admissions at the top-tier institutions, and has led to fairly good diversity statistics. Fisher is challenging the use of race as a factor in the few slots that are left open after the 10% rule is satisfied.
The current UT Austin system was presumably designed to meet the requirements the SC outlined in Grutter v. Bollinger when they upheld the use of race in admissions at Michigan Law School, so for Fisher to win, the SC has to reverse itself. Really, I don't see a compelling case either way. Fisher could have been admitted or excluded for any number of other reasons ranging from math scores to athletic ability, she can't really prove race was the reason, she wasn't a particularly good student, and it's hardly the case that the state denied her an education - there were any number of other schools she could go to. On the other hand, plenty of minorities would get to go to UT Austin even without the affirmative action, so there isn't really a compelling case in favor.
My prediction: Fisher loses narrowly.
*"Gay marriage", of course, being shorthand for a marriage between two people of the same sex. It's always been legal for gay people to marry, just not to the person they probably wanted; conversely, it's generally been illegal for straight people of the same sex to marry for purposes of getting a tax deduction or insurance benefits or as a fraternity prank.
Since my attempts at serious diaries usually fail, this is also a Top 10 Action Scenes of the 20th Century Open Thread.
10. Tank truck vs. skinheads in dune buggies - The Road Warrior (1981)
9. Vicious flying monkeys tear up the strawman - Wizard of Oz (1939)
8. Kung fu in rope factory - Miracles (1989)
7. Banderas vs. Zeta Jones - Mask of Zorro (1998)
6. Chase through jungle and across log bridge - King Kong (1933)
5. Opening gunfight in teahouse - Hard Boiled (1992)
4. Closing gunfight in abandoned church - The Killer (1989)
3. Lobby scene - The Matrix (1999)
2. San Franscisco car chase - Bullitt (1968)
1. Chariot race - Ben Hur (1959)