Supreme Court issues decisions on abortion, OxyContin settlement, environmental protection and SEC fraud: A look at today's rulings

Abortion rights activists holding signs outside the Supreme Court.
Protesters outside the Supreme Court on Monday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The Supreme Court issued four more opinions on Thursday but did not include the highly anticipated decision regarding former President Donald Trump’s claims of immunity from criminal prosecution ahead of Thursday night’s presidential debate between Trump and President Biden.

Here’s a roundup of all the decisions it did drop on June 27, including a major ruling on abortion.

🏥 Abortion in health emergencies

Case: Moyle v. United States

How the justices ruled and what it means: The Supreme Court sided with the Biden administration in a 6-3 decision when it dismissed an appeal from Idaho, sidestepping the question of whether the Biden administration's interpretation of federal law conflicts with Idaho's abortion ban. The ruling means emergency room doctors can now perform emergency abortions in Idaho, despite the state's near-total ban on abortion. The case will now continue to play out in lower courts. And with key questions unanswered, the issue could end up before the Supreme Court again.

Some background: Following the Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in 2022, the Biden administration argued that, under federal law, doctors must be allowed to provide emergency abortions for cases in which a woman is facing serious health risks.

Idaho officials challenged the Biden administration’s decision, saying the federal law conflicts with its state law that bans abortions. Idaho is one of 14 states with a complete abortion ban in place, with very limited exceptions, which include when “necessary to prevent the death of a pregnant woman.” Otherwise, anyone who performs the procedure can face criminal penalties, including up to five years in prison, and health care professionals risk losing their medical license.

Notable opinion quote: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson concurred in part, and dissented in part with the decision. “Today’s decision is not a victory for pregnant patients in Idaho. It is delay,” she wrote. “While this court dawdles and the country waits, pregnant people experiencing emergency medical conditions remain in a precarious position, as their doctors are kept in the dark about what the law requires.”

🌎 Environmental protections on hold

Case: Ohio v. EPA

How the justices ruled and what it means: The Biden administration suffered another blow to its ambitious environmental plan from the Supreme Court on Thursday. The justices’ 5-4 ruling temporarily stops the Biden administration’s Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision, which aims to reduce air pollution from factories and power plants in Western and Midwestern states that drifts downwind across state lines. The rule is on hold while legal challenges play out.

Some background: Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, energy companies and other industry groups challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule, saying it was expensive and not effective. Meanwhile, the EPA contends that the pollutants have a link to asthma, lung disease and premature death. In a landmark 2022 decision, the Supreme Court has also limited the EPA’s authority to combat climate change and water pollution.

💊 Rejection of opioid settlement

Case: Harrington v. Purdue Pharma

How the justices ruled: The Supreme Court blocked a $6 billion nationwide settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that would have shielded the wealthy company owners from civil lawsuits over the opioid epidemic, in exchange for billions of dollars to help address the crisis. In a 5-4 vote, the justices blocked the agreement arranged between state and local governments and opioid-addicted victims.

What it means: In 2019, Purdue Pharma declared bankruptcy, but the Sackler family, who owns Purdue Pharma, has not declared bankruptcy themselves. The ruling means the Sacklers can’t receive immunity from being held liable in opioid-related lawsuits. The case also sets a framework for similar agreements that protect a third party from being held legally responsible.

Notable opinion quote: Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion, “Nothing in present law authorizes the Sackler discharge.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, one of the four who dissented, wrote, “Opioid victims and other future victims of mass torts will suffer greatly in the wake of today’s unfortunate and destabilizing decision.”

❌ Limiting power of federal agencies

Case: Securities and Exchange Commission v. Jarkesy

How the justices ruled and what it means: In a 6-3 decision, the justices put new limits on the power of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to combat securities fraud by ruling that the federal agency’s use of in-house courts violates the Constitution. The Supreme Court said that people accused of fraud by the SEC have the right to a jury trial in federal court.

Some background: The SEC was established during the Great Depression to ensure the financial markets stay fair and that investors are protected. George Jarkesy, a hedge fund manager, brought the challenge after the SEC claimed he violated securities laws and wasn’t truthful about two hedge funds he was overseeing. After an in-house SEC proceeding, Jarkesy had to pay a hefty penalty and was barred from certain industry roles. He argued that the case should have been heard in a federal court rather than in an SEC court.

Elon Musk and Mark Cuban have backed Jarkesy.

What the justices said: Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that a defendant facing an SEC fraud suit has “the right to be tried by a jury of his peers before a neutral adjudicator. Rather than recognize that right, the dissent would permit Congress to concentrate the roles of prosecutor, judge, and jury in the hands of the Executive Branch.”

Meanwhile, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented with the two other liberal justices, was concerned about repealing the power of federal agencies and wrote, “The constitutionality of hundreds of statutes may now be in peril, and dozens of agencies could be stripped of their power to enforce laws enacted by Congress.”