American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 49, Issue 4 (2013)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


The Supreme Court’s October 2012 Term likely will be remembered best for the Justices’ landmark ruling in United States v. Windsor, striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, and for the jurisdictional ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry that helped to reopen the door for samesex marriages in California. Many also will long remember Shelby County v. Holder, invalidating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and thereby freeing a number of states and localities from the preclearance requirements under which they had operated for decades. Crowded behind those headline-dominating decisions are a host of other broadly consequential rulings on issues ranging from racial preferences in higher education, to ratcheting up the requirements for voter registration, to seeking standing in federal court on the basis of anticipated injuries. I briefly review the Court’s most noteworthy civil decisions here, letting a set of alphabetized headings dictate the order in which I take them up.



The Court’s holding in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center1 is not likely to be of much interest outside the world of environmental-law specialists, but the case served as a vehicle for three Justices to signal an issue of potentially enormous significance in the larger world of administrative law. Decker concerned a dispute about the need for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits covering storm water flowing off logging roads into nearby rivers. Citing Auer v. Robbins,2 the Court deferred to the Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretation of its own regulations and held that permits were not required.3 It is the continued viability of Auer deference that three Justices questioned.