The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

President Obama’s legacy is increasingly in legal jeopardy

FILE - This Friday, Oct. 3, 2014 file photo, shows the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
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President Obama's second-term agenda, it seems, is in the hands of the courts.

Same-sex marriage. Obamacare. Climate change. And now immigration. And in many cases, there is significant doubt about whether his signature initiatives will stand legal scrutiny.

The latest blow to Obama's second-term plans came Tuesday when a federal appeals court in New Orleans denied the administration's request to move forward with implementing his expanded executive action on immigration to defer deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.

[A brief history of United States Courts v. Barack Obama]

Texas and 25 other states have sued to have it shelved. The drama is sure to ensue for months, writes the Post's David Nakamura, and throw into doubt whether the fight over all of Obama's executive actions on immigration will be settled before he leaves office in January 2017.

Here's a look at other Obama agenda items that are now in the court's hands, and where they stand.

Same-sex marriage

Obama is the first American president to support same-sex marriage -- though his public evolution apparently was slower than his personal one. Before he backed gay marriage, he called for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. And since, he has ordered federal agencies to recognize same-sex marriages and partnerships like any other married couple.

But the Supreme Court could have the final say on gay marriage's place in America when it hands down a high-profile decision in the next month on whether states that ban gay marriage violate a couple's constitutional right. The Supreme Court went Obama's way in 2013 when it allowed the federal government to recognize legally married same-sex couples.

The nation's highest court is hearing Obergefell v. Hodges, a case that examines if same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Here's what you need to know about the case that could make gay marriage legal across the nation. (Video: Julie Percha/The Washington Post)


The president's signature health-care reform law has already survived one Supreme Court challenge when in 2012, a divided court (5-4) narrowly upheld the mandate for people to have insurance by determining it was a tax.

This time around, the court is mulling another major portion of the law: Whether the federal government can subsidize health insurance for low- and middle-income people who bought their insurance on the federally run Web site,, in states that didn't set up their own exchanges. Challengers say the law as written only supports subsidies for the 16 states that set up exchanges.

[Judge's immigration ruling adds to Obama's list of potential legal pitfalls]

If the court rules in King v. Burwell that those subsidies are unconstitutional, upwards of 8 million people in 36 states could lose their subsidies. It would undo a key part to the Affordable Care Act -- and possibly unravel the whole law.

The Affordable Care Act is facing another challenge at the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell, which deals with subsidies for health insurance. The case could cut out a major provision of Obamacare, causing the law to unravel. Here’s what you need to know about the case. (Video: Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

Climate Change

Obama told U.S. Coast Guard cadets last week that failing to act on climate change will "set a course for disaster." At the same time, the Supreme Court is debating whether his method of cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions is even constitutional.

The Supreme Court heard arguments  in March on whether the Environmental Protection Agency's crackdown on coal- and fire-powered plants' mercury emissions failed to consider undue costs on the power plants.

The justices are expected to share their decision in June. But it is expected to be just an early challenge to the president's executive climate change initiatives, say environmental watchers. (Sensing a theme here?)

Here are key moments from President Obama's commencement address to the Coast Guard Academy class of 2015, in which he told the graduates climate change would affect "everything that you do in your careers." (Video:

More immigration

The lawsuit against Obama's plan to shield 5 million additional undocumented immigrants from deportation isn't the only court challenge to the president's executive actions on immigration.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is considering putting to a vote a separate lawsuit against the president for expanding the program in November. This is in addition to the vote the House of Representatives took (along party lines) last summer to sue the president over his overall use of executive authority.

Neither of Congress' lawsuits has made its way to a higher court -- but with Obama's luck lately, they just might.

For a recap of some other times Obama's plans have made their way through the courts, see this February post from The Fix's Philip Bump.