Tag: US Supreme Court

Jun 28

The US Supreme Court Decides and Goes on Vacation

There was a of of speculation that the US Supreme Court would hand down numerous split decisions since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia this year and the refusal of the Republicans in the Senate to even give President Barak Obama’s candidate to replace him a hearing. There were some but not as many as …

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Jun 20

State Gun Ban Stands

The US Supreme Court dealt a blow to the gun lobby and the NRA by declining to hear a challenge to Connecticut and New York laws that bans military style semi-automatic weapons, their parts and large capacity magazines. These laws were passed in 2012 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. …

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Apr 04

SCOTUS: One Person, One Vote Upheld

The US Supreme Court handed a conservative challenge to one person, one vote principle a unanimous defeat. In Evenwel v Abbott the court ruled (pdf) that states could count the total population, not just eligible voters, in drawing legislative districts. The plaintiffs claimed that redrawing electoral districts based on the population of citizens and non-citizens …

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Jun 30

SCOTUS Puts Hold on Closing Texas Abortion Clinics

In a late announcement Monday afternoon, the Supreme Court stayed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which imposed limits on a woman’s right to choose. In a 5 -4 decision, the court allows Texas abortion clinics to remain open.

The Supreme Court issued a brief, two paragraph order (pdf) on Monday permitting Texas abortion clinics that are endangered by state law requiring them to comply with onerous regulations or else shut down to remain open. The order stays a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which imposed broad limits on the women’s right to choose an abortion within that circuit.

The Court’s order is temporary and offers no direct insight into how the Court will decide this case on the merits. It provides that the clinics’ application for a stay of the Fifth Circuit’s decision is granted “pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition” asking the Court to review the case on the merits. The Court adds that, should this petition be denied, the stay will automatically terminate. Otherwise, the stay “shall terminate upon the issuance of the judgment of this Court.”

Justce Anthony Kennedy joined the liberal judges to grant the clinics a reprieve. The court has yet to decide if they will hear arguments in the case in the fall.

Jun 29

Scotus: The Final Three New Rules

Today is the last day of this years Supreme Court session. After yesterday’s momentous ruling in favor of marriage equality for all (yes, gays should have the same right to be miserably married as heterosexuals), the court handed down rulings in three cases, two which have even a wider impact than the Affordable Care Act ruling.

In another five – four ruling Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the conservatives approving Oklahoma’s use of the controversial sedative midazolam in Oklahoma’s execution protocols which opened the door for the state to carry out the first executions since January.

The ruling ends a hold on most executions outside Texas and Missouri. Several states had delayed executions while they awaited the ruling in Glossip v Gross, in which the court was asked to decide whether Oklahoma’s use of midazolam fell within the boundaries of the US constitution.

Though the ruling fell into the familiar 5 to 4 conservative to liberal split within the supreme court, it marked the first time in seven years that the nation’s highest judicial panel considered directly the constitutional basis of modern executions by lethal injection. It also gave the progressive-leaning justices an opportunity to vent their opinions on the ultimate punishment, with Stephen Breyer backed by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, using a dissenting opinion to openly denounce the death penalty as a violation of the eighth amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In the case against the Environmental Protection Agency, the court struck down the agency’s efforts to set limits on the amount of mercury, arsenic and other toxins coal-fired power plants can spew into the air, lakes and rivers.

The 5-4 decision was a major setback to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and could leave the agency more vulnerable to legal challenges from industry and Republican-led states to its new carbon pollution rules.

It was also a blow to years of local efforts to clean up dangerous air pollution.

The supreme court has now sent the case back to the Washington DC circuit court of appeals, which will then ask the EPA to reconsider its rule-making. Activists are now urging the EPA to act definitively and quickly to issue revised regulation.

In its final ruling, the curt upheld Arizona’s independent redistricting that was passed in a 2000 ballot referendum, striking a blow to gerrymandering.

The court’s decision affirms the constitutionality of an Arizona state ballot measure approved by voters in 2000 that allowed an independent commissioner to determine congressional districts in the state.

State legislatures determine congressional district boundaries after each census, as dictated by the constitution, but the Arizona measure sought to undo this model, which is widely understood as a tool for partisan lawmakers to divvy up districts to favor the political party in power – also known as gerrymandering.

The supreme court ruled 5-4 that the elections clause of the US constitution does not disallow such commissions from being created.

Jun 26

SCOTUS : New Rules

It’s been a busy court calendar for the Supremes this year. They had to add extra days for the release of their rulings. One of the biggies came today when the court rejected the lawsuit that would have ended the health care subsidies of the Affordable Care Act.

The stakes of the case, King v. Burwell, were enormous. Had the plaintiffs prevailed, millions of people who depend upon the Affordable Care Act for insurance would have lost financial assistance from the federal government. Without that money, most of them would have had to give up coverage altogether. And the loss of so many customers would have forced insurers to raise premiums, seriously disrupting state insurance markets.

But two of the court’s conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined the court’s four liberals in rejecting the lawsuit in a 6-3 decision. Roberts delivered the opinion (pdf) for the majority. And the decision was a concise, stinging rebuke of the plaintiffs, who contended that Congress intended to write a law that would leave so many people without coverage, and cause such disarray.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not destroy them,” Roberts wrote.

In the other ruling released today, in a 5 – 4 decision the justices backed a broad interpretation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act a crucial tool in the fight against housing discrimination.

The question in the case was whether plaintiffs suing under the housing law must prove intentional discrimination or merely that the challenged practice had produced a “disparate impact.” Drawing on decisions concerning other kinds of discrimination, Justice Kennedy said the housing law allowed suits relying on both kinds of evidence.

The first kind of proof can be hard to come by, as agencies and businesses seldom announce that they are engaging in purposeful discrimination. “Disparate impact,” on the other hand, can be proved using statistics.

Justice Kennedy wrote that the history of the law and of the civil rights movement supported the broader interpretation.

On Monday they handed down four rulings

Supreme Court rules on patents, property

By Jaelynn Grisso, Scripts Howard Foundation Wire

Patent holders cannot be paid after the patent expires

The Supreme Court ruled that patent holders cannot keep getting paid for their inventions after the patent expires, upholding a previous Supreme Court decision.

Marvel agreed to pay Stephen Kimble royalties for a Spider-Man glove that shot out fake spider webs. He held a patent on the glove, but the contract did not specify how long payments would last. When the patent on the toy expired after the typical 20 years, Marvel stopped paying Kimble. The district court and the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals sided with Marvel based on the Supreme Court case Brulotte v. Thys, which also ruled patent holders were not entitled to royalties after the patent expired.

The court reaffirmed these decisions in a 6-3 vote, determining Kimble’s reasons for overturning Brulotte were not substantial enough. [..]

Crops, like raisins, are protected property

In Horne v. Department of Agriculture, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot make raisin growers forfeit a portion of their crops because they are protected property under the Fifth Amendment.

Marvin and Laura Horne refused to give the USDA a portion of their raisin crop, violating a law passed in 1937, which allows the government to require growers to reserve a portion of their crops for government management. The law said the government could take the crops for free to help control market prices. It would pay farmers only if it made profit on the produce.

The court’s ruling reversed the 9th Circuit’s decision on an 8-1 vote, with Sotomayor dissenting. The ruling upheld that personal property – such as cars, computers or raisins – is protected under the Fifth Amendment as is real property, such as houses. [..]

Excessive force needs to be determined objectively

The Supreme Court ruled that county jails need to set objective standards for use of force against prisoners who have not yet been convicted. The court reversed a ruling from the 7th Circuit Court and sent the case back for a rehearing.

Michael Kingsley sued officers in a Wisconsin county jail after they used force to remove him from his cell after he refused to comply with their instructions. Kingsley had not been convicted of a crime and was being held until his trial.

After a jury trial found in favor of the officers, Kingsley appealed. He claimed the instructions to the jury did not require that jurors consider whether the guards had intentionally violated Kingsley’s rights or had use force with complete disregard for his rights.

The 7th Circuit disagreed, saying that subjective standards about the officers’ intentions – whether or not they meant to violate or disregard his rights – should be used. The Supreme Court reversed this decision on a 5-4 vote, with Breyer, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan agreeing. Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito dissented.

Officers cannot conduct a search without judicial review

In a case involving the city of Los Angeles and a group of hotel operators, the Supreme Court decided city ordinances allowing officers to search hotel records was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The 5-4 vote upheld the decision of the 9th Circuit.

Los Angeles requires hotel operators to keep records about their guests, and the hotel operators can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor if the records are not maintained correctly. The district court sided with the city because it said hotel operators did not have an expectation of privacy for the records. But the 9th Circuit reversed this decision because the ordinance did not allow for a neutral party, such as a judge, to review the records for compliance before a search.

The city will now need to get a subpoena before getting hotel records if the hotel operator declines to give up the records voluntarily. The city wanted access to records because it said maintaining the records is a deterrent to criminal activity like prostitution and housing undocumented immigrants.

The court also previously released these rulings:

Race and Redistricting

In two Alabama cases, the court found that the State Legislature had relied too heavily on race in its 2012 state redistricting by maintaining high concentrations of black voters in some districts.

Religious Freedom in Prison

In Holt v. Hobbs, the court found that Arkansas corrections officials had violated the religious liberty rights of Muslim inmates by forbidding them to grow beards over security concerns.

Pregnancy Discrimination

In Young v. United Parcel Service, the court found that the lower courts had used the wrong standard to determine whether UPS had discriminated against one of its drivers, Peggy Young, who was pregnant.

Judicial Elections and Free Speech

In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, the court ruled that states may prohibit judicial candidates from personally asking their supporters for money.

Employment Discrimination

The court decided in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores that Samantha Elauf was not required to make a specific request for a religious accommodation to wear a hijab when applying for a position at a children’s clothing store owned by the company.

Social Media and Free Speech

The court decided in Elonis v. United States that prosecutors did not do enough to prove Anthony Elonis’s intent when he published threatening rap lyrics on Facebook directed at his wife.

Separation of Powers in Foreign Affairs

The court decided in Zivotofsky v. Kerry that Congress was not entitled to order the State Department to “record the place of birth as Israel” in the passports of American children born in Jerusalem if their parents requested.

The Confederate Flag and Free Speech

The court decided in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans that Texas had not discriminated against the view of the group that “the Confederate flag is a symbol of sacrifice, independence and Southern heritage” when refusing to allow its license plate bearing the Confederate flag.

Religious Signs and Free Speech

The court decided in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz., that a town ordinance that places different limits on political, ideological and directional signs violates the First Amendment.

There are four more rulings coming down the pike for tomorrow and Monday:

1. Obergefell v. Hodges (Same Sex marriage)

2. Glossip v. Gross (Lethal Injection)

3. Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (Congressional Redistricting)

4. Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA et. al. ( EPA Emissions Regulations)

5. Johnson v. U.S. (Gun Laws and Criminals)

So far, the Supremes haven’t upset the apple cart too much

Jan 29

Fixing Our Right to Vote

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In 1965, spurred by the slaying of voting-rights activists in Philadelphia, Mississippi and numerous other acts of violence and terrorism, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act that was designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In June of 2013, the US Supreme Court struck down part of that act, specifically Section 4, that designated which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court:

The 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965.

The court’s opinion said it did not strike down the act of Congress “lightly,” and said it “took care to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act” in a separate case back in 2009. “Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare [Section 4] unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.” [..]

The court did not rule on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the preclearance requirement itself, which requires those affected states to have changes to their voting laws cleared by the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C., before they go into effect. Rather, the court ruled that the current formula that determines which states are covered by Section 5 is unconstitutional, effectively eliminating Section 5 enforcement, at least for the time being.

Since the beginning of 2013, even before the ruling, over half the states have introduced or passed restrictions to voting rights.

  •    At least 92 restrictive bills were introduced in 33 states.
  •    Of those, 13 restrictive bills are still pending in 5 states.
  •    Of those, 5 restrictive bills are currently active in 2 states, [1] in that there has been legislative activity beyond introduction and referral to committee (such as hearings, committee activity, or votes).
  •    8 states have already passed 9 restrictive bills this session.

Some of these laws are being challenged in court and most recently the Pennsylvania voter ID law was found unconstitutional by  Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley. But there is a lot of money backing the passage of these laws mostly in states controlled by Republican legislatures mostly in the form if untraceable political donations. In an two part interview with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman, the host of Moyers and Company, Bill Moyers discusses the consequences of that “dark money” on our democracy.



The transcript can be read here



The transcript can be read here

Nov 13

You No Longer Have the Right to Remain Silent

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Fifth Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that refusing to talk to the police can be held against you in a court of law, contrary to the Fifth Amendment.

(I)n a 5-4 ruling on Salinas v. Texas in which the conservative members of the Court and Anthony Kennedy determined that if you remain silent before police read your Miranda rights, that silence can and will be held against you. Here’s what that means.

Basically, if you’re ever in any trouble with police (no, we don’t condone breaking laws) and want to keep your mouth shut, you will need to announce that you’re invoking your Fifth Amendment right instead of, you know, just keeping your mouth shut. “Petitioner’s Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer’s question,” reads the opinion from Justice Samuel Alito (pdf), which Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts backed. Justices Thomas and Scalia had a concurring opinion while the remaining four Supremes dissented.

Law Professor Jonathan Turley explains the impact of the ruling

The case began on the morning of December 18, 1992 when two brothers were shot and killed in their Houston home. A neighbor told police that someone fled in a dark-colored car. Police recovered six shotgun shell casings at the scene. Police inteviewed Salinas who was a guest at a party that the victims hosted the night before they were killed. He owned a dark blue car. While this was a noncustodial interview and Salinas answered questions by the police, he stopped answering when a police officer asked whether his shotgun “would match the shells recovered at the scene of the murder.” The record states that, rather than answering “petitioner ‘[l]ooked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, cl[e]nched hishands in his lap, [and] began to tighten up.'” Notably, there was insufficient evidence to charge him with the crime. However, a statement later by another man (who said that Salinas admitted to the killings) led to the charge.

Salinas did not testify at trial, so prosecutors used his silence against him. [..]

Of course, now the police need only to ask questions before putting some into custody to use their silence against them. What is particularly troublesome is how subjective this evidence is. To use the silence and demeanor of a suspect on this question is highly prejudicial and equally unreliable. Yet, now the refusal to answer questions (which is your right) can now be used against you. You can imagine how this new rule can be used any time someone wants to speak with a lawyer or a family member. Police can now recount how they did not assist them or volunteer information.

Citizens will now be able to have protected silence only after being placed in custody. Of course you had that right before that point, but silence would now be incriminating. That gives police every incentive to delay custody – an incentive that already exists due to other rules like Miranda.

An law school professor and former criminal defense attorney tells you why you should never agree to be interviewed by the police.

An Idaho attorney addresses the issue of speaking to the police when you have been accused of a crime. A criminal defense lawyer’s perspective on the pitfalls of submitting to an interrogation. Attorney Craig Atkinson addresses the many issues surrounding the legal system, and how due the nature of the adversarial justice system, a defendant’s best bet is to keep quiet.

Even police officers agree you shouldn’t talk to them.

So if the police or law enforcement want to talk to you what should you do. According to the article in The Atlantic Wire by Alexander Abad-Santos:

Basically, if you’re ever in any trouble with police… and want to keep your mouth shut, you will need to announce that you’re invoking your Fifth Amendment right instead of, you know, just keeping your mouth shut.

Invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent then shut up.  

Jun 26

SCOTUS: DOMA Struck Down; Dismisses Prop 8

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Equal Right to Marry photo imagesqtbnANd9GcQmD05y7D9pRuFTg2wtz_zpsbcb78269.jpg The Supreme Court ruled on two important cases for the LGBT community: Windsor v. U.S., addressing the Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, addressing California’s Proposition 8.

On DOMA, which was signed into law by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1996, the court ruled (pdf) that same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits. Justice Kennedy delivered the court’s opinion, and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito all filed dissenting opinions. While the ruling is a victory on the federal level, the 5- 4 ruling does not effect a state’s right to ban same sex marriage.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The plaintiff who brought the case, Edie Windsor, 84, will now get her refund for the $363,000 in federal estate taxes she paid after her spouse, Thea Spyer, died in 2009.

In the Prop 8 case, that was argued before the court by attorneys, Theodore Olson and David Boies, the court decided, again by a 5 – 4 decision, that the opponents of same sex marriage have no standing to sue. The ruling allows gay couples in California to marry.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Roberts was joined in his majority opinion by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan. Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor.

The judgement of the Ninth Circuit was vacated and the case remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

California voters added Proposition 8 to the state’s constitution in 2008 through a ballot initiative that reversed the state Supreme Court’s recognition of same-sex marriage earlier that year. Two same-sex couples challenged the ban in federal court, and by the time their suit reached the justices, two lower courts had declared it unconstitutional.

After the disappointing ruling yesterday striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, this is truly a great day for equal rights in the US.

Feb 20

Contributions Are Killing Democracy

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In January of 2010, the US Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. However, the case did not involve the federal ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidate campaigns or political parties, which remain illegal in races for federal office.

Once again the US Supreme Court is about to weigh in on campaign finance agreeing to hear arguments in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission which contends that limits on what individuals are allowed to give candidates and parties and PACs is an unconstitutional violation of the individual donor’s free speech rights.

Supreme Court Takes Campaign Finance Case, Will Rule On Contribution Limits

by Paul Blumenthal, The Huffington Post

The U.S. Court of Appeals already ruled in favor of keeping the biennial limits, which have been in place since 1971 and were upheld in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case. By accepting the case, the Supreme Court is stepping into the thick of another controversial campaign finance case just three years after ruling in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations and unions can spend freely on elections. [..]

Campaign finance reformers are already calling on the court to maintain the Buckley precedent and rule against the challenge in McCutcheon, for fear that any overturning of Buckley will eventually lead to future erosion of contribution limits and other campaign finance precedents meant to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. [..]

A ruling to overturn the biennial limits would not directly affect the amount an individual donor could give to a single candidate, but, thanks to the proliferation of joint fundraising committees, known as victory funds or committees, a candidate could potentially solicit a single contribution from one donor of up to — if not more than — $3,627,600.

In a recent segment of Moyers & Company, host Bill Moyers discussed how “big money” is destroying democracy with Dan Cantor, Executive Director of New York’s Working Families Party, and Jonathan Soros, co-founder of the Friends of Democracy super PAC and a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

“There’s so much money being spent, there’s so much cynicism about the system, but the evidence shows, in states that do have public financing systems, that candidates can run in those systems and win, and they do it by focusing on their constituents and small donors,” Soros tells Bill.

Soros and Cantor advocate for a New York State public financing system inspired by New York City’s publicly-funded program that makes it less financially prohibitive to run for city-wide office. “People should appreciate who gets to run for office when you have a system like this. Librarians run for office, ex-teachers run for office – not just people who have a rolodex of prospective donors,” Cantor says. “It’s good for the candidates and the voters alike.”

The Super PAC That Aims to End Super PACs

by Michael D. Shear, The New York Times

In the next four months, Mr. Soros and a small team at Friends of Democracy, the new Super PAC, are going to pick 10 to 15 House lawmakers whose records and public statements have not been supportive of what Mr. Soros calls a system of “citizen-led” elections.

In those districts, the new Super PAC will produce direct mail, telephone calls, Internet advertising and even a few television commercials aimed at making sure voters know the positions of the lawmaker

In addition, a separate sister organization will be picking a handful of campaign finance reform “heroes” who will receive some direct contributions to reward them for their positions.

If all goes according to plan, Mr. Soros is hoping to eventually demonstrate to politicians that there is a political cost for standing in the way of reform.

For sale to the highest bidder, the Unites States of America.

Oct 02

First Monday in October

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The 2012 term of the US Supreme Court traditionally begins on the first Monday in October. If the 2011 session is any indication, this term should be even more interesting as the court considers some of the most controversial issues facing this country from affirmative action to civil and voting rights.

When last we saw the chief justice of the United States on the bench, John Roberts was joining with the Supreme Court’s liberals in an unlikely lineup that upheld President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Progressives applauded Roberts’ statesmanship. Conservatives uttered cries of betrayal. [..]

Many people on both the left and right expect Roberts to return to the fold and side with the conservative justices in the new term’s big cases. If they’re right, the spotlight will be back on Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote typically is decisive in cases that otherwise split the court’s liberals and conservatives. But Roberts will be watched closely, following his health care vote, for fresh signs that he’s becoming less ideologically predictable. [..]

Cases involving voting rights and marriage equality are expected to eventually land before the court, the former most likely sooner than the latter:

Voting rights: Several challenges to the 1965 Voting Rights Act are moving through district and appellate courts, and the high court is expected to take up one or more.

At issue is Section 5 of the law, a landmark civil rights achievement that prohibits nine states and municipalities in seven others from changing their voting laws without approval from the Justice Department or a special federal court. [..]

Same-sex marriage: The big question as the term begins is whether the justices will accept one or more cases involving the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. If they do, it may offer the best chance for a landmark ruling.

There are two possibilities. The most likely is that the court will accept a challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which has been declared unconstitutional in lower courts and which the Obama administration is refusing to defend. [..]

The other option is for the court to consider challenges to California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 referendum that overturned the state’s support for gay marriage. A broadly worded ruling against the referendum could pave the way for legalized gay marriage elsewhere, rather than just in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa. More likely is a narrowly worded decision that affects only California.

Even if the court declines to hear the Proposition 8 challenge, that decision would be important, because a lower court has ruled against the referendum. Without high court review, gays and lesbians soon could marry in the nation’s most-populous state.

The SCOTUS calendar begins with Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum a major case about corporate accountability for extreme violations of human rights. The case was argued last term on narrow grounds but not decided.

At issue in the Kiobel case is the proper interpretation of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which provides, in relevant part, that foreign citizens may bring civil suits in U.S. district courts for actions “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”  Enacted as part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the ATS lay almost forgotten

for nearly two hundred years.  But in 1980, in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit breathed life into the statute, holding that the ATS conferred jurisdiction over a lawsuit brought by one Paraguayan national against another Paraguayan national (residing in the United States) for torture that occurred in Paraguay.  Since then, victims of human rights violations that occurred overseas have sought to rely on the ATS to press their own claims in U.S. courts.

An affirmative action case that wound its way from Texas will be heard. Under consideration is the court’s previous decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the court will address how and perhaps whether the university can take race into account as a factor in student admissions. In a way, the case is a rehearing of a 2003 case (pdf) in which it ruled that the University of Michigan Law School could do so as part of assessing the whole of a candidate’s application. That decision seemed to reflect a national consensus that race, narrowly applied, could be used to ensure a diverse student body.

Two cases involving the Fourth Amendment involving unreasonable search ans seizure will also be heard:

In Florida v. Jardines, the issue is whether the police violated the Constitution by using a dog trained to smell for drugs to sniff at the door of a house where they suspected marijuana was being grown. Was the sniff test unreasonably intrusive because there was no hard information that illegal activity was probably occurring, as the Florida Supreme Court properly found, or was it not a search because it occurred outside the house?

Similarly, in Missouri v. McNeely, the issue is whether the police could order a blood test on a man suspected of drunken driving without obtaining a warrant because the delay in doing so would result in loss of evidence. The Missouri Supreme Court sensibly ruled otherwise: that the test constituted an unreasonable search because there was no accident to investigate and because there was plenty of time to get a warrant and test the driver’s blood before the alcohol in it dissipated.

Also, two cases that will rule on the right of the defendant to council

Ryan v. Gonzales raises the question of whether the defendant himself needs to be mentally capable of assisting his own attorney in challenging a death penalty conviction. [..]

Chaidez v. United States asks whether a 2010 ruling (pdf) of the court – that criminal defense lawyers must advise their noncitizen clients that a guilty plea carries the risk of deportation – applies to someone whose conviction became final before that ruling was announced.

Jun 28

SCOTUS Strikes Down AZ Campaign Finance

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Once again the corporate owned, conservative Supreme Court has struck down the 1998 Arizona Campaign Finance Law provided escalating matching funds to candidates who accept public financing. How the Roberts’ court decided that law violates the First Amendment rights of these corporation is truly a backbreaking twist if logic and the constitution.

The vote was again 5-to-4, with the same five justices in the majority as in the Citizens United decision. The majority’s rationale was that the law violated the First Amendment rights of candidates who raise private money. Such candidates, the majority said, may be reluctant to spend money to speak if they know that it will give rise to counter-speech paid for by the government.

“Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. Justice Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.

What about the under funded candidate’s right to be heard under the First amendment? The reason for the law, which  was written after a corruption scandals rocked the state’s election financing during the 90’s, was to foster free speech:

The idea was to encourage candidates to forgo the scramble for money, with all its inherent invitations to corruption — to spend more time speaking to the electorate, and less time speaking to potential funders.

In that sense, its goal was very much to increase genuine political speech. But to the Roberts court, money as speech takes precedence over speech as speech.

The court’s majority clearly telegraphed its antipathy to the Arizona provision during oral arguments in March. The only real suspense was whether they would go further, and use the case to cast doubt on public financing generally.

So there was a sense of relief in the good-government community Monday.

“This is not the death knell of public financing. This ruling affects only one mechanism of public financing, and there are numerous ways to fix it,” said Common Cause president Bob Edgar in a statement. “Today, in the wake of Citizens United, it is more critical than ever that we change the way we pay for our elections by moving to a small donor system that gives the public a voice back in our government. Nothing short of our democracy is at stake.”

Well, thank these corporate shill justices for that.

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