U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court News and Information Blog

U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog


The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in Lee v. Tam, the much-anticipated case over trademark registration, free speech, and disparaging names. The Slants, an Asian-American "Chinatown dance rock" band, had its trademark rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Slants' name, the PTO explained, was the sort of "scandalous, immoral, or disparaging mark" for which the Lanham Act denies trademark protection.

That decision eventually led the Federal Circuit to strike down the act's "disparaging marks" provisions as unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. That's a ruling that could reach well beyond The Slants -- and straight to the Redskins, the Washington, D.C. football team that has been fighting its own offensive name dispute for years.

In the Supreme Court, it's traditional for new justices to sit out of decisions in cases that were argued before they took the bench. That means if, for example, a Trump-nominated justice were to join the court on February 1st, they would not take part in decisions in cases where oral arguments were held earlier in the term.

But that is just tradition. There are no hard-and-fast rules keeping justices from participating in decisions when they weren't part of oral arguments.

The Supreme Court justices blazed a trail through the wilderness of Indian Law on Monday, guided by Lewis and Clarke. But, no, there weren't any river fordings. Sacajawea was nowhere to be found.

In a strange coincidence, the Supreme Court's first case to deal with tribal sovereignty this term is captioned Lewis v. Clarke. Rather than an expedition into the West, the case, for which the Court just heard oral arguments, deals with the reach of native tribes' sovereign immunity.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case that involves the strange, interesting intersection of free speech rights and, well, credit cards surcharges. New York, along with several other states, prohibits merchants from charging costumers a surcharge for using credit cards. But New York also allows merchants to offer discounts for paying in cash. So, if your groceries cost $20, the store cannot charge you $2 more for paying with a Visa. But they can give you a $2 discount for paying with hard cash.

Semantics, right? Yes, according to merchants challenging the law, who argue that such laws unconstitutionally restrict the speech they can use when describing prices.

The Supreme Court's first opinion of 2017 was released today, a summary ruling in case involving a New Mexico police officer who shot and killed a gun-wielding man without giving a prior warning. Reversing the Tenth Circuit, the Supreme Court found that the officer's behavior violated no clearly established constitutional rights and thus he was entitled to qualified immunity.

The brief, per curiam opinion also contained a warning to the Tenth and other circuits: stick to the narrow confines of clearly established law in qualified immunity cases or risk being overturned.

With President-elect Trump's inauguration quick approaching, we could soon have a new nominee to the Supreme Court, almost a year after Justice Scalia's death and after nearly 300 days of Senate Republicans refusing to consider Merrick Garland's nomination. The Supreme Court would finally be back to a full set of justices, its frequent deadlocked non-decisions a thing of the past.

Or not. As Trump narrows down his SCOTUS list, some are suggesting that Democrats should block any or all of Trump's Supreme Court nominees.

Chief Justice Roberts recused himself from a patent case yesterday, long after one might expect. The belated withdrawal came almost a month after the Court heard oral arguments in the case, Life Technologies v. Promega, following the tardy discovery that Roberts owned stock in Life Technologies' parent company.

This isn't the first failed conflict check in recent Supreme Court history. It's not even the first involving the chief justice.

The past year was really something else. 2016 saw the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the end of Merrick Garland's Supreme Court dreams, the death of David Bowie. Not even Mariah Carey made it out unscathed.

But, before we bid the year a final adieu (or good riddance), it's worth looking back at the Supreme Court's most important decisions. For, throughout all of 2016's ups and downs, the Court continued to shape American law, government, and politics, with important rulings in the areas of criminal law, civil rights, immigration, and more. Here are our top six.

2016 was not a typical year for the Supreme Court. The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia early in the year upended normal Supreme Court practice, as his vacated seat became part of an unprecedented struggle over naming a replacement justice, leaving the Court short-staffed and deadlock-prone.

The fact that Justice Thomas spoke from the bench shortly after Justice Scalia's death was just another sign that the world had been turned upside down. Throw in an almost unheard of public spat between a sitting justice and a presidential candidate, and you have one of the more bizarre years in the Supreme Court's history. And somewhere in there, some cases were decided, too. Here's a quick look back on the strange scene that was the Supreme Court in 2016.

President-elect Donald Trump released a list of 11 potential Supreme Court nominees last May, then nearly doubled it a few months later, putting up ten more jurists as possible Supreme Court justices. He pledged to pick from those 21 in September, a claim Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager, reiterated after the election.

Now, Trump has narrowed his choices down even further, according to a report by Bloomberg's Greg Stohr. And he could be announcing his pick soon -- before, even, he's inaugurated on January 20th.