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

High Court Strikes Racial Gerrymandering in North Carolina

For the second time in as many weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to North Carolina's efforts to change elections based on race.

Last week, the High Court let stand a decision that the state's voting laws unlawfully targeted African-American voters based on voter identification and other measures to keep them from the polls. This week, the Court struck down congressional boundaries that were drawn to pack more black voters into congressional districts.

"The Constitution entrusts states with the job of designing congressional districts," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in Cooper v. Harris. "But it also imposes an important constraint: A state may not use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines unless it has a compelling reason."

SCOTUS Won't Review NC Voter ID Law

Leaving in force an appeals court decision that struck down North Carolina laws that targeted African-American voters, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the decision.

The high court gave no reason for refusing to hear the case, but Chief Justice John Roberts said its action should not be read to say anything about the merits. Instead, he suggested it was more about the battle between the government officials who had petitioned for review and then retracted the request.

"Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this Court under North Carolina law," Roberts wrote, "it is important to recall our frequent admonition that 'the denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case.'"

AI Can Predict Supreme Court Decisions, New Study Finds

When it comes to predicting decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, talking heads may soon be replaced by talking bots on the evening news.

That's because studies reveal that artificial intelligence predicts the court's decisions more accurately than legal experts. In the 2002 term, an algorithm correctly predicted the court's decisions 75 percent of the time. Rolling back 100 years, a machine-learning model correctly predicted 70 percent of some 28,000 decisions.

With the usual legal pundits coming in at 66 percent, it may be time for legal analyst Dan Abrams to make room for Siri, Esq.

No Tribal Immunity for Negligent Driver, Supreme Court Rules

An Indian casino driver cannot claim tribal immunity from suit after he crashed into a car on an interstate highway, the nation's highest court ruled.

The U.S. Supreme Court said that William Clarke was sued in his personal capacity -- not an official capacity -- and so he could not escape responsibility as a driver for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority. The plaintiffs Brian and Michelle Lewis claimed Clarke, and not the tribe, caused their injuries.

"We hold that, in a suit brought against a tribal employee in his individual capacity, the employee, not the tribe, is the real party in interest and the tribe's sovereign immunity is not implicated," Justice Sonia Maria Sotomayor wrote for the court in Lewis v. Clarke.

Trinity Lutheran finally had its day in the Supreme Court and things seem to have gone well. The Missouri church is challenging its exclusion from a state program that provides grants for resurfacing playgrounds with recycled tire material -- except if, like Trinity Lutheran's, those playgrounds are part of churches. That violates its right to free exercise and equal protection, the church argues.

After a year and a half of waiting, the church finally made its case during oral arguments today and many of the justices seemed to be leaning its way.

Courts cannot sanction a party for their bad-faith conduct by forcing the offending litigant to cover all of the opponent's legal fees without first showing but-for causation, the Supreme Court ruled this morning. The case stems from a dispute between Goodyear Tire & Rubber and a family who claimed the company's tires were responsible for their motorhome accident. During discovery, Goodyear withheld important internal reports. Finding the misconduct especially egregious, the district court sanctioned the tire company, ordering it to pay all of the family's attorney's fees and costs since the deception began -- a total of $2.7 million.

But such an award must be "limited to the fees the innocent party incurred solely because of the misconduct," a unanimous Court determined.

Neil Gorsuch participated in his first oral arguments as a Supreme Court justice this morning, in a case involving the judicial review of federal civil service disputes. And if you expected to see a new side of Neil Gorsuch on the bench, well, you might be disappointed.

Gorsuch has claimed, loudly and repeatedly, to be a strict textualist, a judge in the mold of Antonin Scalia. And his questions today remained decidedly within that line of thought, as the new justice returned again and again to the plain language of the statute at issue.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that we've been impatiently awaiting oral arguments and, ultimately, a decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. The case is one of the most interesting of the term, both for its factual background (kindergartens! recycled tires!) and its constitutional questions (the extent to which churches may be denied access to otherwise generally available public programs).

After a long delay, the case is finally set for oral arguments this upcoming Wednesday. But now, given a last minute policy change by the governor of Missouri, the case could be moot.

Ever since the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court has seen itself caught in the middle of a partisan tug-of-war over the future of the Court. First, Senate Republicans blocked any consideration of Merrick Garland, refusing to hold even one hearing on President Obama's nominee. Then, Democrats filibustered Neil Gorsuch's confirmation vote, leading the Senate to "go nuclear" in order to get Gorsuch on the Court.

For the branch of government that must view itself as above the political fray, the battle was jarring. And it could threaten the future of the Court, according to Chief Justice Roberts.

Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice today, becoming the 113th jurist to sit on the Court. The process began this morning, with a private swearing-in ceremony at the Court, involving Gorsuch's family and his new Supreme Court colleagues. Gorsuch then crossed the street for a public event in the White House Rose Garden, where he took a second oath administered by Justice Kennedy, for whom he once clerked.

The ceremony, coming after a year-long vacancy and a tumultuous, historic confirmation battle, is just the start of Justice Gorsuch's journey. Now comes the hard stuff: getting up to speed, making his impact felt, and answering the door. Yes, as the junior most justice on the Court, Justice Gorsuch will be responsible for answering the door when the justices meet for conference.