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

June 2013 Archives

SCOTUS Marriage Rulings: DOMA Is Dead, Prop. 8 Down on Standing

In a pair of decisions addressing perhaps the most discussed topic in America, the Supreme Court weighed in on same-sex marriage and federal benefits for legally married same-sex couples.

California's Proposition 8 was defeated for the reason many thought it would -- standing -- while the Defense of Marriage Act fell in a narrow 5-4 decision that produced multiple dissents.

The ramifications of these decisions are huge. Because of the DOMA ruling, federal benefits will now be extended to legally married same-sex couples throughout this nation. As for Perry, the Prop 8 case, the impact is more limited. Californians will now join a number of other states in allowing same-sex marriage, while the battle for nationwide equality will continue to be fought state-by-state (or until another case is brought with proper standing).

Minn. Rep. Tweets 'Uncle Thomas' Quip; Didn't Know it Was Racist?

Many of us disagree with today's Sheby County decision. Many feel that the neutering of the Voting Rights Act could lead to backsliding in the progress that has been made towards ensuring that everyone has access to the polls and that their votes actually count.

Few of us, however, would respond to the opinion by tweeting a quip about Justice "Uncle Thomas." The not-so-proud producer of that tweet was Minnesota State Rep. Ryan Winkler, who, according to the Minnesota Star-Tribune, tweeted that the Shelby "VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas."

Unsurprisingly, that tweet was deleted shortly thereafter.

Shelby County: Majority Misses Bigger Picture, All is Not Lost

The majority's opinion, in a 5-4 split, was clear: the Voting Rights Act, born of 1960s (and prior) discrimination, had achieved its purpose. The gap in voter registration numbers, once the definitive proof of discrimination in certain southern states, have all but disappeared. And though discrimination occurs on occasion, that doesn't justify violating state sovereignty in light of the lack of a voter registration gap, does it?

Wrong, said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the further she went in her 37-page dissent, read aloud from the bench, the more convincing her argument became.

Non-Decision Decision Hints at Affirmative Action Future

The facts of Fisher v. University of Texas are simple. Caucasian girl applied to the University of Texas at Austin, didn't get in, and blamed the university's affirmative action policies because others, who may have been less qualified, but were ethnically diverse, were admitted under the university's two-stage admissions system.

UT's unique admissions plan consists of two groups of students. The first is the "ten-percent." Everyone who graduates in the top ten percent of their Texas high school class is guaranteed admission, regardless of the quality or location of the school. Because of the racial divisions in neighborhoods and schools, this alone provides some diversity.

Rumors, Frustration Abound as SCOTUS Has 11 Cases, 1 Week Left

We get it. Many of us have been waiting months, if not years, for the Supreme Court to chime in on marital equality and affirmative action (again). Each week, obsessed SCOTUS fans and critics wake up at 6:00 a.m. (PST), click on to SCOTUSblog's live coverage, and expect to see a landmark decision. Instead, we get raisins and arbitration.

Now, with one scheduled opinion release date left (and unscheduled days likely to follow), there are eleven cases remaining. That begs the questions:

Why are they procrastinating? What's taking so long? Why hasn't the affirmative-action case been decided at any point in the last eight months? What does this mean for the holdings?

Arbitration, Sentencing, Speech; SCOTUS Saving Best for Last

Today's Supreme Court opinions list is more disappointing than Ke$ha's new album. Vanity Fair cleverly quipped that SCOTUS "[c]ruelly" tricked the nation into reading about arbitration.

True indeed.

The opinion list consisted of a pro-business arbitration decision, a bench-slapping of the Ninth Circuit's approach to Armed Career Criminal Act sentencing, and an odd free speech for government funding case. (If you're waiting for the affirmative-action, marriage equality, or Defense of Marriage Act cases, they have yet to be released. Stay tuned, however, as next week is the final week in the Court's term. Expect a lot of decisions, and of course, a lot of blog posts.)

Here's a summary of Thursday's opinions:

Voter Registration, Pay-for-Delay and Proof of Sentencing Factors

If you are hoping for a decision on same sex marriage, DOMA, or the Voting Rights Act, we'll save you some time -- none were released today. Today's rulings were more than mere brush-clearing, however. These holdings have major impacts on state voting laws, fundamental criminal procedure at all levels, and our oft-criticized pharmaceutical industry.

Interested in proof-of-citizenship voting laws, the right to a jury, or cheaper drugs? Read on.

A Busy Thursday: Davila, American Trucking, and Tarrant Recaps

Myriad was an interesting case with interesting issues. Where is the line between finding (and patenting) genetic code, as it exists in nature, and protecting the intellectual property rights of a company that spent time and money researching a gene that can predict predisposition towards breast and ovarian cancer?

It wasn't the only decision released on the court's irregularly-scheduled Thursday. If judicial participation in plea negotiations, federal preemption of local trucking regulations, or interstate water rights disputes are your topic of choice on a Friday afternoon, read on.

Today's Myriad Genetics Decision, Simplified: Everyone Wins

Lets start this off with a little disclaimer: We, the lawyer-bloggers of FindLaw.com, are not scientists. We'd venture a guess that neither are you. And according to his confused concurrence, neither is Justice Scalia.

We do understand one thing from this case, however: the human genetic code cannot be patented, no matter how much effort went in to discovering the DNA sequences. Synthetic cDNA, however, can be. Lost in the alphabet soup? It'll make sense soon enough.

Judge Opens Supreme Court Plaza to Protests

We've all seen the odd protesters at the Supreme Court building. They stand on the sidewalk, often holding racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic signs, and we politely ignore them, as they are so far from the building that it is easy to rush past them on the way to watch Justice Thomas fall asleep during oral arguments.

Conveniently ignoring the protesters is going to become a lot more difficult now, however, as D.C. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell has just invalidated the law that restricts protests on the plaza and beyond, reports Reuters.

Raisins, Arbitration, and Incarceration Decisions

Today was not the day where the Supreme Court stood up and affirmed equality. Nor was it the day that they ended affirmative action or a 1960s Voting Rights Act that continues oversight over southern states' elections. Nope. Today was the day of jurisdiction over raisons, narrow decisions on arbitration, and ex post facto application to incarceration non-laws.

If you were waiting for one of the pending landmark cases, we do have good news: more opinions are scheduled for Thursday.

With Term Coming to a Close, What Does SCOTUS Have Left?

Much like a procrastinating child, the U.S. Supreme Court always leaves the toughest tasks for last. With only three weeks left in the current tern however, some of the most intriguing landmark cases will be decided soon. 

According to SCOTUSblog’s calendar, opinions are expected to be released on June 10, 13, 17, and 24. Those of us who have been waiting to hear the Court’s take on the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex marriage via Prop 8, voting rights, and affirmative action, will soon have answers.

Here are the four major opinions we’re anticipating for the next few weeks:

Nevada v. Jackson: Ninth Circuit Lacked Reading Comp. Skills

Perhaps the Ninth needs a copy of Scalia and Garner's Reading Law?

Calvin Jackson had a "tumultuous decade-long romantic relationship" with the victim, which included multiple allegations of physical abuse and sexual assault. The troubles culminated in the events of the night of October 21, 1998, when Jackson surprised her at her new apartment.

Maryland v. King: DNA ID of Arrestee is Constitutional

In 2009, Alonzo King allegedly menaced a group of people with a shotgun. He was arrested and charged with first- and second-degree assault. During booking, officers swabbed his cheek for purposes of DNA identification. His DNA matched an unsolved 2003 rape case. After additional samples were obtained from King, the match was verified and he was convicted of the cold-case rape.

The FBI DNA identification standard used, which is required of all laboratories participating in the 50 state and federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), tests 13 CODIS loci from non-identifying “junk DNA,” which contain sufficient information to identify a person to a near-certainty (about 1 in 100 trillion). This minimizes privacy concerns, as the junk non-coding DNA is only useful for identification purposes, and contains no information on genetic traits, disorders, or dispositions.

In an ideologically-odd 5-4 decision, with conservative and liberal members on both sides of the split, the court reversed the Maryland Supreme Court and reinstated King’s conviction, finding DNA identification to be a reasonable search and an evolution of traditional police identification procedures.