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

September 2013 Archives

2 More Important Cases: Legislative Prayer, Abortion Protests

In our continuing series of previews of the biggest cases coming up in the Supreme Court's 2013 Term, today we'll quickly address a pair of disputes that contain all of the hallmarks of landmark cases: controversy, ideological divides, and quite possibly, a battle with stare decisis.

So while we're waiting for the nine justices and their legion of clerks to sort through the approximately 2,000 certiorari petitions that backlogged over the summer, we'll have to make due with these cases, which have already been granted cert, and which could result in some of the term's earliest decisions.

5 Justices With the Shortest Supreme Court Tenures

We have a lot of respect for judges with longevity. We all know how long Justice Stevens hung around, and if Justice Ginsburg maintains her passionate stance from this summer, they'll have to someday pry the gavel from her hands.

Truly impressive is former Chief Justice John Marshall, the fourth-longest-tenured justice in U.S. history (despite the fact that he lived in the 1800s, when a cough was treated with a snort of mercury and a leach attached to one's left breast).

But what about the short-timers? Who were the justices who obtained these lifetime appointments, only to serve a few hundred days on the bench?

Court Returns in 5 Days; 2,000 Petitions Sorted by Cert. Pool

The first conference of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 Term is set for September 30. How many cases, from the petitions filed over the summer, will the Court be hearing?

The numbers game is simple. According to figures provided by USA Today, roughly 8,000 petitions for certiorari are filed with the Supreme Court every year. Last year, the court took 77 cases. That puts the cert. success rate at about 0.0375 percent.

How does the court sort through the mess? The court clerks, and the "cert. pool" have been hard at work, sorting through approximately 2,000 petitions, since their year-long clerkships began in July.

SCOTUS Needs Tech-Savvy Clerks; Link Rot Plaguing Court

We know the judges are a bit technophobic, but perhaps it's time to hire a few tech-savvy clerks?

Adam Liptak, for The New York Times, brought an interesting problem to light this morning, one that is somewhat unique to the courts: citations and hyperlink rot. As data and research has moved online, so have the Courts' citations. According to a pair of recent studies, the Court has cited online resources 555 times since 1996 and nearly half (49 percent) no longer work.

Imagine how hard it would be to analyze the social psychology study cited by Brown v. Board of Education if the link to the study rotted within a short time of the opinion being handed down. It's history, and precedent, lost.

Birth Control Mandate Cases Reaching Critical Mass; Possible Outcomes

We were pretty sure that the Supreme Court would step in after the Tenth Circuit's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case led to a circuit split over whether corporate personhood gave those corporations religious rights, especially in light of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Earlier this week, the Sixth Circuit joined the fracas, and agreed with the Third Circuit, holding that a corporation "is not a 'person' capable of 'religious exercise' as intended by RFRA." With seventy-two cases now pending across the country, and circuit courts lining up on each side of the battle, punting on the case might not be a realistic option for the Supreme Court.

Here are a few possible outcomes and view on the issue at hand:

3 Important Battles (Speech, Search, Press) Seeking SCOTUS Cert.

Last term's slate of issues, from voting rights to same-sex marriage, made it one of the most anticipated SCOTUS dockets in recent memory, but the excitement didn't end in June. From certiorari granted to certiorari requested, this upcoming term could prove to be just as important and exciting.

Internet speech, photos of a deceased terrorist, and the collision course between the Fourth Amendment and modern technology are just some of the issues that will keep us debating and discussing constitutional principles through next June.

After SCOTUS, Baby Veronica Still Not in Adopted Parents' Custody

"As the State Supreme Court read [the Indian Child Welfare Act], a biological Indian father could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother--perhaps contributing to the mother's decision to put the child up for adoption -- and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother's decision and the child's best interests. If this were possible, many prospective adoptive parents would surely pause before adopting any child who might possibly qualify as an Indian under the ICWA."

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl's holding was unambiguous. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, held that the Indian Child Welfare Act did not apply to situations where the biological parent had waived his rights pre-birth, and had never taken responsibility before contesting the adoption. The Court vacated the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision mandating a return of Baby Veronica to Dusten Brown, the biological father contesting the adoption.

SCOTUS's First Big Case of the Term: Campaign Contribution Limits

The Supreme Court will finally return in less than a month, and when it does, it will start the next term with McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case that many are already calling Citizens United II for its possible impact on campaign finance reform.

The facts of the case are simple. According to the FEC, Alabama resident Shaun McCutcheon would like to give large amounts of money to the Republican National Committee (RNC). The RNC, quite understandably, would like to accept this money. Alas, there are biennial limits (inflation-adjusted) on individuals' contributions: $46,200 for candidates and $70,800 for other contributions, or $117,000 total for 2011-2012.

Okla. Abortion Case: Argument Against Restrictive Statute

The issue of abortion is again before the Supreme Court, with certiorari granted to review a decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court which struck down a statute barring the off-label use of abortion-inducing drugs. We took the time to learn the prerequisite medical vocabulary, then reviewed an amicus brief in favor of the law.

Today, we'll look at the arguments against the statute, as made in the opposition to the petition for certiorari, including the issue that is presently confounding the Supreme Court. When cert was granted, the court certified two questions to the Oklahoma Supreme Court: whether the statute inadvertently prohibits the use of misoprostol for all purposes, including for the FDA-approved on-label two drug abortion regimen, and whether the language inadvertently bars the use of methotrexate to treat ectopic pregnancies.

Book Club: Three Recent Tomes on Our Most Important Court

Sometimes, the people behind the Court's decisions are as interesting as the cases themselves. Backroom deals, autobiographical details, and other non-legal influences on the reasoning and leanings of the members of the Court don't make it in to court opinions, but they are just as important to understanding the Court's rationale.

Each of these three books, released in the last year, brings insight into the High Courts' decisions, both from a legal and extralegal perspective. From the Roberts' Court's approach to all of the major issues, to the Supreme Court's approach to the death penalty over time, these books trace the influences on the highest court in the country and its evolving jurisprudence.

Will SCOTUS Address Indefinite Detention Under NDAA of 2012?

How many lawsuits have been brought as a result of a vague, poorly-drafted statue? Here is another one.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 contained a provision that authorized the military to imprison anyone suspected of providing "substantial" assistance or support to terrorist groups "until the end of hostilities."

What is "substantial"? And when, oh when is it the "end of hostilities"?

Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Gay Marriage: Court's Leanings are Clear

This past spring, David Hagedorn made a big request of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: he wanted her to officiate his wedding to Michael Widomski. He made the request after reading comments by the justice about how no one had ever asked her to preside over a same-sex marriage, likely because of fear that doing so would lead to calls for recusal in future Supreme Court cases, reports The Washington Post.

The request was met with deferral until after the term. On June 26, the day the Supreme Court addressed gay marriage in Windsor and Perry, Ginsburg accepted his request.