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

January 2014 Archives

Sandifer v. U.S. Steel: No Pay for Time Spent Changing Clothes

Steel workers have to wear safety gear. Lots of it, in fact. And "donning and doffing" this gear takes quite a bit of time. They want to be paid for this time.

Unfortunately, their union, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §203(o), already agreed that they shouldn't get paid for this time. That provision requires employers to pay for time spent changing clothes, unless collective bargaining provides to the contrary.

The question is, can the massive amount of protective gear that they are required to wear be considered "clothes," as that word was used in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938?

Stay of Execution of Smulls Vacated; Compounding Problem Remains

Last night, shortly after the State of the Union address, Justice Samuel Alito spared Herbert Smulls' life. Unfortunately, the mercy was short-lived, and he will be executed, likely some time before midnight tonight.

Why was the stay granted initially, and what is so troubling about his execution? The issues are not novel: an all-white jury, plus execution drugs made in secret by a compounding pharmacy. The latter issue, though not dealt with today, is repeating itself across the country and raises important issues of cruel and unusual punishment.

SCOTUS's Bad LSAT Question: Did Drug, Amongst Drugs, Cause Death?

The Crime: Distribution of a Schedule I or II drug, where "death or serious bodily injury results from the use of such substance." 21 U.S. C. § 841 (b)(1)(C).

The Punishment: Twenty-year mandatory minimum.

The Elements: That's the question. Obviously, there has to be a drug deal. Here, that's not an issue. Everyone agrees: Burrage sold heroin to the deceased, Mr. Banka. The question is, did Banka's death, which was caused by a lengthy multi-drug bender, "result from" the purchase of heroin from Burrage?

Odd Order in Nuns' Even More Odd Contraceptive Mandate Case

This odd case just became even more odd.

Little Sisters of the Poor is a traditional order of Catholic nuns. Obviously, as a Catholic organization, they don't want to provide contraceptive care under the Affordable Care Act's so-called contraceptive mandate.

Fair enough. There's a form for that, which would exempt them from Obamacare's requirement.

This is where the case gets a little weird. The nuns are arguing that simply filling out the religious exemption form would violate their religion. Participation in the system clears the way for government-sponsored abortion, they argue.

Snippets: Ginsburg-Sotomayor 'Feud,' Guns, Child Porn, Patent Proof

It's a big week for oral arguments in the Court, with fascinating questions of statutory interpretation in the areas of gun purchasing regulations and criminal restitution.

Meanwhile, are two of the court's liberal justices feuding? And if so, who has more support on the Court?

Cell Phone 'Search Incident to Lawful Arrest' Cases Get Cert

For anyone concerned with data privacy, the rights of the accused, criminal law, the Fourth Amendment, the limits of searches incident to lawful arrest, and law enforcement, there are two cases you need to keep an eye on this term: Wurie and Riley.

Both cases were granted certiorari this morning, and both involve the search of cell phones as part of a search incident to a lawful arrest (SITA). One, Riley, involved a smartphone, while the other, Wurie, involved a "dumb" flip-phone, but both present the same quandary: should a warrant be required to search the contents of a phone when the urgency typical of a SITA is lacking? After all, the evidence isn't going anywhere, as the phone won't delete itself, and there is no danger to the safety of law enforcement officers.

Scalia Embarrasses Lawyer During Oral Args, Was it Warranted?

Justice Scalia's reputation precedes him. He's a bit crass, a bit of a grouch, and during oral arguments, he makes Professor Charles Kingsfield seem milder than Elle Woods.

Still, his actions during oral arguments in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States, a case no one except Property Law professors cares about, even managed to surprise regular SCOTUS watchers.

First 20-Week Abortion Case Punted; Recess Appointments Doomed?

Now we're talking.

After weeks of vacation and little to no Supreme Court news, after issuing a few orders on Friday, the Court dropped a thirty-page orders list this morning, which included another three Justice Alito recusals (all of which, much like the others, involved big-name corporations and likely stock interests). More importantly, the Court denied certiorari in the first 20-week abortion ban case to reach the docket.

And, of course, oral arguments were heard in the landmark Noel Canning case this morning, which asks whether the President can exercise his recess appointment powers while the Senate is in pro forma (they keep the lights on, but no business is handled) sessions. Hint: it's not looking good for President Obama.

More Alito Recusals Beg the Question: Why Not Blind Trusts?

Presidents have to have blind trusts. According to CNN, nearly every serious presidential candidate, some governors, and a small handful of federal lawmakers have opted for blind trusts as well.

The investment devices serve a necessary purpose: decreasing the possibility of a conflict of interest.

After Justice Samuel Alto again recused himself from landmark cases last week, and after dozens of past recusals, as well as some questionable non-recusals, is it time to start asking about whether blind trusts should be required of judges and justices?

SCOTUS Snippets: Sotomayor's Teeth, More Utah, Upcoming Cases

Another slow week for the Supremes, but on the bright side, the Nine returned to work today, holding their first conference since before the holidays.

According to SCOTUSblog, opinions and orders are expected early next week, so stay tuned. In the meantime, we have another update on Utah, where the Feds just made things even more confusing, we'll take a peek at next week's docket, and then, we'll talk teeth.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's perfect teeth, to be exact.

Did SCOTUS Make the Right Call in Halting UT's Gay Marriage?

Unless you have been spelunking for the past few months, you know that there is something pretty major going on in Utah right now.

A federal district court invalidated the state's ban on gay marriage and refused to stay the decision until the Tenth Circuit could hear the case. The Circuit Court also denied a stay, leading to an estimated 1,000 gay marriages being performed in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and stayed the lower court's decision pending the Tenth Circuit's expedited appeal.

Chief Justice Roberts Plays Oliver Twist for Congress

In a slow week for Supreme Court news last week, Chief Justice John Roberts (CJJR) released his annual report, a task he took pains to discuss his disdain for in long-form. If you're having issues with insomnia, it's a great cure. Otherwise, here are the highlights of CJJR's performance as Oliver Twist.

The first few pages of the report heap lavish praise upon the historical importance of Congress. The Constitution begot merely one court, while the rest were begotten, through various legislative acts of grace, over the following two centuries. Like any good fundraiser, CJJR starts by heaping praise upon his benefactor and their bountiful deeds, before describe the dire straits of present and the courts' modest requests.