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

November 2015 Archives

SCOTUS Lets Texas Law Stand Limiting Online Veterinary Advice

SCOTUS has let stand a case decided by the Court of Appeals by the Fifth Circuit involving what has been deridingly called occupational speech limits by civil rights advocates.

The High Court's decision not to grant the case cert means continued confusion about just how much limitation states can place on their professionals concerning the content or manner of their speech. It appears that scholars will have to wait before they see whether or not Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project has any further exceptions up its sleeve.

Presidential politicking has hit new lows following the recent ISIS attacks on Paris. Last Thursday, GOP front-runner Donald Trump told reporters that the U.S. should implement a database for tracking Muslims. The comments followed Ben Carson's earlier statements that Muslims should not be president, and both candidates' brief insistence that they saw American Muslims celebrating on 9/11. (Both have stepped back from their comments.) Others have called for Syrian refugees to be "rounded up" and deported.

But while many commentators compared the candidates' Islamophobia to fascist Germany, we recall a very different World War II tragedy: Korematsu, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever and still good law.

A conservative Chief Justice who repeatedly stands in the way of a progressive, Democratic president, while leading a divided, unpopular Supreme Court. No, it's not Chief Justice Roberts, though the parallels are clear. It's Charles Evans Hughes, Roberts's counterpart from 1930 to 1941, who repeatedly held back President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives.

In a relatively rare presentation last Friday, the current Chief Justice discussed his predecessor, Court leadership, and the legacy of Hughes. Here are the highlights.

To travel the length of Virginia's third congressional district isn't an easy task. You'd need a boat, a plane, and a whole lot of time to follow the district from its northern corner outside Richmond, across the James River, around and over Newport News, and finally down to certain Norfolk neighborhoods.

It's a district that would drive many cartographers nuts, and that was exactly the point. The district was originally designed as the state's only majority-minority district. A 2010 redistricting by the state's Republican-controlled legislature shoved even more of the state's black voters into District 3, diluting their impact elsewhere. Now, the Supreme Court will see if the redistricting itself is illegal, having agreed to hear the appeal last Friday.

As of Friday, abortion is back before the Supreme Court for the first time in years, after the Court granted cert to review Texas's restrictive abortion law. (You remember, the one that led Wendy Davis to hold a 13-hour filibuster two years ago, then passed shortly after.) Then on Monday, it rejected a request to publicly release Planned Parenthood documents under the Freedom of Information Act -- leading to a rare dissent to the denial of cert.

Add in the Obamacare contraception cases, the Court agreed to review it two weeks ago and it's quickly becoming the Year of the Uterus in the Supreme Court. Here's what's happening in the nation's highest judicial body and how it could affect yours.

Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, made headlines earlier this year by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, well after the Supreme Court had ruled such couples had a fundamental right to marry. She refused to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court rejected her emergency stay application. She refused even as she was condemned by conservative leaders. She refused up until she was jailed. Kim Davis was good at refusing.

Her intransigence didn't make a fan out of Justice Kennedy, however. At a recent talk with Harvard Law students, the Justice condemned public officials who refuse to carry out their duties.

On Monday, the Fifth Circuit struck down President Obama's immigration plan. That plan, which would halt many deportations and provide work permits to five million undocumented immigrants, exceeded the authority of the Executive branch. Now, the President is seeking Supreme Court review, setting up the Court up for a potentially dramatic ruling next June, on the eve of Democratic and Republican parties' nominating conventions.

Will SCOTUS take the bait?

SCOTUS Hears Arguments: Can Gov't Freeze Money to Pay Lawyers?

Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for the case of Luis v. United States, a case of first impression for SCOTUS that asks probing questions about the role of government forfeiture of personal assets.

The legal issue at the core of Luis is this: Can prosecutors freeze all of the defendant's assets even if they are unrelated to any criminal activity and even if freezing them would hinder the defendant's ability to hire counsel?

The Supreme Court sided with a Texas police officer this Monday, ruling that he had qualified immunity for shooting at, and killing, a fleeing suspect. In an unsigned, 8-1 per curiam opinion, the Court agreed that state trooper Chadrin Mullenix didn't violate any clearly established constitutional rights when opened fire on a vehicle fleeing from the police, killing the driver.

The sole dissenting voice was that of Justice Sotomayor, who argued that an untrained officer, firing into the dark at oncoming traffic, certainly violated unmistakable Fourth Amendment rights.

SCOTUS Wrangles Over Highland Assault Weapon Ban

The gun case of Friedman v. City of Highland Park is apparently stuck in limbo at the Supreme Court.

Highland is the country's current poster-child case symbolizing all that must be answered about guns -- until something else comes up. Progressives see the case as an opportunity to draw an arguably wiggly line in the sand against the use of high calibre assault rifles -- a view that has steadily gained currency with the American population following the nation's recent rash of mass shootings. Gun rights activists see victory in the case as staunching the flow of what they take to be a hemorrhaging of American's rights to carry firearms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

Well, here's some exciting news for your weekend. This morning the Supreme Court granted certiorari to all seven Obamacare contraception mandate appeals. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers are required to provide plans that cover employee's birth control. Certain religious, non-profit employers are exempted from that requirement: they just send in a form and someone else handles employee contraception.

But, petitioners argue, even that contraception exemption forces them to participate in something that's against their religious belief. Their claims have been essentially laughed out of every appeals court to date -- except for the Eighth Circuit, which recently broke ranks and ruled in religious employers' favor. Now, everyone will get to make their argument before the highest power available.

1L Student Gets His Redistricting Case Heard by SCOTUS

Stephen Shapiro, a 1L at American University, has successfully convinced this nation's highest court to review whether or not a lower district judge's decision to dismiss his redistricting case was proper under the applicable state and federal law -- specifically the Three-Judge Court Act. If SCOTUS rules the that the dismissal was improper, courts will review the issue of partisan gerrymandering within the context of the First Amendment.

Shapiro's case is a feather in the cap of the 55-year-old law student. He has entered a world where he typically is confused as a professor, not a student; now he may sit before the nine justices before he's even earned his J.D.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Spokeo v. Robins, a case which could have major implications for Internet privacy litigation. Spokeo, a "people search" website, aggregates public information on individuals, from their educational levels to the cost of their house. But, whoops! Sometimes that information isn't always accurate.

When Spokeo published inaccurate information about Thomas Robins, he pursued a class action against the site for violating the privacy-focused Fair Credit Reporting Act. But besides that statutory violation, Robins couldn't point to any injury. Sure his info was wrong, but was he fired over it? Did his wife leave him? No. So, the question before the court yesterday was, then, does Robins even have any right to sue?

This November begins with a bang in the Supreme Court. While the rest of us are still nursing our Halloween candy hangovers, the High Court is hearing two of the year's most interesting cases, Foster and Spokeo.

Foster deals with race and jury selection, specifically whether a prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to strike all black candidates from a jury is prohibited racial discrimination. (We'll get to Spokeo tomorrow.) So, how'd things go?