Supreme Court Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Civil Rights Law Category

The Supreme Court has refused to grant an emergency stay to a Kentucky county clerk who refused to wed gay couples. This June, the Supreme Court recognized marriage as a fundamental right that cannot be denied to same-sex couples.

The Court's refusal to grant a stay, issued in a one-sentence order this Monday, meant that Kim Davis, the elected county clerk in rural Rowan County, Kentucky, would be required to issue licenses this Tuesday despite her religious objections. Tuesday has come and, just hours after the Supreme Court's order, Davis continues to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court announced that it would rehear Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin on the very last day of its last term. It would be the second time the Justices had taken up the case, the first being in its 2012 term, and granting cert. didn't come quickly. The Court sat on petition for not one, not two, but six scheduling conferences before the Justices agreed to hear the case.

With Fisher, waiting was nothing new. When the Justices first heard the case, they took eight months to release a decision, an unusually long time. Turns out, that wait involved charged and bruising deliberations -- deliberations that completely changed the nature of the ruling after a scathing draft dissent by Justice Sotomayor forced the majority to back down.

Here's something you don't see -- well, ever? A cadre of ex-government prosecutors, including 20 former Justice Department officials, has filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court accusing current federal prosecutors of violating the Constitution by withholding evidence regarding a key witness. The claims made in the brief aren't in themselves uncommon, but it's unprecedented to see them made by former federal prosecutors against their current-prosecutor colleagues in the Justice Department.

The brief, signed by former officials from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, was submitted to support the cert petition of George Georgiou, a Canadian businessman convicted of securities fraud in 2010, after prosecutors failed to disclose evidence regarding the credibility of a government witness.

You may see Obamacare back in front of the Supreme Court next term, at least if religious nonprofits have their way. Just over a year ago, the Court ruled in Hobby Lobby that the Affordable Care Act must accommodate the religious objections of closely held corporations.

Now, the court is facing a slew of cert petitions from Catholic nonprofits, nunsRoman Catholic colleges, and others who say that their religious freedom is still violated ... even with the accommodations.

The nonprofits all object to being involved with Obamacare's contraception mandate in any manner. They've all made similar legal arguments. They've all lost -- repeatedly. Will the Supreme Court be more sympathetic to their objections?

It's not easy to make a career in crime these days. The banks are cracking down on scoff-law traders, Google Earth is tracking your illegal logging, and even old-fashioned, violent criminals are routinely given decade-long sabbaticals due to sentencing enhancements.

Under the Armed Career Criminal Act, certain violent offenders are subject to mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years if they have been thrice convicted of crimes involving "a serious potential risk of physical injury to another."

Your local No Tell Motel can truly live up to its name, thanks to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court. Last week, the High Court gave a wink and nod to secret lovers and hotel clerks throughout the land, ruling that laws allowing police to inspect hotel registries without a warrant are unconstitutional.

Of course, those registries weren't just tracking your evening visits to the love shack, they were often used to investigate all sorts of criminal behavior, from murder to meth making. The laws required hotels to record guest information and turn it over to the police on demand. Such laws are a facially unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment, the Court ruled.

With all the attention given to the Supreme Court's recent rulings on Obamacare, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty, it was easy to overlook several other important decisions. For example, last Thursday, the Supreme Court recognized that housing policies which have a disproportionate impact of certain groups can violate the Fair Housing Act.

The ruling is the first time the Supreme Court has approved disparate impact claims, though they have been used widely for decades. The decision allows advocates to maintain a major tool in fighting housing discrimination, where intentional discrimination can often be hard to establish.

The Supreme Court released three opinions today, one day before the end of the term. Following last week's headline-grabbing opinions on marriage and healthcare, the Court continued making news, issuing rulings on the Clean Air Act, electoral redistricting and, chief among the opinions, the lethal injection.

In the lethal injection case, Glossip v. Gross, the Court upheld the constitutionality of Oklahoma's lethal injection program. Death row prisoners had challenged the state's lethal injection cocktail, saying it failed to numb the pain of the lethal injection drugs, leading to a horrific death that would feel like being burnt alive. In their dissent, Justices Breyer and Ginsburg came out against the death penalty itself, arguing that capital punishment as a whole is unconstitutional.

The right to marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be denied to same-sex couples, the Supreme Court ruled this morning in Obergefell v. Hodges. The historic 5-4 opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy, extends the "fundamental right to marry" to gay and lesbian couples throughout the country, just eleven years after the country's first legally recognized same-sex marriages took place.

The decision, based on both due process and equal protection grounds, marks a major victory for the gay rights movement, which has seen a rapid shift from state and federal same-sex marriage bans to a judicial embrace of equal rights for same-sex couples. The opinion's release comes two days before anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the symbolic birth of the gay rights movement 46 years ago.

The Supreme Court released two important free speech decisions on Thursday, finding that the government can't limit temporary signage based on its content but can control what goes on specialty license plates. The difference? Who was speaking.

The twin cases coming up from an Arizona sign restriction and a Texas DMV decision, emphasize the Court's focus on not just the content of speech but on its speaker. The decisions taken together emphasize strictly protecting private speech while allowing greater regulation in government-sponsored speech.