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Split Decisions: Court Privacy, Immigration, and Sentencing Cases

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 30, 2012 4:01 PM

The Supreme Court wasn’t solely focused on the Affordable Care Act arguments this week, even if the rest of the country could speak of nothing else. The Court also released five opinions, including three that we didn’t cover on Wednesday because we, (like everyone else), could speak of nothing but Medicaid and severability.

In split decisions, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit in FAA v. Cooper (quel surprise!), affirmed the Fifth Circuit in Setser v. U.S., and reversed the Second Circuit in Vartelas v. Holder. Here’s a quick recap of what you should know about the latest Supreme Court opinions:

  • FAA v. Cooper. The Court ruled that the Privacy Act does not unequivocally authorize damages for mental or emotional distress, and does not waive the Government's sovereign immunity from liability for such harms. The 5-3 decision, written by Justice Alito, bars a pilot from collecting emotional distress damages after the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation, and Social Security Administration improperly shared records that disclosed his HIV-positive status.
  • Vartelas v. Holder. With regard to retroactivity, the Court ruled that the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), burdens lawful activity on the basis of nothing more than past criminal activity. In a 6-3 decision written by Justice Ginsburg, the Court concluded that immigrants who committed minor crimes before 1996 can travel abroad and still keep their green cards, reports the New York Daily News.
  • Setser v. U.S. In a 6-3 decision written by Justice Kennedy, the Court decided that a district court judge can order a defendant's federal sentence to run consecutively to his anticipated state sentence for a probation violation.

As for the most anticipated Supreme Court opinions of the year -- the healthcare rulings -- The Washington Post reports that the Nine probably know whether the Act lives or dies. The justices met today to vote on the Affordable Care Act cases, and to assign the majority opinion, (or, as is likely in this case, multiple opinions).

Experts anticipate that the opinions will be released in June.

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