If you are hoping for a decision on same sex marriage, DOMA, or the Voting Rights Act, we'll save you some time -- none were released today. Today's rulings were more than mere brush-clearing, however. These holdings have major impacts on state voting laws, fundamental criminal procedure at all levels, and our oft-criticized pharmaceutical industry.
Interested in proof-of-citizenship voting laws, the right to a jury, or cheaper drugs? Read on.
Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc
In a 7-2 decision, the court held that the National Voter Registration Act preempted an Arizona law that required voters to prove citizenship during voter registration. The NVRA merely requires an oath, something Scalia referred to as "just a statement" in oral arguments, according to NBC News. He must've been playing devil's advocate, however, as he was the author of today's opinion.
Interestingly enough, the preemption holding was not based on ordinary federal-trumps-state preemption. That arguably does not apply, as the federal law wasn't sufficiently specific, as it merely requires states to "accept and use" the federal form. That could be interpreted to allow states to pass more-specific regulations. Instead, the court relied upon the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which allows Congress to "make or alter" state regulations.
One final note: Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky all have similar laws, which are presumably invalidated by today's decision.
Alleyne v. United States
Remember Apprendi v. New Jersey, which held that facts which increase a maximum sentence must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt? What about facts that influence the mandatory minimum?
In 2002, the court made a seemingly incompatible ruling for minimums in Harris v. United States, holding that judges could apply a mandatory minimum on the basis of facts not proved to a jury. That decision is now dead, via a heavily-fractured 5-4 split, producing a majority, two concurrences, two dissents, and lots of Roman numerals. The majority's take? The logic of Apprendi, as well as the Sixth Amendment, require all elements that affect a sentencing range to be handled by a jury.
FTC v. Actavis
Big company designs a drug. Generic company wants to join the party, so they challenge the patent. Big company pays them a settlement that is larger than the generic's potential profit yet less than big company's name-brand profit. Competition is reduced, drug costs increase, and the FTC angrily alleges antitrust.
Now, pay-for-delay may be a thing of the past. The Court held, 5-3, that the FTC's lawsuit may go forward, though the court issued an an interesting compromise -- such deals aren't presumptively valid under patent exploitation rights, nor are they presumptively invalid under antitrust laws. Like most other matters, it'll be fought out in court, the cost of which may be enough of a disincentive to end the "reverse payment" practice.