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

April 2014 Archives

SCOTUS Just Fixed Patent Fee Shifting; Trial Courts Must Follow

Fee-shifting has long since been broken in the Federal Circuit. Chief Judge Randall Rader has written an op-ed and numerous concurrences on the subjecting, lamenting the lack of fee awards and the circuit's uniquely high standard for shifting fees.

He got his wish. Yesterday, in a pair of extremely important decisions, the Supreme Court, as predicted, fixed fee-shifting. How? By dropping the Federal Circuit's impossibly high standard down to a "case-by-case exercise" of a trial judge's discretion, a discretion which must be respected on appeal now that the circuit's de novo review has been dropped as well.

Chief Judge Rader got his wish. The trial courts have their tools. If they use them, this could go a long way toward fighting frivolous patent trolling.

Woodall: AEDPA's 'Clearly Established' Standard Gets More Rigid

Lost in last week's flurry of major Supreme Court decisions was a case that on the surface seemed unremarkable: the Sixth Circuit was reversed in a habeas case. How many times have we typed those words?

But, repetitive procedural path aside, White v. Woodall is actually quite the interesting case for those who work within the restrictive confines of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The all-too-familiar standard is that a federal court shouldn't grant habeas relief unless there was an "unreasonable application" of clearly established federal law.

Anonymous 'Reliable' Tip Can Justify Traffic Stop

It's another bad day for the Fourth Amendment.

Two brothers are driving a silver Ford F-150, license plate 8-David-94925. An anonymous caller dials 911 and claims that the truck ran her off the road.

Stop. How confident are you that the driver of that truck is engaging in ongoing criminal activity (i.e., drunken driving) at this point?

The California Highway Patrol sure wasn't. A cruiser followed the truck for five minutes, and when no additional signs of intoxication or erratic driving were witnessed, the officers pulled over the vehicle, only to discover 30 pounds of marijuana in the truck bed.

Justice Thomas, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, called this a "close case" and upheld the stop, citing indicia of reliability in the 911 call. Scalia, along with three liberal justices (if they keep this cross-ideological, pro-Fourth team going, we're going to have to give them a nickname, like the Fourth Faction) pointed out that the only thing that the call showed was that there was as silver truck driving on a road, headed southbound -- that's it.

Court Lets Confusion Reign in Child Porn Restitution Cases

This wasn't an easy question. If you want to see how difficult the question of the proper means for calculating restitution for child pornography victims is, see the many, many, many different approaches taken by courts over the last few years.

It all comes down to the impossibility of making a victim whole while the crime is ongoing. When "Amy" (pseudonym) was a child, she was the victim of abuse by her uncle, who distributed images of her online, images that are amongst the most distributed in the world. Police officers nationwide have made arrests over these exact images, and each time, as the victim, she is notified.

108 Page Headache: Plurality Upholds Michigan's Aff. Action Ban

One hundred and eight pages. A 3-2-1-2 split, with a separate concurrence and a recusal. Justice Breyer sided with the conservative wing of the court. Justice Sotomayor wrote for 57 pages in dissent, and got personal with the other justices, leading to a two-page separate concurrence/rebuttal by Chief Justice Roberts.

In other words, this is a massive headache of an opinion, with a holding that narrows past SCOTUS precedent and allows states to ban race conscious admissions policies.

Grants: Search, Career Criminal, and the Infamous Israel Passport

More Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) cases? Say it ain't so, SCOTUS.

Alas, a criminal with a white supremacist career, and a lot of arms, just made his way to the High Court, along with another criminal case, which involves the police finding bliss (and a permissible search) in ignorance.

And then there is the small matter of World War III, or at least the over-hyped case involving a conflict of power between Congress and the Executive, Israel and Palestine, Jerusalem, and the label on a citizen's passport -- no big deal, right?

Alito Unrecuses From Aereo and Pom Wonderful; Unrecusal Tax Break

We've discussed Justice Samuel Alito's truancy in the past, with the Justice sitting out of dozens of certiorari denials and initially recusing himself from this term's Limelight, Pom Wonderful, and Aereo cases, all likely due to conflicts presented by his stock portfolio. (Though the Justices do not disclose their reasons for self-recusal, Alito's financial disclosures have shed a lot of light on patterns of inherited and purchased stocks, past recusals, and botched non-recusals.)

With Alito benched, rather than on the bench, there was some concern over whether Aereo could end in a 4-4 tie, leaving the Second Circuit's pro-Aereo opinion intact, but also leaving the rest of the land (which includes anti-Aereo court decisions in other circuits) unaffected. Worry not though, as he just unrecused himself in Aereo and Pom Wonderful, days before oral arguments.

Justice Stevens and 'The Fix'

For the last week, one of the top posts on The Washington Post's website has been retired Justice John Paul Stevens' "Justice Stevens: The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment," an excerpt from his upcoming book, "Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution."

Personally, I can't wait to read the book, even if there is no doubt in my mind that I'll disagree with at least one-sixth of it. It's important to hear other perspectives, and debate big issues, and make no mistake about it, gun rights is one of the biggest issues facing our country today.

Judges' Use of Social Media Before SCOTUS in Cert. Petition

If a judge follows you on Twitter, must he recuse himself from any future cases where you are a party or an attorney? Surely reading tweets doesn't amount to an appearance of bias.

What about a LinkedIn connection? It is, after all, the "professional" social network.

Or what about Facebook? Of all the social networks, it is the most informal. Friendship gives you access to photos, wall postings, and other non-public information. If a judge is Facebook friends with a litigant, or an attorney, does that mandate recusal?

We've discussed the issue before, and have seen it pop up in state cases, but this petition for certiorari, set for consideration on April 25, asks the U.S. Supreme Court to set a nationwide standard for social media and the appearance of impropriety. It's a tall order for a Court that still uses ivory paper instead of email.

Snippets: Hillary on McCutcheon; Gay Marriage Cases Race to SCOTUS

Ah, another slow week on First Street. Not to worry, folks, there's plenty of Supreme Court gossip to tide you over.

No, the Hillary Clinton reference in the headline has nothing to do with a flying shoe (no word on the make and model of said shoe, but we do know that it was feminine and orange). Though that incident has snatched up the headlines, a different speech by the possible presidential candidate, discussing the court's ruling in McCutcheon, is far more interesting. She hates the ruling, but an interesting question is: Does she benefit from it?

Meantime, thanks to a few recent developments in same-sex marriage litigation appeals, the race to the Supreme Court has shifted. Who's on track, and who is likely to file for certiorari first? We'll handicap the odds.

McCutcheon Campaign Finance Decision: Reaction Roundup

The impact of last week's decision in McCutcheon v. FEC is obvious: There will be a lot more money injected into politics. Those who can afford to donate will, which realistically means that the rich will have an even louder voice.

Chief Justice John Roberts didn't seem particularly concerned about the impact of his controlling plurality opinion, noting that Congress may not "restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others," while Justice Stephen Breyer predicted doom and gloom, stating that the decision "eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

Outside the bench, the reactions are equally (yet predictably) split:

Citizens United II: McCutcheon Ruling Means 'Mo Money' in Politics

February's protestor sure isn't going to be happy. Let's hope for a sequel!

Speaking of sequels, in a case many dubbed "Citizens United II," the Supreme Court this morning held that the aggregate limits on direct campaign contributions to candidates and political parties were a violation of free speech, and therefore unconstitutional. Unsurprisingly, the decision was heavily split, with an unusual 4-1-4 lineup that pitted four conservatives against four liberals, with Justice Clarence Thomas steadfastly standing alone in concurrence with the judgment only.

As for the real-world effect, expect a lot more money to change hands in the next federal election, more donations to state candidates and parties (which previously played second-fiddle to federal candidates when running up against the limits), and maybe, just maybe, a legislative effort to curb transfers of funds between PACs, parties, and candidates.

Justice Thomas Talks in Court After Impeachment for Nonfeasance

After eight years of silence (so long as you don't count last year's near unintelligible mumble), Justice Clarence Thomas finally spoke during Supreme Court oral arguments, albeit with an odd choice of topic.

Speaking of silence, moments before he spoke up, the House of Representatives passed Articles of Impeachment against the Justice, accusing him of nonfeasance of duty due to his years of silence and repeated refusal to adhere to stare decisis.