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3 New Grants: Texas License Plates, La. Execution, Patents

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By William Peacock, Esq. on December 05, 2014 1:45 PM

Happy Friday y'all! Today's breaking news out of the Supreme Court involves grants in three cases -- two from Texas and one from Louisiana. The first case, and the more important one in my opinion, is the First Amendment license plate case that we've covered previously -- the state of Texas is denying requests for Confederate flag vanity plates.

Also from Texas, the Court will take on patent issues once again in a spat over Cisco's Wi-Fi products.

Finally, in a death penalty case out of Louisiana, the Court will have the opportunity to flesh out their holding from Atkins v. Virginia. More specifically, do courts have to hold a separate hearing regarding mental disability and competency to be executed? And do they have to cover the tab for evaluations?

Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans: License Plate Speech

We won't belabor this case too much more because we've covered it and parallel cases in depth previously, but here is the short version:

People want vanity plates. States allow custom plate designs if enough signatures are gathered. Multiple disputes have arisen over denied plate designs that are pro-choice or brandish the Confederate battle flag.

Courts have generally held that the plates are either the driver's speech or mixed driver-government speech, and therefore, the state can't quash the message. Other courts have approved of states closing the forum entirely to speech by barring all plates for an issue, like Illinois did for abortion-related designs.

There's also a recent wildcard "monuments" case from SCOTUS that could come into play, which we discussed when this cert. petition was filed. This is going to be a fun case to watch.

Interestingly, SCOTUSblog notes that the parallel North Carolina abortion license plate case is still on hold.

Commil USA v. Cisco Systems: Patent Defenses

This is a case with a lengthy procedural history, so again, the Friday-worthy short version:

Cisco allegedly infringed on Commil's short-range Wi-Fi network patent. The jury sided with Commil on the patent validity claim, but not induced infringement by third parties. The Texas-based judge ordered a second trial on induced infringement and barred Cisco from arguing that they believed in good faith that the patent was invalid.

The Federal Circuit disagreed and reversed. The Supreme Court, at the Solicitor General's urging, took the case to review the Federal Circuit's ruling, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Brumfield v. Cain (Warden): Mental Retardation

Kevan Brumfield was convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer, Cpl. Betty Smothers (the mother of former NFL running back Warrick Dunn). Though evidence was presented regarding his mental capacity as mitigation in the punishment phase of his trial, Atkins wasn't decided until his case was on appeal. He was denied funding for expert evaluation and was denied an Atkins hearing, based largely on the evidence at hand -- state experts who measured his IQ at 75 or higher, as well as other evidence of his lack of impairment.

The Federal Public Defender Board covered the cost of evaluations prior to his federal proceedings, and while the federal district court stopped short of holding that the lack of an Atkins hearing was improper, it did evaluate the evidence gathered before the federal proceedings and granted a hearing at that time, which then led to a habeas grant.

The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the hearing was incompatible with AEDPA deference to state court judgments. The Supreme Court granted cert. to consider whether Atkins hearings are required and whether funding must be provided to evaluate whether an inmate is categorically ineligible for execution due to mental retardation.

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