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

January 2016 Archives

SCOTUS Sides With Obama, FERC Stays

On Monday, SCOTUS helped solidify one of President Obama's major policy goals by ruling in favor of the "demand response" provisions of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The decision appears to be the end-of-the-line for major opponents of the regulation now that FERC has received the Supreme Court's blessing.

Four years ago, in Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole were an unconstitutional violation of the Eighth Amendment. Since then, there has been significant debate about Miller's reach: are automatic life without parole sentences verboten only for offenders sentenced after the Court's ruling, or should childhood offenders from long ago be given the opportunity of parole?

Today (while the rest of Washington took the day off to shovel itself out of the snow) the Court settled the debate, ruling that Miller applied retroactively and that all mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional, whether the sentencing took place five days or 50 years ago.

Here's a fun guessing game: which current presidential contender's Supreme Court clerkship was characterized by an obsession with the death penalty and the "lurid details of murders?"

Not sure? Here's a hint: he was born in Canada.

It was a frontier-themed set of oral arguments in the Supreme Court today, as attorneys debated how to define native tribal territory and the extent of federal regulation over wild lands. The first case involves liquor stores and the boundaries of the Omaha Indian Reservation since 1882. The second concerns a 70-year old elk hunter and his renegade hovercraft.

Here's what went down when the Wild West came east for oral arguments.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to President Obama's executive actions on immigration on Tuesday. The case involves a challenge by 26 states, led by Texas, to the President's plans to halt deportations for millions of immigrants, including the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens.

In granting cert to United States v. Texas, the Supreme Court also ensured that it will play a major role in the debate over immigration in America. Oral arguments are scheduled for April with a decision likely to come in June -- right in the middle of what is sure to be a frenzied presidential campaign.

Did Paul D. Clement forward golf tips to Chief Justice Roberts? Has Justice Sotomayor ever sent adorable cat pics to Donald Verrilli?

It's unlikely, but if they did, we might soon find out. That's because a journalist from Vice News is currently suing the Department of Justice for access to any emails between the Supreme Court justices and former or current U.S. Solicitors General. That is, should such emails even exist.

The status of Puerto Rico was front and center in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, as the justices heard arguments in Puerto Rico v. Valle. On its face, the case is about whether the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico can prosecute a criminal, already tried by the federal government, without violating the Constitution's prohibition on double jeopardy. Puerto Rico says yes. The federal government and Luis M. Sanchez Valle, who faced federal and Puerto Rican charges related weapons trafficking, say no.

More broadly, however, the case is about how Puerto Rico fits into the American system of government. Is it a semi-independent sovereign, not wholly unlike the federal states, capable of pursuing justice under its own laws, drawn from the consent of its own people? Or simply a semi-colonial territory, under the control of the federal government? After Wednesday's oral arguments, things don't look too good for la isla del encanto.

Florida's capital punishment sentencing scheme is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled this morning. In an 8-1 opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor, the Court found that Florida violated the Sixth Amendment by allowing a judge and not a jury to make the final determination over whether a defendant should be put to death.

Florida employs a "hybrid" capital sentencing structure, where a jury recommends the death penalty but a judge decides whether a defendant shall ultimately face execution. Today's ruling rejects that scheme and highlights the central role jurors must play when courts impose the death penalty.

Things aren't looking too good for public sector unions after oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case involves ten California teachers who aren't members of the public school teachers' union. While those teachers benefit from the higher wages and better conditions bargained for by the union, they object to the California law which requires them to pay "fair share" fees to the teachers' union to cover the cost of collective bargaining, arguing that the fees violate their First Amendment rights.

At oral arguments on Tuesday, many of the justices seemed set to agree with the teachers, ready to overrule long standing precedent that is relied on by millions of public sector workers across more than 20 states.

Millions of women have had abortions, but their stories are largely private; few share their experiences with the general public, and almost none with the Supreme Court.

But as the High Court prepares to hear arguments over Texas's extremely restrictive abortion regulations, 113 women in law have submitted a virtually unprecedented amicus brief detailing their own experiences with abortion. The goal, the brief explains, is to "inform the Court of the impact" abortion rights have had "on the lives of women attorneys, and, by extension, on this nation."

Last week, a group of armed ranchers and anti-government militants took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters outside Burns, Oregon. Though the men have a variety of complaints against the federal government, the armed occupation first started after protests against the imprisonment of two ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, for arson.

But before it was an insurrection, the Oregon standoff was an unusual criminal case, and one that got right up to the steps of the Supreme Court.

In 2012, Taylor Bell, a Mississippi high school senior with a spotless disciplinary record, posted a rap song online. The song accused two gym teachers at Itawamba Agricultural High School of sexually harassing female students -- but it also included violent lyrics not uncommon in much gangsta rap. Bell was suspended, sued, and is now petitioning the Supreme Court for cert.

On his side is a host of civil libertarians and students' rights groups filing amici briefs urging the Court to take up Bell's case. Among them is the Atlanta rapper Killer Mike. Killer Mike's amici brief is joined by seven other artists, including T.I. and Big Boi, but his contribution is unique: he, along with three legal scholars, actually wrote the brief. Here's what the rapper had to say to the Supreme Court.

A few hours before the clock struck midnight last Thursday, ushering in the new year, the Supreme Court released its annual year-end report. Unlike other "year in review" retrospectives, the High Court's look back tends to be a bit dry, focusing on statistics from the federal court system.

But Chief Justice Roberts wasn't willing to let the 2015 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary be just another boring exercise in statistical reporting. Instead, he framed his report with a discussion of good, old-fashioned duels to the death.