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

May 2016 Archives

Justice Ginsburg, speaking at the Second Circuit Judicial Conference last Thursday, said what everyone knows but no justice has spoken aloud until now: when it comes to running the Supreme Court, eight justices aren't enough.

Until now, the Supreme Court justices had largely played down the impact of a vacant seat on the Court -- or they had remained mum. Justice Ginsburg, however, was a bit more forthright in her assessment. In a speech focused largely on her relationship with Justice Scalia, it was obvious how important the two had been to each other; but Justice Ginsburg also made clear that Scalia was not irreplaceable and that the Court was not fully functional with only eight justices.

It's not uncommon for men to interrupt and talk over their female colleagues, as many women can attest -- when they can get a word in. There's even a term for it: "manterrupting."

And the trend extends all the way to the highest court in the land, as a new analysis shows Justices Kagan and Sotomayor being interrupted much more frequently than their male colleagues.

The Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Virginia's court-imposed redistricting yesterday, ruling that three Virginia Congressmen could not show that they were harmed by the new plan. The ruling brings an end to a long-standing dispute over Virginia's congressional districting which arose after a federal district court ruled in 2012 that the state's redrawn congressional map relied too heavily on race, segregating black voters into already majority-African American district.

Representatives Randy Forbes, Robert Wittman, and David Brat, all Republicans, sought to challenge that ruling. But none of the Congress members were representatives of the district at issue and none of them could show how they would be harmed if the old plan was not reestablished, the Supreme Court determined in a short, unanimous decision written by Justice Brennan.

A black death row inmate has been saved from execution this morning, after the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors violated the Constitution when striking all potential African American jurors from his trial. Timothy Foster had been convicted of capital murder in Georgia in 1987. He later discovered evidence showing that prosecutors exercised their peremptory strikes almost entirely because of race. Under Batson v. Kentucky, that evidence was enough to undo his conviction, the Supreme Court ruled 7-1 today.

But what the case means for Foster, and for others like him, is still unclear.

The federal judge who first ruled against President Obama's immigration reforms, a case currently pending in the Supreme Court, has made another bold and far-reaching move in connection to the case. After having found misconduct on the part of the government attorneys in the immigration case, District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the Southern District of Texas has put himself in charge of their ethics training.

But it's not just those specific attorneys that Hanen wants to ethically reeducate. It's every single DOJ lawyer who appears in court -- in any court, federal or state, in 26 specific states over the next five years. If the order stands, Judge Hanen may soon become a very busy man. But, he's only doing it to help out the Supreme Court, Hanen says.

After Brandon Betterman pleaded guilty to bail jumping, he spent over 14 months in jail, simply waiting to be sentenced. Betterman eventually appealed, arguing that the year-long delay violated his right to a speedy trial.

But, unfortunately for Betterman and the many other individuals who can wait months before being sentenced, the Sixth Amendment's speedy trial guarantee does not include a right to a speedy sentencing, the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous opinion released this morning.

A few months ago, the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency was widely dismissed. Now, the Donald has become the presumptive Republican nominee, giving him a not-insignificant chance at ruling the most powerful country in the world -- and selecting its Supreme Court justices.

And while Senate Republicans have stalled the nomination of Merrick Garland, President Obama's pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Trump has been busy putting together his own list of potential nominees, which he released today. Let's take a look.

You Google yourself. Go ahead, admit it. We all do. (Some people, I hear, even Bing themselves.)

But what if the Internet got your information wrong, giving you and everyone who Googled you an inaccurate view of your life? Do you have any recourse? For Thomas Robins, the chosen remedy was a lawsuit. When the "people search" website Spokeo published information about his life and got that information significantly wrong, Robins sued the company for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act. That suit faced a major setback from the Supreme Court on Monday, however, when the Court remanded Robins' suit for a more demanding inquiring into his standing.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued an opinion, or rather, a non-opinion, in one of the term's most important cases, Zubik v. Burwell, a challenge to Obamacare's contraception mandate procedures. In a brief, per curiam opinion, the Court remanded seven cases it had chosen to decide just months before -- without deciding any of the constitutional issues at hand. Accompanying orders tossed six more cases back to the appellate courts, where the judges will now have to grapple with the issues the Justices avoided, with little instruction other than to play nice and seek out compromise.

Is this the sign of a Court in disarray, crippled by a divided eight-Justice court? Or a pragmatic attempt to reach a compromise where compromise seems possible? Or none of the above?

After a few slow weeks, the Supreme Court dropped five new opinions this morning. They're not just small-beans disputes either -- rather, they include two of the Court's most important cases of the term, both of which touch on important constitutional issues. Those are Zubik v. Burwell, a challenge to Obamacare's contraception mandate, and Spokeo v. Robins, a dispute over whether privacy violations are sufficient to confer standing.

Here's a quick and dirty review of those opinions, with more to come in the following days.

There's a massive showdown coming to the Supreme Court -- over cheerleader uniforms. On one side is Star Athletica, an upstart purveyor of spirited outfits for spirited squads. On the other is Varsity Brands, hometown heroes and long-time reigning champs, at least when it comes to everything cheerleading. Caught in the middle are thousands of peppy high schoolers who just want to waive some pompoms and scream "go team!"

And last Monday, the Supreme Court decided it would play referee in the competition between the two companies, granting cert to a dispute over whether cheerleading uniform designs are entitled to copyright protection. So, cheerleaders, get ready to "bring it on!" On to the Supreme Court, that is.

Merrick Garland, chief judge of the D.C. Circuit and President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, submitted his completed questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. The questionnaire is a routine part of the Supreme Court nomination process -- and, given the unprecedented fight over Garland's nomination, part of the White House's attempt to pressure the Senate into acting. (The Judiciary Committee hadn't even requested that Garland complete the questionnaire.)

We read the whole thing, so you don't have to. (Alright, we read some of it. The full response included thousands of pages of supporting documents. The public version is a mere 142 pages long.) Here are some of the highlights.

In 2003, at the start of the Iraq war, a U.S. Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar turned on his fellow soldiers, tossing three grenades into the tents of the sleeping 101st Airborne Division, then opening fire as the soldiers fled. Two men were killed, 14 wounded. Akbar, who had been suffering from psychiatric problems, was court-martialed and sentenced to death.

Now, as Steve Vladeck notes in the Just Security blog, the Supreme Court could soon decide to review his case. But it's not Akbar's crimes that are in question, it's whether the way the military imposed his capital conviction is constitutional. And it's a case that could undermine every military death sentence.

Oral arguments ended last week, but there are still nearly two months left in the Supreme Court's current term. Now's the time when the Court moves from considering the cases before it to finally deciding them -- a process that certainly more complicated this year, given the lack of a ninth justice.

We're expecting a steady trickle of decisions throughout the upcoming weeks, with the most important opinions being released at the end of June, as is typical. Here are the opinions we're awaiting most anxiously.

The Supreme Court heard the final oral argument of the season last Wednesday. And while we're still waiting for decisions in many of those cases, we can now get a sense of which attorneys had the biggest impact on the Court this term -- at least when measured by their participation in cases argued.

In fact, we can get more than a sense, we can get exact numbers, thanks to the folks at Empirical SCOTUS who counted up the Court's top litigators so you don't have to. Let's take a look at the results.

It was an unusual alignment of justices that came together to uphold the extortion conspiracy conviction of a former Baltimore police officer today. Samuel Ocasio, the Baltimore cop, had been convicted of extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion under the Hobbs Act for his role in an auto-repair kickback scheme. That conviction can stand, the Supreme Court ruled, rejecting arguments that a conspiracy to extort must involve taking property from someone outside the conspiracy, rather than willing participants in a scheme.

But not only was the Court's majority a rare combination of justices, it was a tenuous one at that.