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

July 2016 Archives

Fans of the Supreme Court and NPR are in for a treat. Radiolab, NPR's science-based radio show, has its first spin off: "More Perfect." This new podcast, which you can listen to online, takes a look at "the rarefied world of the Supreme Court to explain how cases deliberated inside hallowed halls affect lives far away from the bench."

And while the characters and cases that "More Perfect" touches on won't be unfamiliar to legal professionals, some of the backstory might be. For the rest of the summer, we'll be providing weekly reviews of past episodes. We hope you'll follow us along as we explore some lesser-known Supreme Court history, unearthed by the journalists behind "More Perfect."

Gavin Grimm just wants to be able to use the bathroom in peace -- and, for a while, he could. When Grimm, a high school student in rural Virginia who was born female but identifies as male, first notified his school administrators that he was transgender, he was allowed to use the bathroom that aligned with his gender identity. But following an ugly public backlash, the Gloucester County School Board kicked him out of the boy's room, offering Grimm access to the women's bathroom or a modified broom closet, instead.

Grimm, backed by the ACLU, sued, arguing that the school had violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. Last month, Grimm won a preliminary injunction against the school board, requiring his high school to allow him to use the boy's room while the litigation played out after the Fourth Circuit refused to stay a ruling in Grimm's favor. Now, the school board has taken its case to the Supreme Court, with Grimm, in a filing with the Supreme Court yesterday, urging the Court to stay out of the dispute for the time being.

The Notorious RBG made herself a bit more notorious earlier this month, after she repeatedly criticized Donald Trump in the press, saying he was a "faker" and joking about moving to New Zealand should he become president. After a swift backlash from the left and the right, Justice Ginsburg apologized, saying that "judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office" and promising that "in the future I will be more circumspect."

Justice Ginsburg's mea culpa didn't satisfy some critics, however. Trump called on her to resign, while others have said her comments reveal a political bias which should disqualify her for the Court. Which raises the question, to what extent is such a thing even possible?

An en banc Fifth Circuit ruled against Texas's controversial voter ID law today, affirming a district court opinion that found the law, known as SB 14, to have a discriminatory effect on minority voting rights in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling came just in time as well. In April, the Supreme Court declined to intervene in the voter ID dispute, giving the Fifth Circuit until July 20th to act on the issue -- a deadline the Fifth just barely made.

That does not mark the end of the debate, though. The Fifth sent the case back down to the district court with instructions to craft temporary relief before this November's elections but, should the parties appeal, the case could be headed to the Supreme Court instead.

When the Supreme Court deadlocked on President Obama's immigration reform plan, it marked a major defeat for the president. The four-to-four tie left in place a Fifth Circuit ruling halting Obama's immigration reforms, essentially bringing an end to a program that would have prevented the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants -- and which the president had hoped would be one of his signature achievements.

But less than a month later, the government is asking for a second chance, petitioning for a rehearing once the court gets its ninth justice. Such rehearings are incredibly rare, but they are not unprecedented. To make its case, the government turned to the Court's own history, noting that an equally divided Court had reheard similar cases before -- many from the late 1800's. Hey, precedent is precedent.

Justice Anthony Kennedy has long been the Supreme Court's swing vote, usually swinging a little right of center. Though a Republican and a Reagan appointee, Kennedy has never been as ideologically rigid as some of his more conservative colleagues. He's joining the conservative majority one day, then penning groundbreaking gay rights opinions on the next.

But if Justice Kennedy has been hard to pin down in the past, the Court's most recent term might have made it a bit easier to box him in. Could this be the term Justice Kennedy came out as a liberal?

The Supreme Court might be the highest Court in the United States, but that doesn't mean the justices are bound in by our nation's borders, and they're certainly not grounded to D.C. In fact, many of the justices are frequent fliers, jaunting off to Asia to give a speech on the U.S. Constitution, for example, spending their summers in France teaching, or just chilling out at an exclusive Texas ranch with a bunch of berobed businessmen in a secretive order of hunters. (That's the Order of St. Hubertus, who Justice Scalia was traveling with when he died in February.)

Many of those trips are on someone else's dime, meaning that they have to be made public in the justices' annual financial disclosure forms -- and allowing us to peak in on which Supreme Court justice spent the most time taking paid trips last year.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is no fan of Donald Trump and it does not seem that Trump has much love for one of the Court's most high-profile liberals, either. But their feelings have erupted into an unprecedented political feud after Justice Ginsburg announced that she couldn't even fathom a Trump presidency, and joked that she might need to move to New Zealand should he win.

While it's common for presidential candidates to criticize the Supreme Court, it's almost unheard of for a sitting justice to weigh in on the candidates. What would cause Justice Ginsburg to break so dramatically with tradition, ethics, and Supreme Court decorum?

No one will ever accuse the Supreme Court of being too quick to embrace new technology. The Court didn't start post oral argument recordings on its website until 2010 and its online slip opinions only go back to 2009. Just six years ago, Justice Kennedy and the late Justice Scalia let it slip during arguments that they didn't really know how text messages worked -- at all. And when it comes to one of the most ubiquitous forms of technology this side of electricity, the Court isn't really caught up, either. In 2013, Justice Kagan said that the Court hadn't "gotten to" email just yet.

But, it turns out, the Supreme Court justices do use email after all. Well, two of them do, that is.

Are your Democrat friends and colleagues threatening to move to Canada should Donald Trump win the presidential elections? Well, they may not be getting far enough away, at least not for one of the Supreme Court's most liberal justices.

In a uniquely revealing and political interview, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that, should Trump be elected, she just may have to move to New Zealand.

As the kids say, Justice Sotomayor is woke. In the era of #BlackLivesMatter, a time when Travon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner (and so many more) are household names, Justice Sotomayor is taking on the criminal justice system from the Supreme Court bench.

Over the past term, she has increasingly called out, often in solitary dissents, abuses in the criminal justice system. Hers is a voice concerned with not just the logic of the law, but the way it plays out in real life. And it is a voice not afraid to call things by their name, offering scathing critiques of how racism and abuses of power are reflected in excessive criminalization and the erosion of civil rights.

Think the Supreme Court is too staid for hipsters? Think again. Ever since Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes grew out a killer 'stache, the Court has been home to secret hipsters, and every Court has had its most hipster justice. Justice George Sutherland sported a beard that would put most Brooklynites to shame, for example, and Justice Thurgood Marshall's glasses had a very Rivers-Cuomo-circa-1994 vibe. Some say they didn't even have lenses.

So, who is the biggest hipster on today's Court? Here's the definitive ranking.

The Supreme Court's October 2015 Term was truly historic. This term saw the death of Justice Scalia, which was immediately marked by politicized fighting over his replacement, even before the memorials had begun. It saw Justice Thomas speak during oral arguments, for the first time in a decade, and Justice Sotomayor find her voice as one of the Court's great dissenters. It saw Justice Breyer yelling on the Late Show and Justice Ginsburg writing her first book in decades.

Somewhere between all that, cases were decided -- important, landmark cases, some of them. And as controversial as the term might have been, what mattered most were those decisions. Here they are.