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

August 2016 Archives

In 2003's Demore v. Kim, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that permanent residents were not entitled to bail when in custody and appealing deportation rulings. The opinion's logic was based, in part, on the brevity of those detentions. Government statistics, provided to the Supreme Court by the Department of Justice, showed that removal proceedings concluded quickly, that deportation appeals were rare, and that those appeals, too, were resolved with relative speed.

In a troubling revelation, the Office of the Solicitor General now admits those statistics were wrong, according to a report by Jess Bravin in the Wall Street Journal.

Whether a Texas inmate lives or dies could depend, in part, on the work of John Steinbeck. In the upcoming term, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Moore v. Texas, a challenge to the sentence of Bobby James Moore, who faces execution for the murder of grocery store clerk, but who also suffers from severe intellectual incapacity.

The case asks the Court to weigh in on the standard Texas uses when deciding if someone's intellectual disability is so extreme as to disqualify them from a death sentence. Moore wants a standard that comports with modern medical understandings. Texas's highest criminal court, however, demanded the use of a more out-dated metric, the so-called "Lennie standard," named after the sweet-natured, but feeble-minded character from Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."

'Test cases,' or legal challenges meant to set precedent and change the law, were pioneered by civil rights activists. Test cases brought us some of the Supreme Court's greatest civil rights victories, and some of its greatest failures. But in the past few years, test cases have also become a powerful force in undoing civil rights laws, with test cases directed at everything from the Voting Rights Act to college admissions. And many of those cases are directed by a single man.

In this week's recap of "More Perfect," our look into NPR's new Supreme Court podcast, we're looking at the man behind some of the Supreme Court's most high-profile recent civil rights decisions: Edward Bloom.

The battle over where transgender youth can go to the bathroom has quickly turned into a political and legal flashpoint. The Supreme Court delved into the fight recently, staying an order that would allow transgender Virginia high schooler Gavin Grimm to use the bathroom that matched his gender identity. Then, on Sunday, a federal judge in Texas blocked the Obama administration's guidance on transgender students and bathroom access.

But these fights aren't just about the rights of transgender youth and debates about who can pee where. (Though they're certainly about that.) They're also a battle to change administrative law and the deference courts give to government agencies.

Some cases from the last term will take awhile to make their impact in lower courts. There are only so many abortion restrictions to overthrow, for example. District courts aren't often called to interpret "one person, one vote."

But some cases have quickly impacted litigation, garnering hundreds of citations in district, appellate, and state courts in just a matter of months. These are the decisions that may not make the most headlines, but they seem to be having the most impact.

In this week's 'More Perfect' recap, our weekly look into NPR's new Supreme Court podcast, we're looking at the 'imperfect plaintiffs' behind some of the Supreme Court's most important cases.

Actually, we're looking at just two imperfect plaintiffs, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner. That's Lawrence as in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court case that overturned state bans on sodomy. It's a case that starts with police bursting in on Lawrence and Garner, disrobed in their apartment, and ends with one of the most important gay rights victories ever. It's the case that helped lay the foundation for Windsor and Obergefell a decade later. But the story behind Lawrence might not be what you were expecting.

Last Saturday marked the sixth month anniversary of Justice Antonin Scalia's death. That's six months since he died in his sleep on a Texas hunting retreat, six months since his body was laid out in the Supreme Court's Great Hall, six months since his law clerks were transferred to other chambers.

But even though Justice Scalia is gone, his chambers are still open for business.

Voter ID laws have been having a tough summer in federal appellate courts. Less than a month ago, the Fifth Circuit struck down Texas's controversial voter ID law, finding that it had a discriminatory effect. Just a few days later, the Fourth Circuit overturned a similar law in North Carolina, in a blistering opinion that condemned the "discriminatory intent" behind the law.

Now, both states are looking for the Supreme Court to intervene. On Monday, North Carolina filed an emergency appeal to save its law before the November elections, while Texas has announced that it will soon petition for cert as well.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor capped off a 10-day tour of Alaska on Sunday with a speech at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Sadly, the Bronx native didn't regale her audience with tales of Grizzly sightings, glacier climbing, or moose hunting, which is what we would have liked to hear about.

But she did have some words of wisdom for her legislative branch counterparts back in Washington, D.C.: You might work together a bit better if you chilled out and got along, just like they do it in the Supreme Court.

This week's 'More Perfect' recap, our summer look at the interesting historical tidbits from NPR's new Supreme Court-themed podcast, focuses on the case that inspired the podcast in the first place: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, or, as it's more often known, "the Baby Veronica case."

The case "puts one little girl at the center of a storm of legal intricacies, Native American tribal culture, and heart-wrenching personal stakes," according to the podcast. And while this episode is short on Supreme Court details (there are no suicidal justices or last minute death-sentence stays, for example), it does provide a detailed look into one of the Supreme Court cases that dominated the news just a few years ago. Let's dive in.

At a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina yesterday, real life Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested that a Hillary Clinton presidency would result in a Supreme Court willing to undermine Second Amendment rights -- and he may have called for Clinton's assassination. "If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks," he said. "Although the Second Amendment people -- maybe there is, I don't know."

It was, to many observers, an unprecedented campaign line, a wink-wink-nudge-nudge call for the murder of your political opponent, over the composition of the Supreme Court. Trump's campaign argues that he was speaking of the "power of unification," not the power of gunpowder. But either way, what's good for the gander is good for the goose, so let's take a look at which of Trump's potential Supreme Court nominees could rally the Democrat's traditional base to "put a stop" to his SCOTUS agenda -- or at least inspire some nominees to "get Borked."

Briefs are starting to trickle into the Supreme Court in the case of Buck v. Davis, a death penalty case that promises to be one of the more important decisions of the upcoming term. Duane Edward Buck, who is African American, was sentenced to death in 1997, after one of his defense's own experts claimed that Buck was more likely to reoffend because of his race.

Now, Buck's attorneys and several amici are arguing that he deserves to have his punishment reconsidered, given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his sentencing.

Welcome to our second 'More Perfect' recap, a look at the most interesting historical tidbits from NPR's new Supreme Court-focused podcast. Today's episode delves into the story behind Baker v. Carr, the landmark case that gave us "one man, one vote," rejecting the argument that legislative redistricting was an issue reserved for politicians, not courts. And, according to "More Perfect," it's a case that drove one justice from the bench and may have killed another.

It's a timely history, too, given the resurgence of electoral battles in the past months. In April, the Supreme Court rejected the contention that "one man, one vote" meant "one voter, one vote," throwing out a challenge redistricting in Texas. And voting rights continue to be a source of controversy in the courts. In the past few weeks, appellate courts have thrown out restrictive voting laws in Texas, North Dakota, and North Carolina.

Gavin Grimm probably won't be able to use the boys' bathroom when he returns to school this fall. Grimm, a transgender high school student who was born female but identifies as a man, had sued for the right to use the men's bathroom. About a month ago, a federal district court issued a preliminary injunction against the Gloucester County School Board, in rural Virginia, ordering it to do just that: allow Grimm to use the bathroom that matched his gender identity.

But that order won't be going into effect anytime soon. The Supreme Court intervened in the dispute yesterday, staying the order pending the filing and disposition of the school board's cert petition.

It's been 140 days since Merrick Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court, making his the longest pending Supreme Court nomination in history. But you didn't hear much about this milestone from the White House. And if you tuned into the Democratic National Convention last week, you probably didn't hear much about Merrick Garland at all. Indeed, when Hillary Clinton accepted her party's nomination, she barely mentioned the Supreme Court and never once uttered Garland's name.

Which raises the question: have the Democrats given up on seeing Garland appointed to the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court today is not what it was just ten months ago, when the Court kicked off its October 2015 term. Some of the differences are obvious. Justice Scalia is no longer with us, having passed away in February. The Court's seminal swing justice, Justice Kennedy, has started to swing more decidedly to the left. The vacancy created by Justice Scalia's death remains unfilled, leading to a series of deadlocked decisions in important cases.

None of that is surprising for those who have been paying attention. But in a recent year-in-review piece for the California Bar Journal, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law, pointed out something that's been getting less attention: the past term, on the whole, was great for criminal defendants.

It has taken more than four hundred years, but Shylock has finally been vindicated on appeal. The fictional Jewish moneylender, made famous in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice,' won a mock appeal presided over by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently. Justice Ginsburg, joined by international lawyers, found that Shylock was entitled to the money he had lent Antonio, the titular merchant, and retroactively nullified Shylock's forced conversion.

The mock trial took place as part of events marking the 500th anniversary of Venice's Jewish ghetto and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.