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

October 2016 Archives

The Supreme Court is looking to keep controversial, potentially divisive issues off its docket this term, the conventional wisdom goes -- at least until it has a ninth justice on the bench. Today's oral arguments, for example, deal with service dogs and administrative exhaustion, for one, and cheerleader uniforms, in the other. Hardly the kind of issues that grab headlines or split the Court.

But the idea that the Court was playing it safe was upended on Friday, when the Court granted cert in five new cases, including a dispute over transgender students' ability to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Justice Clarence Thomas celebrated 25 years on the Supreme Court this week. The justice joined the Court a quarter century ago, surviving a bruising nomination battle to become one of the Supreme Court's most consistent conservative voices.

Yet, after so many years on the Court, there is significant debate about Thomas's legacy and his impact on American law. Is he a voice in the wilderness? A herald of jurisprudential changes to come? Just an ineffective eccentric?

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry. So far, the impact of that ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, has largely been confined to similar issues. (A quick review: Does Obergefell mean that state same-sex marriage bans are invalid? Yes, of course. Even Puerto Rico's? Yes. Does it require states to issue same-sex marriage licenses? Yes. Even if you're Kim Davis? Yes. Even if you're in Alabama? Yes. Really? Yes.)

But now a new lawsuit is turning to Obergefell to strike down marriage license paperwork requirements in Louisiana. These requirements are seen by marriage equality advocates as unconstitutionally burdening the marriage rights of immigrants and refugees, be they gay, straight, or other.

She's not fat and she's not singing, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will soon become the star of an opera. The Supreme Court Justice and well-known opera fan is set to debut as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment," the Washington National Opera announced last Friday.

RBG will be performing as the Notorious Duchess of Krakenthorp for one night only, though, so be sure to get your tickets in advance.

Two hundred and nineteen days ago, President Obama nominated D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Since then, well, you know what's happened: not much. The Senate has steadfastly refused to consider Garland's nomination, on the grounds that the next president should decide who replaces the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

As the days tick by and the election approaches, the odds of Garland getting to the Supreme Court grow increasingly slim. Does his still have any chance left?

Last night's presidential debate, the final of three, was the first to devote a significant portion of the discussion to the future of the Supreme Court. And thankfully, SCOTUS came first, meaning the dialogue remained largely coherent, if not always on point.

This debate probably won't be remembered for its fights over D.C. v. Heller or ruminations on the Senate's role in the Supreme Court nomination process. But it did have some points worth noting. Here are our highlights.

Sergio Hernandez died in Mexico, but the bullet that killed him was fired from the United States. The 15-year-old boy was shot in the head by a Border Patrol agent in 2010. The agent, Jesus Mesa, initially said Hernandez was throwing rocks in order to distract agents from a smuggling operation; his parents say he was simply playing with friends along the unmarked border that separates El Paso, Texas, from Juarez, Mexico.

The Hernandez family sued, alleging that Mesa violated the Constitution when he killed their son, but an en banc Fifth Circuit tossed the suit. Now, the Supreme Court will take up Hernandez's case, ruling later this term on how far constitutional protections against excessive force can reach.

When it comes to its decisions on ethics, judicial recusals, even civil rights, is the Supreme Court being hypocritical, creating one standard for lower courts and another for itself? That's the argument Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, made in a recent New York Times op-ed.

Roth points to the Court's precedence on recusals, protest zones, and even the justice's ages as signs that the Court's might want to jettison its "equal justice under law" motto for "do as we say, not as we do."

If you've been following Supreme Court oral arguments this term, you might have noticed something slightly different: a large influx of women advocates. Almost half of the lawyers arguing before the Court in its October cycle were women.

The amount of women appearing before the Supreme Court is unprecedented, and it comes at a time when the Supreme Court itself has its greatest percentage of female justices ever, with the potential that women could soon become a majority on the Court.

Will Samsung be able to blow up Apple's $399 million patent infringement award against it, or will its legal arguments spontaneously combust in front of the Supreme Court? The company, which is currently struggling to keep its Galaxy Note 7 phones from literally exploding, came before the Court yesterday to challenge the massive infringement award meted out after Samsung was found to have copied design features from the Apple iPhone in its own Galaxy line of smartphones.

The case is the culmination of a fiery legal battle that has lasted five years and which could carry significant implications for the design and technology industries.

Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez was guilty because 'he's Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want,' a juror in Pena-Rodriguez's misdemeanor sexual harassment trial declared during deliberations. Then that jury convicted Pena-Rodriguez, a conviction that requires him to register as a sex offender.

Yet when two jurors came forward to reveal the openly racist comments, there was little Pena-Rodriguez could do. Colorado, where he was convicted, prohibits the use of juror testimony during an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment. This "no impeachment" rule, which can be found in virtually every jurisdiction, shouldn't be allowed to trump Pena-Rodriguez's right to a fair trial, he argued in the Supreme Court today. From the looks of it, he may have a few justices on his side.

With less than a month before the elections, the two major-party candidates did something almost unprecedented during last night's presidential town hall: They addressed the future of the Supreme Court.

Between the sniffling and sighing, the personal attacks and tax policy, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump briefly laid out their vision for the future of the Court, describing, in sharply contrasting terms, who they would look to put on the Supreme Court bench should they become president.

The Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia was officially dedicated yesterday, as a host of Supreme Court justices, academics, and family members gathered together to celebrate the late justice.

Justice Scalia was known publicly for his conservatism, and strict textualism and originalism, and his acerbic dissents, but he was also a frequent face at law schools throughout the country. It was appropriate, then, that the dedication featured his colleague, Justice Elana Kagan, a former dean of Harvard Law School herself. Describing the late justice as a "remarkable judge and teacher," she recounted how Justice Scalia could "grab hold of students, shake them and turn them upside down solely by means of his written opinions."

When Duane Edward Buck was tried for the murder of his ex-girlfriend and a man he suspected of being her lover, the jury did not struggle to convict him. But they were more hesitant over whether he should be sentenced to death, focusing, according to NPR's Nina Totenberg, on whether Buck would pose a danger in the future. Buck's own defense may have tipped the scales, sending him to death row, when it introduced testimony that Buck posed a greater risk in the future simply because he was black.

Today, the Supreme Court took up Buck's case, hearing oral arguments over whether that prejudiced testimony was enough to entitle Buck to appeal his conviction. And, if today's arguments are any indication, things are starting to look promising for Buck.

The Supreme Court ushered in the new term with its first two oral arguments today, hearing a pair of criminal law cases dealing with double jeopardy and bank fraud. And those arguments featured an unexpected pop culture reference, as Kim Kardashian briefly became the subject of a justice's hypothetical.

Though the short-staffed Court has declined to hear many high-profile, controversial cases this year, possibly to avoid 4-4 splits, the first oral arguments of the term are a reminder that even the less controversial cases can be plenty interesting -- as long as you throw in a Kardashian or two.

Justice Ginsburg has long been one of the nation's most important jurists, winning five landmark gender equality cases before the Supreme Court, decades before she joined it. Her success, and her staunch support of equal rights for women, have made her not just a legal force, but a pop cultural one: there are RBG books, RBG blogs, even RBG tattoos (not to mention the opera.)

Now, on the eve of the newest Supreme Court term, Justice Ginsburg is sharing her advice for living as successful a life. Among her counsel: don't pay attention to the haters.