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

June 2017 Archives

Is RBG 'Bound by Law' to Recuse Herself on Travel Ban Case?

While the U.S. Supreme Court eases into the summer recess, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be working overtime on one issue: whether she should recuse herself from the Trump travel ban case.

In a letter to "Madam Justice Ginsburg," three score Republicans have bellowed, "Yes!" Other politicians and pundits say, "No!"

The debate will likely continue through the season, but everyone seems to agree on one point: Ginsburg, by law, will make the decision herself.

Justice Kennedy to Retire -- Again?

Remember when you were a kid, waking up before sunrise to see if Santa Claus had done his job yet?

You probably checked several times throughout the night before the moment finally came. And it did, of course, because Santa Claus was real -- at least until you got older.

So it is with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Every kid in the press corps has been checking like clockwork to see if he's there yet, and the rumors keep coming.

Wells Fargo's Win on Nevada Lien Law Left Intact by Supreme Court

In a tacit affirmation of another U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision this week, the U.S. Supreme Court left intact the appeals court's ruling that Nevada's lien law violated due process rights of mortgage lenders.

The Ninth Circuit said in Bourne Valley Court Trust v. Wells Fargo Bank last year that homeowners' associations should have to give notice to lenders before foreclosing on a property for delinquent dues. The Nevada law allowed the HOA to strip the bank's title without notice, unless the lender "opted-in" beforehand.

"How the mortgage lender, which likely had no relationship with the homeowners' association, should have known to ask is anybody's guess..." the appeals court said. "But this system was not just strange; in our view, it was also unconstitutional."

Supreme Court Won't Hear Handgun Case

Continuing a guarded approach to the Second Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away a case that said people need "good cause" for a permit to carry a concealed weapon in public.

The Court left intact Peruta v. County of San Diego, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said "there is no Second Amendment right for members of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public." As a result, most Californians will have a hard time getting concealed weapons permits.

Gun advocates promptly decried the High Court's action, just as they did when the Ninth Circuit ruled on the case. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined in dissent by Justice Neil Gorsuch, said the Supreme Court should have taken up the appeal.

Religious School Entitled to Public Playground Money

Heralded as a major church-state decision, the U.S. Supreme Court said a church-owned school is entitled to state funds available for playgrounds open to the public.

The decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer marked a turning point in the church-state debate and an ending point for the Court session. The justices have taken a recess for the summer.

Observers called the case a "major" decision under the Free Exercise clause. The decision prompted separate opinions from five justices, who voted 7-2 for the church.

Travel Ban Approved Against Some With No 'Bona Fide' Ties to U.S.

Reversing two appellate courts, the U.S. Supreme Court approved part of the President's travel ban against nationals from six Muslim nations and refugees.

The court said the President's executive order may be enforced against those people who have no bode fide connections in the United States. Those who already have families, work, or school in the county may continue to enter pending a hearing next session in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project.

Government Can't Take Citizenship From Refugee for Lying to Immigration

A Serbian refugee who lied to immigration officials cannot be stripped of her American citizenship because her lie was immaterial, the U.S. Supreme Court said.

"We have never read a statute to strip citizenship from someone who met the legal criteria for acquiring it," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in Maslenjak v. United States. "We will not start now."

The case involved one naturalized citizen, but it marks another setback to the Trump administration's policies against immigrants. It also marks a turning point in the Court, as the newest member of the panel said the decision goes too far.

Supreme Court: Detainees Can't Sue Government for Jailing After 9/11

The U.S. Supreme Court said illegal aliens who were jailed after the Sept. 11 attacks cannot sue top government officials, but they may proceed against the jailer.

In Ziglar v. Abassi, the court acknowledged that the six named plaintiffs -- including five Muslims -- suffered for months in a Brooklyn jail before they were deported. The court said what happened to them was "tragic," but the principal defendants were not liable for damages.

"There is ... a balance to be struck, in situations like this one, between deterring constitutional violations and freeing high officials to make the lawful decisions necessary to protect the nation in times of great peril," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court. "The proper balance is one for the Congress, not the Judiciary, to undertake."

Supreme Court: Sex Offenders Have Free Speech Rights to Use Social Media

Absolving a sex offender for posting on Facebook, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that banned registered sex offenders from using social media.

In the unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said the statute violated the First Amendment. It abridges "lawful speech as the means to suppress unlawful speech," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Packingham v. North Carolina.

"A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more," the Court said in affirming and remanding the widely reported case.

Trademark attorneys, brief your intake clerks, and tell them to get ready for the flood of unpopular clients. In a unanimous 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court held that the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act violates the First Amendment. The disparagement clause required rejection of a trademark "which may disparage ... persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute."

The case was brought by an Asian American music group named "The Slants" which had sought trademark protection for their controversial name. Originally, the Patent and Trademark Office denied their trademark application, and the subsequent appeal. The federal district court overturned the PTO's decision, but that ruling was appealed up to the Supreme Court. Today's SCOTUS ruling upheld the group's right to trademark protection, paving the way for other controversial "disparaging" trademarks.

Law Can't Favor Women in Child's Citizenship Case, Supreme Court Rules

In a victory for gender equity but a hollow one for a man facing deportation, the U.S. Supreme Court said immigration laws unlawfully discriminated against men by requiring them to be citizens longer than women when they seek citizenship for their children.

"The gender line Congress drew is incompatible with the requirement that the government accord to all persons 'the equal protection of the laws,'" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority in Sessions v. Morales-Santana.

The Immigration and Nationality Act had required an American man to be a resident for 10 years to confer citizenship on a child born later outside the United States. A woman, on the other hand, needed to be a resident for only one year.

The court said that law was unconstitutional. It did not help Luis Ramon Morales-Santana, however, whose father was an American.

Generics Win Brand-Name Drug Battle at Supreme Court

In a set-back to brand-name drug companies, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for a generic drug-manufacturer to sell its products after gaining approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The court lifted an injunction against Sandoz, Inc., which markets a biologic drug to stimulate production of white blood cells. The company had been marketing Zarxio in the United States, until Amgen, Inc. obtained an injunction for alleged patent infringement in Sandoz v. Amgen.

However, the justices reversed and said injunctive relief was not available under the applicable federal law.

High Court Says No Joint and Several Liability in Forfeiture

The U.S. Supreme Court said two brothers were not jointly and severally liable under a forfeiture statute for conspiring to distribute products used to make methamphetamine.

In Honeycutt v. United States, the High Court turned back prosecutors' claims that both brothers owed $269,751 in the case -- even though one of them did not profit personally from the crimes. The justices said the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act, 21 U. S. C. sec. 853(a)(1), limits forfeiture to property flowing from the crime.

"Forfeiture pursuant to sec. 853(a)(1) is limited to property the defendant himself actually acquired as the result of the crime," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the unanimous panel.

Veteran Wins Family Law Retirement Reduction in Taking Disability Pay

John Howell and his ex-wife Sandra divorced with an agreement that she would receive half of his military retirement, but he later opted for smaller disability payments because they were non-taxable.

In a unanimous ruling in Howell v. Howell, the U.S. Supreme Court said he does not have to make up the shortfall to his ex-spouse. Howell had to give up part of his retirement to receive the disability pay, and the court said federal law preempts states from treating waived military pay as divisible community property.

"While the divorce decree might be said to 'vest' Sandra with an immediate right to half of John's military retirement pay, that interest is, at most, contingent, depending for its amount on a subsequent condition: John's possible waiver of that pay," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the unanimous court.

Religious Hospitals Win Pension Dispute at Supreme Court

Church-affiliated hospitals are exempt from federal pension regulations, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

The unanimous Court said Congress established the law favoring church-affiliated organizations decades ago, exempting them from regulations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The Court rejected employees' arguments to narrow the church plan exemption, saying it would have led to a "must be wrong" outcome.

"We conclude that the hospitals have the better of the argument," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton.

After Trump's Travel Ban Reaches the Supreme Court, What's Next?

After being rebuffed by several courts that blocked his travel bans, President Trump may finally see his opponents in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump's lawyers filed a request for emergency relief in the High Court, saying it is a matter of national security. Justice Neil Gorsuch, newly appointed and the potential fifth conservative vote on the court, will have an opportunity to tip the scale in his favor.

But it is too early to tell how the court will handle the request. Observers say the court will likely agree to hear the case, but probably not rule on the travel ban until after a hearing in the fall.

Immigrant Can't Be Deported for Sex With Teen Girlfriend Under Federal Law

A 20-year-old immigrant who pleaded guilty to statutory rape of his 16-year-old girlfriend cannot be deported under federal law for sexual abuse of a minor, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

In a unanimous ruling in Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions, the High Court said that the age of consent for statutory rape is younger than 16 under federal law. The defendant was convicted under California law, which criminalizes consensual sex between an adult and anyone who is under 18.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court, said that difference doesn't work for deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act.