It’s been a strange Supreme Court term, like a meal that doesn’t satisfy. With only eight members on the bench after Justice Scalia’s death the odds were good that the last blockbuster opinion of the term would fall to a tie.
But, once again, Justice Kennedy was the fulcrum that allowed the Court to do some heavy lifting. In a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Breyer in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt the lie was exposed that Texas’ restrictive abortion clinic regulations were enacted to protect women’s health.
That left the dissenters arguing only on procedural grounds that Whole Woman’s Health had lost an earlier round and should never have got another bite of the apple.
Oh, and there was also the unanimous opinion in McDonnell v. United States. It’s perfectly okay now, through gifts and cash, to purchase access to politicians, even if it stinks.
The big news of course on Monday was the Supreme Court’s per curiam opinion in Zubik v. Burwell (and other consolidated cases) that decided nothing but encouraged the two sides to reach a compromise.
The other case left hanging is Spokeo v. Robins. In a 6-2 opinion the Court asked the Ninth Circuit to take another look at the “concreteness” of the harm to Thomas Robins when Spokeo.com posted inaccurate information about him.
An interesting case, and not just because I live in Baltimore.
Majestic Auto Repair was paying up to $300 for each damaged vehicle Baltimore police would steer their way from the scene of an accident. By the time the FBI broke up the deal some sixty officers were involved.
One of the officers, Samuel Ocasio, was tried and convicted on three counts of extortion and one count of conspiracy to commit. He appealed the conspiracy conviction on the grounds that in order to conspire to obtain property “from another,” conspirators must agree to obtain property from someone outside the conspiracy. Since the conspiracy was between Ocasio and the owners of Majestic Auto Repair who were paying the bribes out of their own pockets, and not “from another”, there was no conspiracy.
The Court didn’t buy it. Justice Alito delivered the 5-3 opinion, sketched above. For an in-depth explanation of the opinion go here.
The Supreme Court heard their last argument of the term yesterday, an appeal of former Virginia governor McDonnell’s conviction for accepting gifts and favors in exchange for “official acts”. I wasn’t there to sketch it. Instead I was covering the sentencing of former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (those sketches will be posted soon).
The last day of argument for me was Monday when the Court heard two cases related to copyright and patents, not usually the most exciting. I could follow the first case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., which first came to the Supreme Court a couple of terms back and now returns on the issue of awarding attorney fees.
But the second case, Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, left me so confused I’ll just post the sketches.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court released three opinions, two of which made news, one of which – Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission – I sketched. I would’ve sketched the opinion in Bank Markazi v Peterson, that upheld a law directing Iranian assets to go to victims of terrorism, except I really couldn’t see much of Justice Ginsburg’s tiny figure hunched behind the bench as she delivered the opinion.
Sketches of the argument in Birchfield v. North Dakota, actually three cases concerning state laws that make it a crime to refuse a warrantless blood-alcohol test when stopped for DUI, are below.
iPads and smartphones are not normally permitted in the courtroom but an exception was made for members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association at the Supreme Court on Tuesday for the swearing in ceremony. American Sign Language interpreters were also present, seated in front of the bench right below Justice Kagan.
After the lawyers were presented Chief Justice Roberts used sign-language granting the motion to admit them to the bar. I wasn’t able to actually see the Chief signing as my view was blocked by the lawyers standing in front of me.
I also sketched the argument in United States v. Bryant.
. . . and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was before the Supreme Court today.
A very large crowd supporting the president’s immigration policy was gathered in front of the Court’s plaza. Some had been there since Friday hoping to get a seat inside the courtroom for the arguments in United States v. Texas. And the courtroom was in fact packed with spectators full of anticipation, hoping to get an inkling as to which way the Justices may rule.
But at the end of the hour and half of mostly technical argument there was little to glean. You an read about it here.
. . . in Evenwel v. Abbott.
Wearing her gold, star-pointy, jabot-like whatchamacallit Ginsburg announced the unanimous decision that “one person, one vote” means Texas may draw voting districts according to total population as it does now, and is not required, as the petitioners claimed, to count only eligible voters. But the Court said “may,” not must, and the question whether it would be equally permissible to count only voters in determining districts is not settled.
I also did this Hiroshige inspired banner sketch for SCOTUSblog on this lovely spring morning (the weather for the rest of the week may not be so pleasant).
No blockbuster arguments at the Court this week, though a pretty significant 4-4 decision in the teachers’ union case and an unusual call for further briefs on ACA contraception.
I spent most of my time preparing for the final round of arguments in April, penciling in the architecture of the courtroom and getting use to the Justices’ new seating arrangement. Here are the few sketches that I did manage to finish.
I don’t understand much of this case that was heard last Tuesday by just seven justices, Alito having recused. What seemed most notable, at least to me, was that Justice Kennedy didn’t ask a single question (neither did Thomas, but that’s expected). Justice Sotomayor, of course, took an active role.
Here’s a link to Lyle’s piece on the argument. And below are my few sketches.