Blog Archives

Alabama Redistricting

After the 2010 census Alabama redrew its voting map with the result that some districts became more white/Republican and others more black/Democratic. Two groups, the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference challenged the state’s redistricting plan saying that the plan “packed” predominantly African American districts on the basis of race.

It’s a complicated and unusual case where the sides historically arguing racial quotas have switched. Rather than attempt to explain the argument, I’ll just post my pictures and refer the reader to Richard Hansen’s analysis on SCOTUSblog.

” . . the so-called “crab claws” that the parties describe that extend out from the district capture African American populations.” -Solicitor General Verrilli

 

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , ,

“Everyone Loves Cell Phones . . .

. . . Nobody likes towers, apparently.” said Justice Breyer during yesterday’s argument in T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell.

The city council of Roswell, Georgia – which has more cell towers than square miles – denied a request by T-Mobile to erect a cell phone tower in a residential area. No reason for the decision was given in the city’s letter of denial though the meeting minutes were supplied within a few weeks.

T-Mobile’s lawyer told the Court that the explicit reasons “supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record” should accompany the city’s decision.

The Solicitor General’s lawyer said that it is sufficient that the reasons for the denial may be found in the minutes.

And the lawyer for the City of Roswell suggested an interesting approach in that he supported the SG’s argument that the reasoning can be found in the minutes but added that the letter of denial was not actually the decision. The decision by the city council, he argued, was not taken until the minutes were approved. The earlier letter of denial was merely a notification.

There was, of course, much more to the argument than what I’m capable of reporting. For more see Miriam Seifter’s analysis on SCOTUSblog.

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , , ,

A Banner Day for Fish Stories

The case of a Florida fisherman convicted under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for destroying potential evidence – in this case red grouper – had the potential for comedy when the Supreme Court heard arguments today. To that end, I did my part. I regularly do a banner sketch for SCOTUSblog in the morning when I arrive at the Court, usually of the line on the plaza outside or of lawyers waiting to be admitted to the bar. This morning I tried something a little different.

Anyway, hope you like it. Below are a couple sketches from the argument. And here is a link to Lyle Denniston’s account of how it went – not so good for the government, I’m afraid.

The case is Yates v. U.S.

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , ,

Good Day in Court for TSA Whistleblower

When the Transportation Safety Administration decided to cut back on air marshals for overnight flights one of those marshals leaked the information to MSNBC. Congress was furious when the news broke and the TSA promptly withdrew the cutbacks.

Former air marshal Robert MacLean was fired when the agency learned that he was the source of the leak. MacLean then appealed under the Whistleblower Protection Act, but was turned down because the act does not protect disclosures “specifically prohibited by law”. But the fact is that MacLean never broke the law, only TSA rules, and so he won in the lower court.

The Supreme Court agreed to the government’s petition seeking a reversal, but today at argument that seemed unlikely.

 

Several justices pointed out that the act refers only to laws, not agency regulations. “So it is prohibited by regulations, let’s not play games,” Justice Antonin Scalia told deputy solicitor general Ian Gershengorn.

The lawyer for the former air marshal, Neal Katyal, had an easier time. “The facts,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told him, “are very much in your favor here.”

 

 

 

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: ,

Passport Case and Forgot to Turn the Clock Back

Trouble With The Clocks

As usual the Justices came to the bench at 10:00 sharp but the clock above them showed 8:00. The clock at the other end of the courtroom read noon, or midnight. Seems nobody remembered to turn the clocks back this weekend as we went off Daylight Saving Time.

“I’ll alert counsel that the clock behind you is not accurate” said Chief Justice Roberts. “You shouldn’t look at the clock anyway, but particularly not today”.

With that said, and as the hands on the clock faces continued to move in fits and starts, always out of time, the Court heard arguments in Zivotofsky v. Kerry.

The case, about a law passed by Congress in 2002 that orders the State Department to “record the place of birth as Israel” in the passports of American children born in Jerusalem, was first heard by the Supreme Court in 2011.

Lyle Denniston’s take on the argument is here.

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , ,

MS Drug Patent Argument

Usually trial courts are the exclusive finders of facts and appellate courts are limited to questions of law, but apparently that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to patent law. In a dispute between Teva Pharmaceuticals, which holds the patent on the very profitable multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone, and companies that want to begin marketing a generic version the trial court sided with Teva. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which reviews patent cases, however, looks at all elements of a patent claim as legal issues, including the factual conclusions of the trial court and reversed.

Even though Teva’s patent expires in September of next year the amount of money at stake is huge – in the billions. Also at stake is a shift of power from the Federal Circuit.

The case is Teva Pharmaceuticals v. Sandoz

Here are my sketches and a link to Lyle’s SCOTUSblog analysis of the argument.

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: ,

I Am Not An Anti-Dentite . . .

. . . nor do I have anything against teeth whitening. I suppose it is an important case, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTCabout whether state licensing boards made up of private professionals may violate anti-trust laws, and the argument was lively, but I’ll just post my two sketches and a link to Adam Liptak’s article and call it a night.

Liptak’s NYT story here.

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , ,

The Long and Short of Prison Beards

Arkansas prisons limit the length of inmates’ beards to a quarter inch. One of those inmates, a Muslim whose faith requires a full beard, tried to compromise by only growing his beard to a half inch but that was still too long for the warden. Contraband might be concealed in the half-inch beard, or the inmate could change his appearance to evade detection by shaving the beard.

None of those arguments were even considered plausible by the justices when the case, Holt v. Hobbs, was argued today. Justice Alito suggested using a comb on the beard “to see if a SIM card – or a revolver – falls out.” And Scalia asked why not take a photo of the inmate before he grows the beard?

“You’re really just making your case too easy”, the chief justice told petitioner’s lawyer, Douglas Laycock pictured above.

Arkansas Deputy Attorney General David A. Curran didn’t have much to show why the courts should defer to the bureau of prisons.

All bets are that the Court votes 9-0; not even close to a close shave.

 

 

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , , ,

In Other Supreme Court News . . .

While the big news today was the denial of all same-sex marriage ban petitions the Court also heard its first argument of the term, Heien v. North Carolina, a Fourth Amendment “reasonable” search case from the home town of Andy Griffith: Mt Airy, North Carolina.

In April, 2009, Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Darisse – pictured above with beard (and dislexically id’d) as he waited in line for a seat in the courtroom this morning – was working “criminal interdiction” on Highway 77 when he pulled over a vehicle for having a stop light out. After asking permission to search the vehicle officers found a baggie of cocaine and the owner of the car, Nicholas Heien, was arrested along with the driver.

It turns out, however, that North Carolina law only requires “a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle” and since Heien’s car still had one good light the stop was illegal, and the cocaine “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

The question is whether the search was reasonable. After all, most of us would expect two working stop lights to be the law, and were surprised to learn otherwise (at least in NC). On the other hand ignorance of the law is no excuse for most defendants, so why should a police officer be allowed a mistake when enforcing the laws?

Not much has yet been published on today’s argument, and I have to confess that I get most of my information after the fact from what I read. I find it very difficult to draw and at the same time follow the thread of the argument; must be different parts of the brain – plus my wife says I’m hard-of-hearing. I did manage to pick up that Justice Scalia was never satisfied with the answer he got form petitioner’s lawyer, Jeffrey Fisher.

Above is my best drawing of the day, I think. Great subject.

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , ,

Alito’s Day, But Ginsburg Has The Last Word

There was a long line and demonstrators, both pro-choice and pro-life (though no pro or anti-union for the Harris case that I could see) outside the Supreme Court this morning on the last decision day of the term.

Inside the courtroom the press was there in full force; retired Justice Stevens was seated on the opposite side in the VIP section; the section for members of the bar never quite filled up, but there were plenty of spectators.

The bleached faux-hawk in the public section caught my attention. I was told these visitors are teachers attending the Supreme Court Summer Institute.

Justice Alito had both opinions for the last day, Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn. He started with Harris in which the Court ruled that “partial public employees” such as homecare  workers paid under Medicaid that do not belong to the union representing public employees do not have to pay a fee to the union to support collective bargaining.

Alito’s second opinion, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, drew the most attention. The decision gives for-profit family owned corporations the same rights as persons under The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) which prohibits “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion . . ” Two family owned Christian businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities appealed under RFRA because they objected to the requirement under Obamacare that cover the costs of certain contraceptives for their employees.

Justice Ginsburg dissented. “The court forgets that religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers,” she wrote. “For-profit corporations do not fit that bill.”

 

Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , , , , ,
2013_Blawg100Honoree_300x300
TWITTER @courtartist

Blog Updates

Enter your name and email below to receive blog updates via email.