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.
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.
. . . 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).
Justice Scalia’s chair and that part of the bench where he sat were draped in black cloth as a memorial today when the remaining eight Justices assembled to hear arguments. The memorial will remain in place for thirty days after which the seating of the Justices will be rearranged in order of seniority.
Chief Justice Roberts gave a brief tribute to saying, “Justice Scalia devoted nearly 30 years of his life to this Court in service to the Country he so loved.”
I came across my last sketch of Justice Scalia done on January 20, which it turns out was also his last day on the bench. He delivered the opinion in Kansas v. Carr. Scalia’s last dissent was in an opinion announced on January 25, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Electric Power Supply Association, but the Justice was not on the bench that day.
Then it was on to the first of two arguments heard this morning, Kingdomware Technologies v. U.S.
Didn’t have a chance to post yesterday’s sketches of two major Supreme Court decisions, Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities and King v. Burwell.
The big one, of course, was Obamacare and for the second time Chief Justice Roberts authored an opinion the saved Affordable Health Care.
I scanned the wide-shot before filling in the foreground with watercolor, and I think I like the result. Maybe I’ll continue this way, plus I’m naturally lazy and it’s less work.
And below is Justice Kennedy announcing his opinion reaffirming the Fair Housing Act ban on unintentional discrimination.
Gay-rights lawyers were seated in the first rows close to the bench when the opinion in Obergefell v Hodges was announced by Justice Kennedy. As it became clear that they had won big, that the Court had recognized a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, smiles broke out, backs were patted, and, once the Justices had left the bench, hugs all around.
Four decisions from the Supreme Court today included an opinion, Kimble v. Marvel, that quoted Spider-Man creators Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (Amazing Fantasy, No.15, “Spider-Man”, 1962), and a takings case, Horne v. Department of Agriculture, brought by California raisin growers.
In announcing the California raisins case from the bench Chief Justice Roberts said,“The Constitution does not allow the government to take your car without just compensation if it promises to return the quarters it finds in the seats.”
The Court returns Thursday and Friday with more decisions, at which time it will truly be the bottom of the ninth with the possibility of extra innings next week.
No major decisions from the Supreme Court yesterday meant that a slight gaffe by Justice Scalia got a bit more ink, or is it pixels?
At the end of announcing the Court’s opinion in Kerry v. Din, Scalia referred to Justice Ginsburg, one of the dissenters, as “Justice Goldberg”. “Sorry about that, Ruth,” said Scalia who continued to smile and appear red-faced as the Court moved to admissions to the bar.
Mark Walsh has written about it here in SCOTUSblog.