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Goodbye Campaign Finance Reform

In an opinion that came as little surprise to anyone the Supreme Court today in McCutcheon v. FEC did away with aggregate limits on individual campaign contributions. Although the cap remains on individual contributions to a candidate, wealthy contributors are now free to give to as many candidates or political organizations as they please.

Dissenting, Justice Breyer responded to Chief Justice Roberts’ assertion that the possibility of circumventing the remaining base contribution limits are purely hypothetical and remote. “We react to (that claim) rather like Oscar Wilde reacted to Dickens’ depiction of the death of Little Nell. ‘One would have to have a heart of stone,’ said Wilde, ‘to read it without laughing.’”

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“Don We Now Our Gay Apparel . . . “

. . said Justice Scalia as he delivered the opinion in Sandifer v. U.S. Steel, explaining the use in this case of the somewhat archaic terms “don” and “doff”, as in “a well bred gentleman still doffs his hat to a lady”.In this case the union had an agreement with U.S. Steel that “time spent in changing clothes at the beginning or end of each workday” would not be compensated. The petitioners argued that they weren’t changing clothes, but donning and doffing protective gear. The Court did not go as far as U.S. Steel wanted and say “everything that a person wears” is clothing, but everything else is “de minims non curate lex”*.

* Trans.: the law does not take account of trifles

There once was a lawyer named Rex
With minuscule organs of sex.
        Arraigned for exposure,
        He maintained with composure,
"De minimis non curat lex."

 

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Today’s Sketches

No single big story at the Supreme Court today. That will come tomorrow when the Court hears the first abortion argument it has considered in several years regarding the buffer zone around clinics in Boston. So tune in tomorrow.

In the meantime here a today’s sketches of one opinion, delivered by Justice Ginsburg, and the two morning arguments (there was a third argument in the afternoon – unusual these days – but I didn’t attend).Justice Ginsburg announced the opinion of the Court that Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, could not be sued in California under the Alien Tort Act for crimes committed by its Argentinian subsidiary during that country’s “Dirty War”. I covered the arguments here.

The first argument, Executive Benefits v. Arkinson, about whether the power granted bankruptcy judges violates Article III of the constitution went in one ear and out the other, so you’ll have to read about it here. Same thing with the next argument, Brandt Revocable Trust v. U.S., although I did catch that it might have something to do with “Rails to Trails” and the possibility that someone might ride a bicycle through your house. SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston recaps the argument here.

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Posted in Arguments, Opinions, Supreme Court

Big Wins For Gay Marriage

On the last day of the its term the Supreme Court today handed twin victories to the cause of marriage equality.

If there was an empty seat in the courtroom I couldn’t see it.

Justice Kennedy had the first opinion, U.S. v Windsor, in which the Court found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.And of course Justice Scalia read a lenghty dissent.

The second victory for same-sex marriage was by default in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts where the Court found that the petitioners in support of California’s Proposition 8 lacked standing, thereby allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand.

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Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court

Supreme Court Waters Down Voting Rights Act

A 5-4 divided Court today struck down a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, effectively putting the burden on victims of voter descrimination to seek relief. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for a majority that included Justices Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy and Alito.In a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagan, Justice Ginsburg wrote, “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the Voting Rights Act”.

Lyle Denniston’s take on the opinion is here.

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Fisher Fails to Finish ‘Firmative Action

On the first day of what promises to be a steamy week in Washington, at least outside the Supreme Court building, the Court announced its opinion in a long awaited affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas. When the case was argued back in October it appeared that the University’s use of race as an admissions factor might be struck down.Instead, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Court said such programs must meet the test of “strict scrutiny” as well as being“narrowly tailored”.

Surprisingly, for a case argued at the beginning of the term, there was but one dissenter in the 7-1 decision (Justice Kagan took no part), Justice Ginsburg.

 ”The Court rightly declines to cast off the equal protection framework …”, writes Ginsburg. “Yet it stops short of reaching the conclusion that (it) warrants.”

Justice Alito took a sip from his coffee cup.

 

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Motor Voter, Right to Silence and More

For a day without a real blockbuster it turned out to be an unusually busy one for me.

Among the Supreme Court decisions today was one that overturned an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. In an opinion announced by Justice Scalia the Court found that the federal Motor Voter law preempts Arizona’s law.

In another opinion, this one from Justice Alito, the Court said that if you want to  preserve your right to remain silent you’ve got to speak up.

I also finished a couple sketches I had started earlier, the Great Hall . . . . . . . and General Suter, the Clerk of the Court, calling up admissions to the bar.

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Opinion on Gene Patent

Camera crews set up by the Supreme Court plaza on a steamy morning with thunderstorms, and even a possible derecho, forecast. Also in the forecast was the possibility of a major decision in one of the remaining twenty-three cases argued earlier in the term.

The Court did not dissapoint the court-watchers, delivering a far reaching opinion on the patenting of natural genes. In his opinion for the Court in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics Justice Thomas said, “Myriad did not create anything.” However the Court also found that a synthetic version of the gene created by Myriad was patentable.

There now remain nineteen undecided cases.

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California Raisins and Ex Post Facto

No opinions today on any of the big Supreme Court cases everyone has been watching and waiting for, but we did get :SCOTUS opinion: Horne v. Dept. of Agriculture

 Horne v. Department of Agriculture, in which California raisin growers won the right to challenge the constitutionality of regulatory fees…….

….. and Peugh v. United States, where the Court agreed with Marvin Peugh that the longer sentence he received under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines that were revised upward after he committed his crime were an ex post facto violation.Justice Sotomayor: Peugh v. U.S

The Court also announce a third opinion, a class arbitration case, but I didn’t finish the sketch of Justice Kagan ….she sits so far away.

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DNA Sampling No Different Than Fingerprinting

SCOTUS opinion: Maryland v. King

In an opinion delivered by Justice Kennedy today the Supreme Court said that taking a DNA sample from a suspect is the same as fingerprinting someone upon arrest, and that the purpose is indentification of the suspectJustice Kennedy Maryland v. King  “When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” said Justice Kennedy.Justice Scalia: Maryland v. King

“That assertion taxes the credulity of the credulous,” said Justice Scalia in a dissent delivered from the bench. “In approving that suspicionless search, the Court has cast aside a bedrock rule of our Fourth Amendment …”

The case is Maryland v. King

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