Infuriated that her husband had sexual relations with her best friend, Carol Anne Bond smeared toxic chemicals she obtained at work and over the internet on her rival’s home and car. The chemicals were plainly visible, turning orange on contact with metal, and the object of her anger suffered, in all, only a minor burn to her thumb. Unfortunately for Bond, she also put the chemical on a mailbox which led to federal charges under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998. Fortunately for the Constitution the Supreme Court decided that the prosecution may have been a little over-zealous.
“The use of something as a ‘weapon’ typically connotes an instrument of . . . combat,” said Chief Justice Roberts in his opinion. “But no speaker in natural parlance would describe Bond’s feud-driven act of spreading irritating chemicals on Haynes’s door knob and mailbox as ‘combat’.” . . . “Nor do the other circumstances of Bond’s offense – an act of revenge born of romantic jealousy, meant to cause discomfort, that produced nothing more than a minor thumb burn – suggest that a chemical weapon was deployed in Norristown, Pennsylvania.”
Roberts also points out that unlike John Singer Sargent’s 20 by 8 foot painting of blinded mustard-gassed soldiers on a WWI battlefield, “There are no life-sized paintings of Bond’s rival washing her thumb.”
The case is Bond v. United States
The Supreme Court is now in that final stretch of the October 2013 Term when it remains, after all cases have been argued, to issue opinions before recessing at the end of June. Today the Court announced its decisions in four cases, two of which I sketched below.
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion in Hall v. Florida, ruling that an IQ score one point above the threshold should not be enough to make someone eligible for the death penalty.
And in a case where the Secret Service was sued for moving protesters opposed to President Bush further away than another group supporting the president the Court sided with the Secret Service. Justice Ginsburg had the opinion in Wood v. Moss.
I used to have a naive belief that the courts were there to protect the rights of individuals and minorities but a couple of recent Supreme Court decisions show how mistaken I was. Two weeks ago in Schuette, and yesterday in Town of Greece, Justice Kennedy has come to the defense of the poor put-upon, oppressed by a hypersensitive minority, majority.
In a deeply divided plurality opinion the Court endorsed prayer at town-board meetings even if they almost exclusively invoked the name of Jesus – after all the town is majority Christian – as long as they don’t ” . . . threaten damnation, or preach conversion”.
All you others, stop whining.
Garrett Epps has it very well here.
On my way to the Supreme Court yesterday morning I read a Tweet that said it was unlikely the Court would announce any major opinion today since two big cases were scheduled for argument. Well, so much for the Twitter tea leaves.
Justice Kennedy announced the opinion in Schuette v.Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action saying, ” this case is not about . . . race-conscious admissions policies.” The 6-2 opinion approves a Michigan ban on the use of racial preferences in state university admissions.
In a fierce and lengthy dissent from the bench Justice Sotomayor castigated the majority opinion that “fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the injustice.”
Great quote from Garrett Epps in The Atlantic: Does anybody else think it could be a problem to put the question of minority rights to a majority vote in state initiatives?
I wonder what Cecilia Marshall, widow of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, and her son, Thurgood “Goodie” Marshall Jr., thought of the Court’s decision?
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.'”
. . 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."
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.
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.
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.
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.