In his opinion for the Court finding that former Attorney General John Ashcroft could not be sued for improper use of the material witness law in the detention of Abudulla al-Kidd, onetime University of Idaho football star, born Lavoni T. Kidd, Justice Scalia wrote :
“Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions, when properly applied it protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.
“Ashcroft deserves neither label.”
In a unanimous decision the Justices did not rule on the Fourth Amendment issue of unreasonable search and seizure, an area that acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal barely touched on during oral arguments in March.
The case is Ashcroft v. al-Kidd.
Lyle Denniston’s take on SCOTUSblog is here.
In the first of Arizona’s recently enacted laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration the Supreme Court supported the rights of states to pass laws such as the Legal Arizona Workers Act which withdraws licensing from businesses that employ illegals.
The opinion, written by Chief Justice Roberts, turned on whether the Arizona law is a “licensing law” that escapes the federal preemption doctrine.
The case is Chamber of Commerce, et al. v. Whiting, et al.
Another Arizona law, one that gives police the authority to detain and arrest anyone suspected of being an unlawful alien, is working it’s way to the Supreme Court.
Andrew Cohen writes about all of it here.
The Supreme Court today upheld the release of over 30,000 prisoners in California as one remedy for overcrowding. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion in the bitterly divided, 5-4, case : Brown v. Plata ( formerly Schwarzenegger v. Plata when argued November 30, 2010 ).
As is becoming more common in cases where there is sharp disagreement Justice Scalia read his pungent – adjective stolen from NYT’s Liptak – dissent from the bench as Kennedy – on the right below – stared straight ahead.
Andrew Cohen has written about the Court’s decision and the long simmering issue of growing prisoner population here.
In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court today ruled that ordinary citizens cannot challenge an Arizona program that gave a dollar-for-dollar credit to taxpayers who donated to a School Tuition Organizations, or STOs, which in turn direct money to religious activities.
In reading the opinion of the Court, Justice Kennedy said the taxpayers lacked “standing“.
Bloomberg has story here.
Until recently the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts has had a reputation of being friendly to business, but in two decisions delivered today the court continues a recent trend of rulings less favorable to business.
In the first opinion, authored by Justice Sotomayor, a unanimous Court said that stockholders could sue the makers of Zicam nasal spray.
And in a 6-2 opinion ( Justice Kagan took no part ) Justice Breyer wrote that a worker at a plastics factory was protected from retaliatory actions.
Click here for Robert Barnes’ WaPo article.
I stuck around to hear/watch arguments in a case, Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri, concerning the First Amendment’s petition clause. Some of the historical precedent cited reached back as far as Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest. Respondent’s lawyer, Eric Schnapper : “If you had a problem in England, if the undersheriff took your cow, you could go to the sheriff, but historically, that wasn’t called a petition. If you went to the king, that was a petition,”
Now that’s entertainment!
A sketch of Justice Ginsburg reading her opinion in Skinner v. Switzer :
WaPo story here.
While the big news a the Supreme Court today was the decision in Snyder v. Phelps, arguments in another of this term’s big cases was being heard : Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd.
Abudulla al-Kidd, formerly Lavni T. Kidd, was born and raised in the U.S. and converted to Islam while in college. He has never had ties to any terrorist organization, yet in 2003 he was arrested as he was about to board a plane for Saudi Arabia where he planned to study. He was held as a material witness for fifteen days, but never asked to testify, nor was he ever charged with a crime. Al-Kidd filed suit against then Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying that the the improper use of the material witness statute violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal barely touched on the Fourth Amendment, arguing that the Attorney General should have absolute immunity from such suits.
Found the story on CP ( The Canadian Press ) here.
A few chuckles at the Court yesterday ( see Dahlia Lithwick’s story in Slate ), so I thought I’d post a couple doodles I did as the Justices announced their opinions.
In his opinion in Staub v. Proctor Hospital Justice Scalia said it was a “cat’s paw case”.
He was quoting the Seventh Circuit’s Judge Posner, but the reference is to a fable by Jean de La Fontaine.
And Chief Justice Roberts, to explain why the Court unanimously found that AT&T does not posses personal privacy, even if it is a person, cited the distinct meanings of “corn” and “corny”, and “crank” and “cranky” ( see “Crafty Craft & Squirrel Squirrels” ). He concluded his opinion by saying, “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally”.
For the record, Justice Scalia does not posses a cat’s paw and the Chief Justice did not hold up an ear of corn.
Justice Ginsburg today announced the opinion of the Court in three cases testing “honest services” statutes, the most notable of which is the case of Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling. A unanimous Court found that laws proscribing the fraudulent deprivation of “the intangible right of honest service” are unconstitutionally vague, and must be limited to bribery and kickback schemes (you can now go ahead and give that lucrative public contract to your brother-in-law, just don’t ask for your share).
Is this what was augured when the wheel fell off the cart?
For more on how this may affect the Blagojevich trial go here.
Rough sketches of Justices announcing yesterday’s opinions.