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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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Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court

Lethal Force and the High-Speed Chase

Frigid temperatures this morning means that, no, I didn’t sketch that Carolina wren al fresco outside the Supreme Court. A friend took a picture of it yesterday in Ellicott City which I stole for this composition. So, sue me.

Do police officers who fire shots at a vehicle during a high-speed chase violate the Fourth Amendment by using “unreasonable” force?  Most of the Justices seemed not to think so, as long as the chase itself poses a danger.

Chief Justice Roberts: “is there any situation in which it would violate clearly established constitutional law for the police to use lethal force?”

Michael Mosley: “I hate to use television as an example, but perhaps the way the white Ford Bronco fled in the early 90′s that everybody saw on TV.”

The lawyer arguing for the daughter of the driver slain in the volley of shots fired by the police was peppered with questions from the bench, often incredulous or sarcastic.

Justice Scalia: “Okay, . . . You think it is clearly established law that you cannot shoot to kill a driver whose car is moving? Is that it?” 

Gary K. Smith: “If . . . “

Scalia: “Is that the principle you say is clearly established?”

Smith: “If doing so . . . “

Scalia: “My goodness, they do it all the time. You watch the movies . . . it happens all the time. Are these movies unrealistic? You cannot shoot to kill somebody in a moving car?”

Smith: “In a . . . “

Scalia: “And that is not just your view. It is, you say, clearly established law?”

The case is Plumhoff v. Rickard

 

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Posted in Arguments, 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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Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court

Supreme Court Back From Winter Break

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Chief Justice Roberts stopped by the press room Tuesday morning to welcome back reporters. He said the Court would be announcing quite a few opinions, so be prepared to work through lunch.

Below are sketches of arguments the Court heard in Bowman v. Monsanto.
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Monsanto sells its brand of genetically engineered soybean seed to farmers with the stipulation that they will not replant the crop seed. Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman abided by Monsanto’s rules when he planted his first crop, but for a second late-season crop he decided to plant seed purchased from a grain elevator figuring much of it would seed grown from Monsanto’s Rounup resistant strain. He was right, but Monsanto sued.
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Bowman’s lawyer, Mark Walters, had a hard time convincing Justices that once Monsanto sold its seed the patent was exhausted. ”The Exhaustion Doctrine permits you to use the goods that you buy,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. “It never permits you to make another item from the item that you bought.”
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Monsanto’s lawyer Seth P. Waxman said the company “never would have produced what is, by now the most popular agricultural technology in America” if the patent had been so easily exhausted.

WaPo story here.

 

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Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s Health Care Opinion

My sketches from the announcement of the Court’s opinion, and dissents, on the Affordable Care Act. 6a00d8341cd0df53ef017742d379be970d-800wi

As they took their seats Justice Breyer was smiling; Sotomayor looked glum.

6a00d8341cd0df53ef017742d37ccf970d-piJustice Scalia was actually sitting as far back from Roberts as possible. Forgive the artistic license, but I wanted to get his expression in the frame. 6a00d8341cd0df53ef016767f89831970b-800wi

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Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court

Violent Videos and Arizona Campaign Finance

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Citing Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Homer and Dante, as well as Golding’s Lord of the Flies, in his opinion for the majority Justice Scalia said that violent speech, in this case video games, even when directed at children is still protected under the first amendment.

The case is Brown v. Entertainment Merchants.

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In another First Amendment case where the speech in question is privately raised campaign money the Court struck down an Arizona law that would provide matching funds to candidates who accept public financing.

“Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand” wrote Chief Justice Roberts in his majority opinion. SC110627_Kagan
Justice Kagan in her dissent, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer and Sotomayor, and announced from the bench wrote: “Petitioners . . . are making a novel argument: that Arizona violated their First Amendment rights by disbursing funds to other speakers even though they could have received (but chose to spurn) the same financila assistance”. She added,  “Some people might call that chutzpah.”

The consolidated cases are Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett.

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Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court

Sometimes a Funny Court

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.

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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.

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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. 

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Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court

Crafty Craft and Squirrely Squirrels

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Since corporations are “persons”, the lawyer for AT&T argued, it follows that corporations have “personal privacy”.   But Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that the adjective may not have the same meaning as it’s root : “Totally different. Crafty doesn’t have much to do with craft. Squirrel, squirrely. ….Same root, totally different”.       

Dahlia Lithwick writes about it here.

 

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Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court
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