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Two “Faux-nanimous” Supreme Court Decisions

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate magazine, coined the term “faux-nanimous” for the kind of unanimous decisions the Supreme Court delivered today where concurring opinions read more like dissents. Read her article, you’ll like it. And I’ll just go ahead and post my pictures.

UPDATE: Another great article on the “faux-nanimous” opinions, this time from professor Garret Epps for The Atlantic

Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , , , ,

Four Down, Four To Go

The Supreme Court had decisions on four more cases today, though only three opinions because the two cell phone cases were treated as one. In a unanimous decision the Court ruled that a warrant is required to search an individual’s cell phone.

In his opinion for the Court Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the founders fought.”

In another significant decision concerning technology Justice Breyer delivered the opinion in ABC v. Aereo in which the broadcast network’s copyright protection triumphed over Aereo’s innovative program delivery model that sought to bypass royalties.

That leaves four decisions in argued cases – three from January, one from March – to be announced. It is expected that the  Court will meet two more days since the chief justice has not yet announced the final day as is custom.

 

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Final Week For Supreme Court?

The Court announced opinions in three more cases today, two of which are sketched below. I think that leaves eight, or nine if you count the two cell-phone search cases separately. More opinions on Wednesday and Thursday, and the possibility that the final opinion(s) won’t come until next Monday.

Justice Scalia announced a knobbly opinion in Utility Air v. EPA, from which both sides have claimed a win. And the Chief Justice, below, had the opinion in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund on certification of a class action in securities fraud.

SCOTUSblog’s videographer, Fabrizio di Piazza, took this beatific photo of me this morning working on the sketch you see at the top of the post.

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Thanks Fabri !!!

 

 

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“Chemical Carol” Not Guilty Under Treaty

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

 

Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , ,

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.'”

Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court Tagged with: , ,

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

 

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , ,

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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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.

Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , , , , ,

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.

 

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , ,

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 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
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