It’s been a strange Supreme Court term, like a meal that doesn’t satisfy. With only eight members on the bench after Justice Scalia’s death the odds were good that the last blockbuster opinion of the term would fall to a tie.
But, once again, Justice Kennedy was the fulcrum that allowed the Court to do some heavy lifting. In a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Breyer in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt the lie was exposed that Texas’ restrictive abortion clinic regulations were enacted to protect women’s health.
That left the dissenters arguing only on procedural grounds that Whole Woman’s Health had lost an earlier round and should never have got another bite of the apple.
Oh, and there was also the unanimous opinion in McDonnell v. United States. It’s perfectly okay now, through gifts and cash, to purchase access to politicians, even if it stinks.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court released three opinions, two of which made news, one of which – Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission – I sketched. I would’ve sketched the opinion in Bank Markazi v Peterson, that upheld a law directing Iranian assets to go to victims of terrorism, except I really couldn’t see much of Justice Ginsburg’s tiny figure hunched behind the bench as she delivered the opinion.
Sketches of the argument in Birchfield v. North Dakota, actually three cases concerning state laws that make it a crime to refuse a warrantless blood-alcohol test when stopped for DUI, are below.
. . . Nobody likes towers, apparently.” said Justice Breyer during yesterday’s argument in T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell.
The city council of Roswell, Georgia – which has more cell towers than square miles – denied a request by T-Mobile to erect a cell phone tower in a residential area. No reason for the decision was given in the city’s letter of denial though the meeting minutes were supplied within a few weeks.
T-Mobile’s lawyer told the Court that the explicit reasons “supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record” should accompany the city’s decision.
The Solicitor General’s lawyer said that it is sufficient that the reasons for the denial may be found in the minutes.
And the lawyer for the City of Roswell suggested an interesting approach in that he supported the SG’s argument that the reasoning can be found in the minutes but added that the letter of denial was not actually the decision. The decision by the city council, he argued, was not taken until the minutes were approved. The earlier letter of denial was merely a notification.
There was, of course, much more to the argument than what I’m capable of reporting. For more see Miriam Seifter’s analysis on SCOTUSblog.
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
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.