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In Other Supreme Court News . . .

While the big news today was the denial of all same-sex marriage ban petitions the Court also heard its first argument of the term, Heien v. North Carolina, a Fourth Amendment “reasonable” search case from the home town of Andy Griffith: Mt Airy, North Carolina.

In April, 2009, Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Darisse – pictured above with beard (and dislexically id’d) as he waited in line for a seat in the courtroom this morning – was working “criminal interdiction” on Highway 77 when he pulled over a vehicle for having a stop light out. After asking permission to search the vehicle officers found a baggie of cocaine and the owner of the car, Nicholas Heien, was arrested along with the driver.

It turns out, however, that North Carolina law only requires “a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle” and since Heien’s car still had one good light the stop was illegal, and the cocaine “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

The question is whether the search was reasonable. After all, most of us would expect two working stop lights to be the law, and were surprised to learn otherwise (at least in NC). On the other hand ignorance of the law is no excuse for most defendants, so why should a police officer be allowed a mistake when enforcing the laws?

Not much has yet been published on today’s argument, and I have to confess that I get most of my information after the fact from what I read. I find it very difficult to draw and at the same time follow the thread of the argument; must be different parts of the brain – plus my wife says I’m hard-of-hearing. I did manage to pick up that Justice Scalia was never satisfied with the answer he got form petitioner’s lawyer, Jeffrey Fisher.

Above is my best drawing of the day, I think. Great subject.

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

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: , , , , ,

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 !!!

 

 

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

Three Opinions Today . . .

. . . thirteen yet to come (counting the two cell-phone search cases as one).

In Argentina v. NML Capital the Court sided with investors seeking to locate Argentina’s overseas assets in order to collect on bonds that went into default. Justice Scalia wrote for the majority while Justice Ginsburg, pictured here on the right, was the sole dissenter.

Justice Kagan, above, had the opinion in Abramski v. U.S., a case concerning “straw purchasers” of firearms. And Justice Thomas, below,  announced the unanimous opinion in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that state laws criminalizing false statements made about a candidate in an election can be challenged on First Amendment grounds even before anyone is actually prosecuted.

 

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

Whistleblower Free Speech and Breyer Holds Up Some Fingers

Edward Lane was fired from his job at an Alabama community college after testifying truthfully before a grand jury and at trial about corruption at the college. Lane sued saying he was let go in retaliation, but the lower courts, citing an earlier Supreme Court opinion, ruled against him. He was represented at the Court by lawyer Tejinder Singh, who I have to say was fun to draw.

On the other side of the argument were Alabama’s Attorney General, who’s drawing I never finished, and lawyer Mark Waggoner, who was at the lectern a bit longer.

You can read about it here.

Earlier, the Court heard arguments in a patent case, Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments. Biosig has a patent on a device used in exercise machines to measure heart rate. It’s basically a bar with incorporated electrodes that receive signals from contact with a person’s hands. Nautilus claims the patent is too vague, particularly in describing the placement of the electrodes.

Now comes Justice Breyer, “I’m a little confused here. Imagine there are two kinds of electrodes, a blue one and a green one, and you have a blue one and green one on left hand and a blue one and green one on right hand. . . you cannot let them touch . . .  I got that. And suppose on your left hand you put the blue one here and the green one there. And in the right hand, you put the blue in here and the green in here. . . . Does it work or not?”

And so it goes for awhile until Justice Scalia interrupts, “Let the record show that [Justice Breyer] is holding his fingers in the air.”

Anyway, it’s all “insolubly ambiguous”.

 

Posted in Arguments, 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: , , ,

Baseball Bats and Rotten Tomatoes

The lawyer for a home mortgage loan fraudfeasor (I learned a new word today) had a number of colorful hypotheticals tossed at him by the Justices as they tackled a question of restitution. Here’s what he had to juggle, starting with Justice Breyer who is the Talmudic scholar of hypotheticals:

Breyer: “Mrs. Smith, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.”. . “But I also gave her my valuable Babe Ruth bat.”

Alito: “Suppose what the person who perpetrated the fraud returns is a truckload of tomatoes . . . and by the time the tomatoes can be sold they’re all rotten.”

Scalia: “You’re really confusing me. I . . I . .both the baseball bat and the truckload of tomatoes?”

The case is Robers v. United States

 

 

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.

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

Motor Voter, Right to Silence and More

For a day without a real blockbuster it turned out to be an unusually busy one for me.

Among the Supreme Court decisions today was one that overturned an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. In an opinion announced by Justice Scalia the Court found that the federal Motor Voter law preempts Arizona’s law.

In another opinion, this one from Justice Alito, the Court said that if you want to  preserve your right to remain silent you’ve got to speak up.

I also finished a couple sketches I had started earlier, the Great Hall . . . . . . . and General Suter, the Clerk of the Court, calling up admissions to the bar.

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

The Morning After . . .

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. . . election day. Best not to read anything into it; Scalia often looks down while the Marshal calls the Court to order.

Posted in Supreme Court Tagged with: , ,
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