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
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.
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.
. . . election day. Best not to read anything into it; Scalia often looks down while the Marshal calls the Court to order.
Reading his opinion in a mortgage-settlement kickback case, Freeman v. Quicken Loans, Justice Scalia went to Aesop’s fables to illustrate a point.
“Aesop’s fable would be just as wryly humorous if the lion’s claim to the entirety of the kill he hunted in partnership with less ferocious animals had been translated into English as the “lion’s portion” instead of the lion’s share,” he wrote.
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.
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.
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.
As the Supreme Court comes into the final stretch of the term opinions on some of the eagerly awaited bigger cases are coming down.
Today Justice Scalia delivered the opinion in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the largest ever class-action suit. Brought by female employees of the retail giant it accused Wal-Mart of sex discrimination in pay and promotion. Not surprisingly Wal-Mart won.
The other opinion on my watch list to come down today, American Electric Power Co. v. Conn., did not get as much attention. In an opinion written by Justice Ginsburg the Court said that the regulation of greenhouse gases is the job of the EPA, and that States cannot make an end run around the Clean Air Act by filling a “public nuisance” claim in federal court.
ScotusBlog’s Lyle Denniston on the global warming case can be found here.
NYT article on Wal-Mart is here.
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.
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.
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.