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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 . . .


. . . 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: , ,

The Fabulist Justice Scalia

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.


Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court Tagged with: , ,

Violent Videos and Arizona Campaign Finance

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. 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.

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

Class Action and Global Warming

As the Supreme Court comes into the final stretch of the term opinions on some of the eagerly awaited bigger cases are coming down.  SC110620_Scalia

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.


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

Narrow Ruling on Material Witness Law

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.

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