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”.
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
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.