Friday, July 2, 2010

Major Rulings of the Supreme Court's 2009-10 Term

This week marked the end of Supreme Court's 2009-10 term. It was also the end of the John Paul Stevens era, as retiring Justice Stevens ascended the bench this week for the last time.

The end of the 2009-2010 term provides a good opportunity to summarize the important decisions handed down this term. Here is a brief summary of the major rulings:

Free Speech and Criminal Law:
United States v. Stevens: The Court struck down a law that prohibited the sale and marketing of depictions of animal cruelty, in a case that involved dog-fighting videos. The Court held that the law swept too broadly, infringing on First Amendment rights. See my previous discussion of the case here.
Majority-Minority: 8-1 (Alito dissenting).

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project
: The Court rejected a First Amendment challenge to a federal law that makes it a crime to provide "expert advice or assistance" to designated terrorist groups. Read my previous analysis here.
Majority-Minority: 6-3 (Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Breyer dissenting).

Campaign-Finance Regulation:
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: The Court declared that government cannot restrict corporate and labor union spending on political candidates, lifting the long-standing distinctions in campaign-finance law between corporations and individuals.
Majority-Minority: 5-4 (Stevens, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Breyer dissenting; Justice Stevens wrote a forceful dissent and read it from the bench!).

Religious Symbols:
Salazar v. Buono: Reversing a lower-court decision against a federal law designed to keep a Christian cross in the Mojave National Preserve even after it was ruled a government endorsement of religion; the justices used a legal rationale that would strengthen the government's ability to keep religious symbols on public grounds.
Majority-Minority: 5-4 (Stevens, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Breyer dissenting).

Criminal Law and Procedure:
Berghuis v. Thompkins: Declaring that once police have read a suspect his Miranda rights and questioning has beugn, it is up to the individual in custody to assert his right to remina silent. The case arose when a suspect declined to answer hours of questions, then blurted out an incriminating statement but claimed that he had wanted to remina silent and that the statement was not made voluntarily. The Court ruled against the defendant and held the statement admissible.
Majority-Minority: 5-4 (Stevens, Binsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor dissenting)

Maryland v. Shatzer: The issue was whether a detained suspect who has asked to speak to a lawyer can ever be questioned again without a lawyer present. In a 1981 case, Edwards v. Arizona, the Supreme Court held that when a detained suspect asks to speak with a lawyer, the police cannot try to persuade him to change his mind. They have to stop the questioning, and they cannot restart the questioning, even after time passes and the suspect has met with his attorney, unless the suspect reinitiates the questioning on his own. In this case, the issue was whether that rule continues to apply if the suspect has been released from police custody, and is then rearrested. The Court held there is a "14-day rule" meaning that investigators may resume questioning a suspect who invoked his Miranda right to a lawyer, once the suspect has been out of police custody for 14 days. The decision loosened the protection that court precedents had given to suspcts from repeated police pressure to talk.
Majority-Minority: 7-2 (Stevens and Thomas dissenting).

Skilling v. United States: Invalidating part of the fraud conviction of former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling and finding that a law that makes it a crime to deprive the public or shareholders of the "intangible right to honest services" should apply only to bribery and kickbacks.
Majoriy-Minority: 9-0.

Black v. United States: Invalidating part of the fraud conviction of former media tycoon Conrad Black, based on the ruling in the Skilling case that "honest services" fraud applies only to acts of bribery and kickbacks.
Majority-Minority: 9-0.

United States v. Comstock: Upholding the constitutionality of the law that lets the government continue to imprison inmates who have finished serving their time, if they are deemed "sexually dangerous."
Majority-Minority: 7-2 (Scalia and Thomas dissenting).


Juvenile Sentencing:

Graham v. Florida: Ruling that the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment prohibits government in all cases from sentencing juveniles to life without parole for crimes other than murder. See my article published - Give Juveniles A Chance.
Majoriy-Minority: 6-3 (Scalia, Thomas, Alito dissenting).

Justice Stevens, in a blistering criticism of Justice Thomas, wrote: "While Justice Thomas would apparently not rule out a death sentence for a $50 theft by a 7-year-old, the Court wisely rejects his static approach to the law. Standards of decency have evolved since 1980. They will never stop doing so."

Business Law:
American Needle v. National Football League: Ruling that the National Football League is not shielded from antitrust liability when it contracts for the exclusive marketing of caps, sweatshirts and other team-logo merchandise, the justices rejected the NFL's arguments for a broad antitrust exemption.
Majority-Minority: 9-0.

Claims of Discrimination:
Lewis v. City of Chicago: The Court found that African Americans who challenged the city of Chicago's written exam for firefighter jobs did not wait too long to bring their claim of bias. The Supreme Court held that a plaintiff who does not file a timely charge challenging the adoption of a practice may assert a disparate-impact claim in a timely charge challenging the employer’s later application of that practice aslong as he alleges each of the elements of a disparate-impact claim.
Majority-Minority: 9-0.

Fourth Amendment:
City of Ontario v. Quon: The issue was whether a SWAT team member has a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages transmitted on his SWAT pager, where the police department has an official no-privacy policy. While noting that it is well settled that the Fourth Amendment’s protection extends beyond the sphere of criminal investigations, the Court ruled that the California police department did not violate the Fourth Amendment privacy rights of the SWAT team member when it reviewed his text messages (some of which were sexually explicit) sent on a department-issued pager.
Majority-Minority: 9-0.

Death Penalty:
Magwood v. Patterson: The Court ruled in favor of a defendant convicted of a 1979 murder whose challenge to the Alabama state's death penalty law had been ruled untimely by lower courts. Magwood's first death sentence was overturned, but he was sentenced to death a second time. When Magwood filed a habeas petition challenging his new death sentence, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that Magwood's challenge to his new death sentence was an unreviewable “second or successive” challenge since he could have brought the same challenge to his first death sentence. The majority said "because Magwood's habeas application challenges a new judgment for the first time, it is not 'second or successive.'" The Supreme Court decision allows Magwood to challenge his second death sentence as a brand new judgment, even if it raises issues that could have been made against the original sentence.
Majority-Minority: 5-4 (Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Ginsburg dissenting).

Holland v. Florida: Ruling that a death row inmate should not lose his right to a federal appeal because his lawyer missed the 1-year deadline established under the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. See my article on this case here.
Majority-Minority: 7-2

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