US Supreme Court: February 2009 Archives

US Supreme Court issues 2 opinions

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Pleasant Grove City, Ut v. Summum - 9-0 opinion authored by Justice Alito.  Concurring opinions by Justices Stevens (joined by Justice Ginsburg), Scalia (joined by Justice Thomas), Breyer and Souter.  Government bodies may accept permanent religious monuments in public parks without violating the rights of others who are denied a chance to have a different religious monument share space in the public space.  Such a monument, whether it is government financed or privately donated, is "government speech" which conveys a message that it wishes to get out about "esthetics, history, and local culture."  A religious sect, the Summum, contended that its Free Speech rights were violated when a city accepted a Ten Commandments monument in its public park but refused to accept a Seven Aphorisms monument.  Justice Alito's opinion found that the Free Speech Clause does not apply to the messages of government and rejects Summum's argument that placement of a monument in a public park involves private speech in a public forum.  Justice Alito also noted that the government is not free to convey messages that violate the Constitution's ban on official establishment of religion, but that was not at issue in the Summum case.  Inclusion of the lyrics to "Imagine" by John Lennon, at pages 12 and 13 of the opinion, is a nice touch for any Supreme Court opinion.

Pacific Bell Telephone Co. v. linkLine Communications - 9-0 opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts.  Concurring opinion by Justice Breyer.  Sherman Act and price squeezing.  Sorry - I have a brief due and no time to decipher this one.

US Supreme Court issues 3 opinions

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United States v. Hayes - a 7-2 opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg - a 1996 federal law prohibiting possession of guns by a person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence applies whenever the victim was in fact the wife or other family relative of the offender.  The domestic relationship must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt but it is not a necessary element of the predicate crime.  It is sufficient for the government to charge and prove a prior conviction that was, in fact, an offense committed against a spouse or other domestic victim.

Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association, 6-3 opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts - the Constitution allows a state government to ban payroll deductions for labor union political activities when the ban applies to the paychecks of local government workers.

Carcieri v. Salazar (Interior Secretary), 6-3 opinion authored by Justice Thomas - the Court limits the federal government's authority to take parcels of land and put them into trust for the benefit of Indian tribes.  This power only applies to tribes that were officially recognized by the government in 1934.

Links to opinions provided by Scotusblog.

US Supreme Court grants cert. in 5 cases

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Via Scotusblog:

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in five cases today:

Salazar (Interior Secretary) v. Buono  : government's appeal testing Congress' power to allow a religious display to remain on public property simply by transferring ownership to a private group or individual.  The case also raises issues about who may sue to challenge such displays. 

 Alvarez v. Smith:  The legal standard for a court hearing to test the forfeiture of property used in a drug crime.

Padilla v. Kentucky : The duty of an attorney to advise a client facing mandatory deporation from the U.S. after pleading guilty to trafficking in marijuana.

Union Pacific Railroad v. Brotherhood of Locomotice Engineers: The scope of federal courts' authority to second-guess arbitration decisions made to resolve labor disputes in the railroad and airline industries.

Smith v. Spisak:  Judges' duty to advise jurors on whether unanimity is required in finding factors that bear upon imposing a death sentence.

Johnson v. U.S. : The status of a state conviction for felony battery as a violent crime under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act.  The Court granted questions 1 and 2 in the petition, both related to that issue. The Court declined to hear a third question, asking the Court to overrule its 1998 decision in Almendarez-Torres v. U.S. -- allowing a judge, rather than the jury, to rule on prior convictions as a basis for enhancing a criminal sentence.  The Court has refused several times to consider that issue, which involves the only exception to the jury role the Court mandated in Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) and later cases.

Scotusblog provides links to the opinions below, petitions for certiorari, briefs in opposition, replies and briefs of amicus curiae.

Justice Ginsburg was present for the Court's announcement of the orders and today's oral arguments.

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