Monday, June 29, 2015

The Other Important Things Supreme Court Ruled

Although gay rights and healthcare are of critical importance to many Americans, there were a number of decisions passed by the Supreme Court this term.  Because they generally haven't gotten attention, here is a list of them, with summaries and links to the decisions.

Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

In 2000, Arizona passed a law handing over redistricting authority to an independent body in hopes of stifling the effect of Gerrymandering.  Today, they say that this act was unconstitutional, as it was passed by referendum (as the Arizona Constitution requires), against the wishes of the United States Constitution (that requires that Federal election districts be drawn by the state legislatures).  The argument of the Commission is that the definition of "legislature" can include "the people" if the state itself defines it that way, and thus this constitutes a legitimate delegation.  The argument of the legislature is that "legislature" means only the body of elected officials, and that this referendum is unconstitutional for taking the legislature out of the picture.

Ruling:  Ginsburg, Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan ruled that for the purposes of setting Congressional districts, the state lawmaking authority is the intended definition of "legislature" in the Constitutional language of that clause, despite taking different meanings in other clauses.

Michigan v. EPA

Prior rulings by the Supreme Court have stated that the EPA is actually disallowed by its charter from taking cost into account when making environmental regulations.  The Court now revisits that decision in this case, where the EPA is regulating emissions to the tune of $6 billion for a benefit measured at a value of $5 million.  Of note is Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, Inc., which ruled, in Scalia's opinion, that the EPA made an erroneous interpretation of a similar statute by making a cost-to-benefit analysis.

Ruling:  Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito ruled, in Scalia's opinion, the EPA was erroneous in interpreting the language of statute to not include the question of cost-to-benefit or the reasonableness of the cost generally.

Glossip v. Gross

Death row inmates challenge their method of execution.  Execution is by a lethal cocktail, one drug of which is midazolam.  Midazolam is an anesthetic that has a known rate of failure, the consequence of which would be death by horrendous agony as opposed to death by relatively painless paralysis once the second and third drugs were administered.  The lower courts ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to provide a more effective alternative, and that they did not prove that midazolam created a demonstrated risk of severe pain.

Ruling:  Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas held that the plaintiffs had, in fact, failed to meet the required standard of proof that midazolam creates a demonstrated risk of significant pain compared to available alternatives.

Texas v. Inclusive Communities Project

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 forbids refusal to rent or sell for reasons of race, religion, and other protected classes.  Judicial gloss states that it includes not only overt bias but lending rules and housing policies with prejudicial effects that aren't overtly prejudicial, which are called "disparate impact" claims.  The Court reviews the legitimacy of disparate impact claims.

Ruling:  Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan held for the legitimacy of disparate impact claims.

Los Angeles v. Patel

Los Angeles passed an ordinance requiring motel owners to keep up-to-date registers on those people who have stayed in the motel over the prior 90 days.  It also required that those records be made available to the police upon request at any time.  Patel brings a Fourth Amendment challenge arguing this as a warrantless seizure.  The argument of the City of Los Angeles is that facial Fourth Amendment challenges are impossible, as the law itself provides notice of the potential seizure, meaning that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.  Los Angeles also argues in favor of relaxed standards for closely regulated industries.

Ruling:  Sotomayor, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan held that the law be struck, as it is a facial violation of Fourth Amendment protection.  Note that this law may (emphasis: may) become valid if it were reworded to allow for an administrative precompliance review.

Horne v. Department of Agriculture

The Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act is one of the last remaining New Deal acts.  It allows the Department of Agriculture to establish marketing orders for specific crops and obtain some quantity of that crop.  The crop then gets used for government purposes (of any kind the government chooses), and any profits left over after expenses is distributed to the growers.  Petitioners are raisin growers who complain that the Raisin Administrative Committee, established as a marketing order for raisins by the Department of Agriculture, had taken one third of their latest crop without recompense.  They argue that as a government taking, they're entitled to the fair value of that third, as opposed to the leftover profits of whatever government endeavors to which they are put (which may include charitable donation or simple destruction).

Ruling:  Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Kagan agreed that this was a taking deserving of fair market value compensation.  Breyer, Ginsberg, and Kagan disagreed in part, that the case should be remanded to determine if just compensation was not already given in the form of value added to the remaining crop.

Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans

Another Texas case, this one over license plates.  The Texas DMV permits individuals to proffer their own license plate designs and pay an additional fee to have those designs for license plates.  The DMV refused to allow the Sons of Confederate Veterans to place the Battle Flag of the Army of Virginia (a Confederate war flag) on their license plates.  They argue that this is a violation of their speech rights.

Ruling:  Breyer, Thomas, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan ruled the license plates to be state speech and not personal speech, and thus not subject to First Amendment review.

Ohio v. Clark

According to the Confrontation Clause, a criminal defendant has the right to be confronted by his/her accuser.  The "accuser" in this case is a three-year-old child, and an intermediary testifying witness in the form of the child's preschool teacher testified as to the child's statements about harms caused.  The question is whether this is "testimonial" evidence, which is to say evidence given with the intention of furthering a prosecution or bringing evidence to begin a prosecution.

Ruling:  The Court unanimously ruled that the testimony was not "testimonial" evidence, which is to say the statements of a three-year-old child about harms being caused to that child are not given with the intent of sending the malfeasor to jail.

Important Note:  The reasoning in this case is habitually misquoted in the rare case that anybody has noticed it at all.  Read the ruling yourself, because this source may also be misquoting it.

Zivotovsky v. Kerry

The Zivotovskies file suit on behalf of their child.  The child was born in Jerusalem, and the Zivotovskies wished their child's passport to identify their child's birthplace as "Jerusalem, Israel."  Federal statutory law includes a law signed by George W. Bush requiring the President (who has passport authority) to recognize Jerusalem as being a city in Israel, despite the fact that both Israel and Palestine recognize Jerusalem as the capital of their nation.  The Obama Administration (like the Bush Administration before it) refuses to do so, and refuses to recognize Israel's possession of Jerusalem.  The Zivotovskies filed this suit, claiming that this violates Congressional statute, while the Secretary of State argues that this infringes upon executive powers.

Ruling:  Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Thomas agreed that this was an impermissible affront to Presidential authority.  Thomas dissented in part, saying that Congress, having the power to regulate some foreign policy (such as trade policy), has the right to classify and categorize the political and economic divisions of the world, but at the same time recognized the Presidential power to recognize (or fail to recognize) the legitimacy of foreign nations.

Elonis v. United States

Elonis posted several Facebook messages citing his thoughts about committing grievous bodily harm and grotesque murder about his wife, co-workers, federal and state law enforcement, and a kindergarten class.  His employer was concerned and called the FBI.  After posting a statement about slitting the throat of the FBI agent, he was arrested.  Federal law prohibits placing threats of any kind in telecommunications networks.  However, the jury was instructed only to ask whether a "reasonable person" would feel legitimately threatened by the statements.  Elonis complains that the judge did not instruct the jury to determine whether Elonis had a requisite intent to threaten.

Ruling:  Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Alito agreed that the judge's jury instruction and by consequence Elonis' conviction were in error for not instructing the jury as to the requisite intent.  Alito dissented in part that the Court did not reach the question of whether or not it would be sufficient to prove recklessness on the part of Elonis.

EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch

Abercrombie & Fitch had a policy of common "look" for employees.  The EEOC filed suit on behalf of Elauf, who had been refused employment because of her headscarf, a religious requirement in her variation on Islam.  Abercrombie never asked why she wore the headscarf, and she never provided a reason.  This is a case of disparate treatment, rather than disparate impact, and thus requires that the employer must knowingly discriminate for reasons of a religious practice that can be readily accommodated for religious inequality to be proven.  Abercrombie, not having known of Elauf's particular brand of Islam, objects to the trial court's judgment.

Ruling:  Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Alito held that scienter (which is either intent or actual knowledge of wrongdoing) need only be of the act being prohibited, and that this act be for a religious purpose, but that scienter need not be of the actual religious nature of the act.  Thus, the prohibition on headscarves, being something that did interfere with Elauf's religious practice, did raise a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  Alito concurred insofar as the judgment - Abercrombie was, in fact, aware of Elauf's particular variety of Islam, but merely refrained from asking if that was why she wore the headscarf.  Thus, they were "on notice" that there might be a religious reason for the headscarf, which was sufficient to warrant the EEOC's claim.  In essence, Alito stated that the scienter requirement was only that the employer be aware of the potential religious issue, and need not be put on notice that the issue definitely exists.

Note:  Thomas is listed as "concurring in part" and "dissenting in part."  His "concurrence" is a technical one, and he dissented to every part of the judgment that wasn't dictum.