Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'U.S. Supreme Court' Category

Commentary: Legal Scholar Suggests 5 Supreme Court Reforms

federal-court-buildingLegal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky proposes a merit selection process and 18-year, non-renewable terms for Supreme Court justices among reforms that he believes could help make the high court better perform its job of enforcing the Constitution.

Chemerinsky is dean of the University of California at Irvine School of Law. At the Moyers & Co. website, he is critical of some decisions by the high court in its latest term, as well as the work of the court during its entire existence. He will argue in his upcoming book, he says, that “the Supreme Court has largely failed at its most important tasks of enforcing the Constitution and protecting the rights of minorities.”

The other reforms he proposes include clarifying that the court’s most important role is “to enforce the Constitution against the will of the majority”; changing the confirmation process with the Senate insisting “as a condition of confirmation, that the nominee answer detailed questions about his or her views on important constitutional questions”; and mandating strong ethics rules and recusals of high court justices.

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Utah Heads to Supreme Court to Appeal a Marriage Ruling

131226040854_gay-marriage-utah-640The office of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced that Utah will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal a ruling by a panel of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the state cannot ban the marriage of same-sex couples.

When the appeals court issued its ruling last month (see Gavel Grab) it became the first federal appeals court to decide that voter-approved bans on marriage of same-sex couples violate the 14th Amendment rights of such couples to equal protection and due process, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Regarding Utah’s plans to appeal to the Supreme Court, Lyle Denniston wrote at SCOTUSblog, “This will be the first case reaching the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of such state bans since the Justices in United States v. Windsor a year ago struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — a ruling that set off a series of decisions by federal and state trial courts, all of which so far have nullified state bans on same-sex marriages.”

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Essay: Of the Branches, Courts Faring Better in Public Opinion

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonPublic confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court recently was reported to be at a record low, according to a Gallup poll that was mentioned in Gavel Grab. The poll grabbed numerous headlines to that effect.

But there’s a more favorable way of looking at the polling data, Matt K. Lewis writes at The Week. The headline of his commentary declares, “The Supreme Court: The last bastion of American leadership? No branch of government is popular these days. But the courts are faring better than the rest.”

Thirty percent of those surveyed said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the high court, compared to 29 percent of respondents voicing the same level of confidence in the presidency and seven percent in the Congress. The rate of confidence in the presidency declined more precipitously in the past two decades than the rate of confidence in the court, and the rate of confidence in Congress scored a record low. Read more

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Three Female Justices in Stinging Dissent on Birth Control Order

The Supreme Court finished a term rare for its number of unanimous opinions (see Gavel Grab) with a decision about contraception coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act that drew a stinging dissent from the court’s three female justices.

According to the New York Times, the decision provides the religiously affiliated Wheaton College in Illinois a temporary exemption from some of the Affordable Care Act regulations on birth control coverage. The court’s three female justices dissented, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing that the decision conflicted with the court’s earlier ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, which dealt with for-profit companies (see Gavel Grab). Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the dissent.

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “Not so today.” She added that the court’s ruling even “undermines confidence in this institution.” Links to other coverage of the Wheaton College order are available from SCOTUSblog. Read more

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George Will: High Court Unanimity Can Be ‘Injurious’

The high number of unanimous rulings by the Supreme Court this term continues to draw media attention, as Gavel Grab has mentioned. Now columnist George Will has joined the debate with criticism of the court.

Will has explained in the past (see Gavel Grab) his belief that excessive judicial restraint is not a virtue. In his latest Washington Post column, Will takes aim at two high-profile 9-0 rulings by the court on abortion clinic buffer zones and presidential recess appointment authority. Concurring opinions showed that on each, the court was fractured in its reasoning behind the unanimous bottom lines.

“Unanimity is not only spurious, it is injurious when purchased at the price of compromises that suggest disingenuousness. The Constitution’s purposes and architecture were sacrificed twice to produce 9 to 0 decisions,” Will protests. Read more

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Unanimous But Not United? Viewing the Supreme Court’s Term

Supreme_Court_US_2010When viewed through the lens of unanimity, the just-completed U.S. Supreme Court term is remarkable in the past half-century or more for the unanimous opinions it rendered in almost two-thirds of the 67 cases argued before it. At the same time, the numbers conceal deep division on the court over some issues, experts say.

These contrasting perceptions are important in a society where some people view the court as motivated by politics, and they are the focus of similar end-of-term articles in two leading U.S. newspapers.

The New York Times headline declared, “Compromise at the Supreme Court Veils its Rifts.” The Washington Post reported, “For these Supreme Court justices, unanimous doesn’t mean unanimity.” Read more

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Poll: Public Confidence in Supreme Court at Record Low

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonAmericans’ confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to a record low, according to a Gallup poll conducted in early June that was the subject of a Huffington Post article.

Thirty percent of those surveyed said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the high court, compared to 34 percent in 2013 and 37 percent in 2012. Voicing the same level of confidence last month in the presidency were 29 percent of respondents, and voicing confidence in the Congress, seven percent, a record low. Both of those ratings were down from a year earlier.

“While the Supreme Court, with unelected justices serving indefinite terms, is immune to the same public pressures that elected members of Congress and the president must contend with, it is not immune to the drop in confidence in U.S. government institutions that threatens and complicates the U.S. system of government,” wrote Justin McCarthy of Gallup. Read more

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Supreme Court: Some Employers May Withhold Birth Control Coverage

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonIn one of the highest-profile cases of the year, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Monday that despite a federal Affordable Care Act mandate, family-owned corporations may withhold insurance coverage of certain contraception methods under a U.S. law that protects religious freedom.

The majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito found, according to a New York Times report, that a “federal religious-freedom law applied to for-profit corporations controlled by religious families. He added that the [ACA's] requirement that the companies provide contraception coverage imposed a substantial burden on the companies’ religious liberty. He said the government could provide the coverage in other ways.”

The opinion was issued in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. It was the first time the court ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) covers corporations as well as “persons” alluded to in its language, the Washington Post reported. Read more

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Commentary: In Unanimous Rulings, Justices Rise Above Partisanship

federal-court-buildingFor the first time since 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed unanimously in more than 66 percent of its cases through the term, and that’s a positive development for the nation, former Solicitor General Neal Katyal writes in a New York Times op-ed.

In his piece entitled “The Supreme Court’s Powerful New Consensus,” Katyal explains why he sees this development as so important:

“The justices’ ability to cross partisan divides and find common ground in their bottom-line judgment in roughly two-thirds of their cases — including the two decisions handed down Thursday, restricting the president’s ability to issue recess appointments during brief breaks in the Senate’s work, and striking down a Massachusetts ban on protests near abortion clinics — should remind us that even in this hyperpartisan age, there is a difference between law and politics.

“Unanimity is important because it signals that the justices can rise above their differences and interpret the law without partisanship.” Read more

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High Court Unanimous on Buffer Zones, Recess Appointments

abortion_clinic_buffer_zone_cc_img_0On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued high-profile, late-term decisions striking down abortion clinic protest buffer zones and narrowing a president’s authority to make appointments during a recess of the Senate.

In the abortion clinic case, the justices unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that extended a protest-free zone 35 feet outside clinic entrances. The zone violates protesters’ First Amendment rights, the court said, according to the Associated Press. The decision came in McCullen v. Coakley.

Regarding presidential authority, the justices scaled back “a presidential authority as old as the republic,” according to NBC News. Read more

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