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

U.S. Supreme Court: Perception vs. Reality

What’s it really like to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court? According to the Sun Sentinel, Justice Samuel Alito told a West Palm Beach, Florida, crowd, it’s not what people might imagine.

“A lot of people, I think, have the impression that sitting on the bench and listening to oral arguments is the main thing we do,” Alito said.

“If people were to see me really at work, it would not be a particularly edifying spectacle. They would see me at my computer at eight in the morning in my pajamas.”

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Analysis: Greater Reach for High Court’s Marriage Ruling

Another timely reminder of how courts matter comes in a New Yorker blog post by attorney Richard Socarides entitled “The Growing Impact of the Supreme Court’s Gay-Marriage Ruling.”

In United States v. Windsor last year, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a key section the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), denying federal benefits to gay or lesbian couples who are married. The court did not go so far as to find a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples.

Nonetheless, Socarides writes, “The sweeping significance of the Supreme Court’s landmark gay-rights decision in United States v. Windsor, last June, has become even more evident in the past month, thanks to a series of important lower-court decisions that have interpreted it broadly.” He chronicles these rulings and suggests that “the language of the Windsor decision may have been so powerful that the Court in fact accelerated a movement it sought to temporarily restrain.”

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Obama Delivers Milder Message to Supreme Court Justices

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama dialed back from the confrontational tone he used toward Supreme Court justices in 2010, and instead delivered a muted criticism of a court ruling, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire.

“Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened,” Obama said on Tuesday without pointing a finger specifically at the court over a 5-4 decision that struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working to strengthen it.”

Jess Bravin blogged for the Washington Wire that TV camera operators apparently did not grasp immediately what the president was referring to and did not turn the cameras to catch the reaction of justices in the audience. Read more

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Will Supreme Court Consider Overruling ‘Korematsu’?

What happens when a Supreme Court ruling turns out to be a real “disaster,” an unmitigated “blunder,” and everyone knows it? Adam Liptak addresses the intriguing question in a New York Times article about a new effort to overrule the court’s 1944 ruling in Korematsu v. United States.

The ruling has been widely discredited. It upheld an executive order that led to the removal from their homes and the internment of 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Now plaintiffs seeking Supreme Court review of a 2012 federal law are also asking the court to examine whether it should overrule Korematsu.  The law is the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2012. It permits  imprisonment of American citizens without trial if they’re suspected of terrorism crimes.

More than three decades ago, a congressional commission labeled the nation’s internment of Japanese-Americans “a grave injustice” driven by “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” It said that “the decision in Korematsu lies overruled in the court of history.”

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U.S. Supreme Court Hears Recess Appointments Case

The U.S. Supeme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a landmark  constitutional case involving the president’s rights to make recess appointments of officials, and some news accounts suggested afterward that justices seemed skeptical of the arguments made by the U.S. solicitor general.

Almost a year ago, a lower federal court ruled that  Obama overstepped constitutional boundaries when he made several recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, in order to overcome Republican filibustering. The central issue involves presidential appointment power and conflicting interpretations of what a Senate “recess” means. Recess appointments by presidents over the years are not unusual, and modern-day presidents battling partisan opposition have used them more frequently.

The New York Times reported on Monday,  ”Justices Voice Doubt on Obama Recess Appointments.” Other reports included USA Today, “Supreme Court skeptical of presidents’ appointments power”; Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, “Argument recap: An uneasy day for presidential power”; The Hill, “Recess appointments appear in jeopardy”; Associated Press, “President’s recess appointment power at high court”; Reuters, “U.S. justices skeptical about Obama labor board appointments”; and Bloomberg, “Obama’s Recess Appointments Questioned by U.S. Supreme Court.”

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Hot-Button Issues Part of Lighter Caseload at U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court “is as central as ever to the national debate,” despite a workload during the next 100 days that is relatively reduced, the Washington Post reports.

Reporter Robert Barnes points to a constitutional case involving presidential recess appointments that was to be argued on Monday, to the court’s recently halting a lower-court order that permitted marriages for same-sex couples in Utah, and to a soon-to-be decided case that could result in loosened  restrictions on political campaign contributions.

“We’re in the middle of a quite remarkable period in the court’s history,” Washington lawyer and Supreme Court litigator Kannon Shanmugam said. “The court has had several cases implicating major issues of national debate each of the last few years. What that shows is that this is a court that’s not at all shy about tackling hot-button issues.”

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Supreme Court Puts Same-Sex Marriage Ruling on Hold

Last month, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby of Utah found that Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court halted further marriages for same-sex couples in Utah while state officials there appeal Judge Shelby’s ruling in the federal courts.

Utah had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block Judge Shelby’s ruling, saying he mistakenly created a new constitutional right for same-sex couples.

According to veteran legal journalist Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, Monday’s high court action “can be interpreted as an indication that the Court wants to have further exploration in lower courts of the basic constitutional question of state power to limit marriage to a man and a woman.” Denniston added that as a result of Monday’s ruling, “it now appears almost certain that the question of state power to bar same-sex marriages will not be before the Justices during the current Term.” Read more

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Last-Minute Stay Thrusts SCOTUS into Contraception Controversy

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has granted an order of Catholic nuns a temporary reprieve from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate, according to  The New York Times. Sotomayor issued the stay on New Year’s Eve hours before the mandate was set to kick in, affecting the Colorado order known as The Little Sisters of the Poor and other Catholic organizations that subscribe to health coverage through the church’s Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust. The groups had sued to be exempted from the requirement on religious grounds.

In response, the White House issued a statement indicating that the administration is confident that its rules “strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage,” according to a report on the Fox News Latino website. But lawyers for the nuns argue that under the law,  alternative arrangements available to the religious groups remain unsatisfactory.

The latest legal standoff over contraception requirements of the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare,  comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in two cases involving private employers’ religiously-based objections to the rule. It adds to the uncertainty surrounding the ultimate application of the birth control requirement, which has been one of the most controversial aspects of the law.

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Justice Ginsburg Opposes Political Timing for Retirement

Supreme Court justices ought not manipulate their retirement from the bench in order to ensure the appointment of their successor by a like-minded chief executive, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in public remarks in Virginia.

She mentioned the examples of Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, liberal jurists whose retirement left appointment of their successors to Republican presidents, according to the Associated Press.

Some liberals have advocated that Justice Ginsburg, who is 80, ought to retire at a time that would leave appointment of her successor to President Obama.

A Washington Post article about her remarks, meanwhile, said Justice Ginsburg was pleased that with increasing gender diversity on the high court, she is no longer confused with other female justices on the court. 

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Commentary: Political Pressure Influencing Life-or-Death Sentencing

An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by legal journalist Andrew Cohen says judges in Alabama are overruling juries decisions and imposing the death penalty as a way to appease the electorate.

The piece titled Politics, not justice, in Alabama death penalty cases, cites the dissent of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor after the High Court declined to hear an Alabama case in which a jury voted 8 to 4 to give the defendant a life sentence for murder, only to see that result overturned by a judge.

“Alabama is one of only three states that give judges this override power in capital cases, and it is the only state in which judges regularly use that power to enhance sentences, said Cohen.

Cohen believes judicial elections are a major part of the problem.

“This is the strongest argument I have heard yet against judicial elections, the very existence of which undermine confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. Any judge who has to beg future litigants for votes, or who has to promise her constituents that she will employ a particular doctrine or ideology, is tainted. It’s bad enough that judicial elections taint civil justice in states such as Texas. That they taint life-or-death decisions in Alabama is simply deplorable.”

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