U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court36 posts
29 Jun, 2015

Google appeal on Oracle suit denied


The Court denies a Google appeal that sought to stop a billion-dollar Oracle lawsuit by seeking limits on software copyright protections. The justices decline to disturb an appeals court ruling in Oracle’s favor that reinvigorated the company’s case against Google. 37 packages of prewritten Java programs, known as application programming interfaces, are entitled to copyright protection. Google:

We will continue to defend the interoperability that has fostered innovation and competition in the software industry.


[The result] is a win for innovation and for the technology industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation.

26 Jun, 2015

Guarantees right to same-sex marriage


The Court rules in a 5-4 decision that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs, gay and lesbian couples from four states, said they had a fundamental right to marry and to equal protection, adding that the bans they challenged demeaned their dignity, imposed countless practical difficulties and inflicted particular harm on their children, while Lawyers for the four states said their bans were justified by tradition and the distinctive characteristics of opposite-sex unions. They said the question should be resolved democratically, at the polls and in state legislatures, rather than by judges. Justice Kennedy writes for the majority, which includes Sotomayer, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage…Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

In the dissent, Roberts, joined by Scalia and Thomas, says the Constitution has nothing to say on the subject:

If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

Scalia also added:

The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.

Upholds health care subsidies


In a 6-3 ruling, justices uphold health care subsidies, based on their finding that critics’ reading of Obamacare might make sense in isolation, but not when viewed in a larger context and in light of the intention of the law. Americans who currently receive subsidies under the Affordable Care Act will continue to do so.  Chief Justice Roberts writes for the majority:

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.

He is joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy and Sotomayor. Justice Scalia presents the dissent, and is joined by Justices Alito and Thomas. Scalia calls the decision “wonderfully convenient,” complains about “interpretative jiggery-pokery” and argues it was not the Court’s job to make up for the sloppy drafting of the law by Congress, branding the law as “SCOTUScare”.

Upholds Fair Housing Act

JudgementMakes Statement

In a 5-4 decision, justices re-affirm a 47-year-old federal law that cracks down on housing discrimination. They hold that the law allows for both claims for intentional discrimination, and claims on practices that are not intended to discriminate, but have a discriminatory effect. According to Justice Kennedy, writing on behalf of the majority, which includes Justices Ginsburg,  Kagan, Sotomayor and Breyer.

Much progress remains to be made in our nation’s continuing struggle against racial isolation. The Court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the nation toward a more integrated society.

In dissent Justice Thomas said the court was in danger of constructing “a scheme that parcels out legal privileges to individuals on the basis of skin color.”

Sides with raisin farmers


In an 8-1 decision, the justices rule that a government program meant to increase raisin prices by keeping some of them off the market amounts to an unconstitutional taking of private property by the government. Chief Justice Roberts writes for the majority:

The fact that the growers retain a contingent interest of indeterminate value does not mean there has been no physical taking, particularly since the value of the interest depends on the discretion of the taker, and may be worthless, as it was for one of the two years at issue here.

Justice Sotomayor is the sole dissenting voter. She states that the majority had damaged settled legal principles…

… in a manner that is as unwarranted as it is vague. What makes the court’s twisting of the doctrine even more baffling is that it ultimately instructs the government that it can permissibly achieve its market control goals by imposing a quota without offering raisin producers a way of reaping any return whatsoever on the raisins they cannot sell. I have trouble understanding why anyone would prefer that.

The justices are, however, divided 5-4 on the issue of compensation for the plaintiffs, with Justices Breyer, Kagan and Ginsburg joining in the dissent.

Spider-Man Toy precedent upheld


In a 6-3 decision, justices decline to overrule a 50-year-old decision on patent royalties. Stephen Kimble invented a web-shooting toy and obtained a patent on the device in 1991.  He sued Marvel Enterprises in 1997, alleging the company used his ideas to create a toy named the Web Blaster without paying him. The two sides settled in 2001, agreeing on terms that included Marvel paying a running 3% royalty rate on sales of the toy.  When the patent expired, Marvel asserted that its obligations to pay would end. Lower courts agreed, as did the Supreme Court, saying  in a 6-3 decision that Kimble hadn’t presented the court with a compelling “special justification” for abandoning the principle of stare decisis, or sticking with past precedent. Kagan:

What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly.

22 Jun, 2015

Denies police access to LA hotel registries


In a 5-4 decision, justices strike down a Los Angeles ordinance that requires hotel owners to give the police access to hotel registries without a warrant. The case highlights a reoccurring tension between the need to protect people’s right to privacy while also giving law enforcement the tools it needs to pursue public safety.

Favors inmate on excessive force claim

JudgementMakes Statement

In Kingsley v. Hendrickson, a 6-3 ruling makes it easier for pre-trial inmates to bring claims against jail officials for using excessive force, and rules that officers and juries will be held to an objective standard about whether the use of force is reasonable. At issue is the question of whether police officers are permitted to use subjective standards in their use of force force, and whether juries can also be instructed to use subjective standards when determining whether or not excessive force was used in a given case. The ruling makes it clear that objective standards are to be developed and used.

18 Jun, 2015

Children’s abuse statements can be evidence

JudgementMakes Statement

Justices unanimously rule that statements made by children to teachers about possible abuse can be used as evidence, even if the child does not testify in court. The ruling is expected to make it easier for prosecutors to convict people accused of domestic violence. The justices state that defendants don’t have a constitutional right to cross-examine child accusers unless their statements to school officials were made for the primary purpose of creating evidence for prosecution.

30 Mar, 2015

Rejects appeal on free speech ruling


The Supreme Court refuses to hear an appeal filed by three students from Live Oak High School. The appeal was filed after a San Francisco court ruled that the school’s officials did not violate their students’ free speech rights at an event celebrating Cinco de Mayo, during which school officials commanded several students to take off the T-shirts they were wearing that bore the image of the U.S. flag.

25 Mar, 2015

Sides With Worker in Pregnancy Discrimination


The Supreme Court rules that pregnant workers can sue employers who deny them accommodations afforded to employees with disabilities, after a former UPS worker claims she was not accommodated when she was pregnant. The decision, by a 6-3 vote, adds to a series of recent moves expanding protections for pregnant women, including changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act and recent guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. UPS:

The new policy strengthens UPS’s commitments to supporting women in the workplace and to treating all workers fairly.

12 Feb, 2015

Bloomberg interview


In an interview with Bloomberg, Ginsberg talks about equal pay for women, birth control and abortion access.

If the woman has the means to go to a neighboring state, if she can buy a plane ticket or a bus ticket and afford the cost of the procedure, she’s safe. And she and her daughters will always have the choice. The people who don’t have the choice are poor women.

On her male colleagues:

I was a law school teacher. And that’s how I regard my role here with my colleagues, who haven’t had the experience of growing up female and don’t fully appreciate the arbitrary barriers that have been put in women’s way.

And how she believes a female president can counter “unconscious bias” toward women.

But I have to add a caveat. I know we have seen women heads of state in Israel, in India. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of society will progress along the same lines…Yes, there are blind spots. But in time they will go.

8 Oct, 2014

Court hears workers’ case

In a Supreme Court hearing that could determine the terms for employee pay, Amazon workers argue they should be compensated for the 25 minutes both ways it takes to go through security checkpoints. The case is part of a class-action lawsuit filed against companies like Amazon and includes over 400,000 plaintiffs about the meaning of a 1947 law that stipulates a company need not pay for “preliminary” and “postliminary” activities performed by employees, but only for the necessary functions that pertain to their jobs during working hours. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan is doubtful over agreeing with the workers:

I mean, what makes it Amazon? It’s a system of inventory control that betters everybody else in the business. And what’s really important to Amazon is that it knows where every toothbrush in the warehouse is.

Supreme Court Justice Scalia disagrees:

Getting yourself inspected as you leave the place of business is not part of the job . . .

What Amazon's Supreme Court Case Could Mean For Worker Pay

30 Jun, 2014

Allows corporate contraceptive religious objection


The court rules 5-4 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to allow corporations to hold religious objections and opt out of the new health law requirement that say they must cover contraceptives for women. Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010 and the Supreme Court upheld two years later.  Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion:

Under the standard that [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful…Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs.

The court’s four liberal justices called it a decision of “startling breadth” and said that it allows companies to

opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Workers cannot be forced to pay union dues


The courts rules that home healthcare workers in Illinois can not be forced to pay union dues.  The 5-4 ruling mostly applies to a group of Illinois home care providers challenged that a state decision to classify them as public employees, which would have meant they would have to pay union dues.  Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the conservative majority, says the practice was a clear violation of the First Amendment:

If we accepted Illinois’ argument, we would approve an unprecedented violation of the bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.

26 Jun, 2014

Rules against Obama recess appointments


In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rules that President Obama went too far when he made recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  This is the first time the Supreme Court has ruled on a matter involving the long-standing practice of presidents naming appointees when the Senate is on break.  Obama had argued that the Senate was on an extended holiday break when he filled slots at the NLRB in 2012.  Justice Stephen Breyer stated that a congressional break has to last at least 10 days to be considered a recess under the Constitution.  Breyer wrote:

Three days is too short a time to bring a recess within the scope of the Clause. Thus we conclude that the President lacked the power to make the recess appointments here at issue.

Strikes down abortion clinic buffer zone


With a  9-0 vote, the Court rules the 2007 Massachusetts’  law requiring a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics violated the freedom of speech rights of anti-abortion protesters under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it prevents them from standing on the sidewalk and speaking to people entering the clinics.  Justice John Roberts says that the state  has:

too readily foregone options that could serve its interests just as well, without substantially burdening the kind of speech in which petitioners wish to engage.

25 Jun, 2014

Cell phone search warrant required


The Court rules that cell phones cannot be searched without a warrant.  Chief Justice John Roberts believes that cell phones contain so much information that a warrant must be required before they are searched.  Both the Obama Administration and the State of California defend cell phone searches and claim they should have no special protection from other items found on a person. Roberts says:

Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life.

12 May, 2014

911 traffic stops okay


Court rules police can stop vehicles based solely on 911 tips. The decision is based on a 2008 California traffic stop that resulted in the driver’s arrest for a large amount of marijuana in the truck. The court says officers have the right to stop vehicles based on reasonable suspension and officers say the ruling affirms what they are already doing.

Officers get hundreds of calls a day and have to decide whether the information gives them articulable suspicion that a violation is occurring or did occur to make the stop and that’s how it’s always been it didn’t change anything for us. Officers are not going to just stop someone on whim, we always have to take an objectively reasonably to determine whether we have enough to stop the vehicle,

9 May, 2014

Satanist tests ruling

Chaz Stevens, a longtime activist that city officials call an annoyance, asks the City of Deerfield Beach, Florida to allow him to open a meeting with Satanic prayer. Stevens says he converted to Satanism because:

Satan is a cool dude. Think of all the people he’s in charge of. Do you want to be stuck listening to harp music in the afterlife? Hell no. I want to drink beer and hang with hookers.

City attorney Andrew Maurodis has no comment.

Court ‘techno-fogeys’

The justices, whose average age is 68, are apparently less than tech savvy. Justice Sotomayor is familiar with Roku Inc’s streaming video device and Apple Inc’s iCloud, but also refers to Netflix as “Netflick”. Parker Higgins, a 26-year-old digital rights advocate, says:

Sometimes it’s just amusing and sometimes it’s really troubling. The justices are just unfamiliar with how the industry works. (They) don’t understand how software comes together.

Some critics say the Court’s lack of technology awareness could have real consequences in the lives of everyday Americans. This term the court hears tech issues, which include maintaining privacy in the digital age, software patent protection, and the future of the TV industry.

8 May, 2014

NML Capital files Argentinian debt argument

Investors, led by billionaire Paul Singer’s NML Capital Ltd., ask the Supreme Court to find Argentina liable for $1.3 billion in debt at 92 percent interest and force the South American country to pay. Argentina claims an adverse ruling would provoke catastrophic default and President Cristina Fernandez vows not to honor the decision if it goes against her. NML’s brief says:

Argentina ultimately is not interested in any court’s views concerning those questions. By Argentina’s lights, it has the final word, and it will recognize a judicial ruling only if it accords with Argentina’s conclusions.”

Hedge funds and holding companies cite the 114 court rulings and 30 World Bank settlement orders the country refuses to pay in support of NML’s claim and urge justices to recognize the country’s chronic mistreatment of private-sector creditors.

Contractors seek military immunity

burn-pit-bulldozerKBR asks court to hear suits that claim the government contractor and its parent company Halliburton operated U.S military burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan negligently, which exposed soldiers to toxic fumes and pollutants. The contractors argue they are entitled to immunity from war-zone injury litigation just like the military. KBR counsel Mark Lowes says:

In Vietnam, people who were drafted, they drove the trucks, they did the laundry, cooked the food — all the things that have been outsourced by the Army were done by soldiers. I don’t see us ever going back [to that]. Contractors are going to be tied to the military from here on out, and it behooves the court to tell us how that relationship is going to work.

7 May, 2014

Court gets poor performance rating

A new survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps finds that 65 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the court’s performance. Dissatisfaction with the court’s lackluster job performance spans party lines; Democrats rate the court better than do either Independents or Republicans. The summary says:

This leads to a broad, cross-partisan consensus in support of a series of reforms to the Court, including more disclosure of outside activities, abolishing lifetime appointments, and broadcasting Court proceedings on TV, radio and the Internet.

The pollsters believe recent campaign finance decisions drive the public’s distrust of the court.

5 May, 2014

Legislative prayer allowed


Court rules 5 to 4 that prayer prior to town council meeting in Upstate New York does not violate the constitutional probation against government-established religion. The decision cites both tradition and history and writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy says:

Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government.

30 Apr, 2014

Decision favors EPA effort to reduce cross-state pollution


Court endorses the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to decrease air pollution blowing across state; an important victory for the administration and downwind states. The six to two decision unblocks the 2011 rule that requires 28 eastern states to reduce power-plant emissions that blows across state lines, hurting air quality in downwind. Justice Ginsburg writes in the majority opinion:

The EPA’s formula for dealing with cross-state air pollution was “permissible, workable and equitable.

The ruling forces approximately 1,000 power plants to adopt new pollution controls that limit emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.

21 Apr, 2014

Reviews Jerusalem birthplace law

Court agrees to weigh the constitutionality of a law that allows American citizens born in Jerusalem to have “Israel” listed on their passports as their country of birth. The case examines whether the president is the sole authority able to declare US foreign policy or whether Congress can pass laws overriding that policy. The administration says:

Taking sides on the issue could critically compromise the ability of the United States to work with Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region to further the peace process.

The government notes that US citizens born in regions where sovereignty is not established, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are prevented from stating a country of birth on their passports.

7 Apr, 2014

Court declines NSA case

Justices decline lawsuit that challenges the U.S. National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records. A conservative activist filed the case after a lower court stayed a ruling that the program is unconstitutional. The court denies request by activist and former federal prosecutor Larry Klayman, along with Charles and Mary Strange, to immediately hear their case against U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, NSA Director Keith Alexander, Verizon Communications and Roger Vinson. Neither judge who signed the order allowing the surveillance nor Klayman comments.

11 Jan, 2014

Court questions union rule

The Supreme Court questions union rule and will possibly strike them down in favor of non-union teachers. Individual justices doubt the effectiveness or legality of the unions plans.

The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree. Many teachers think that they are devoted to the future of America, to the future of our young people, and that the union is equally devoted to that, but that the union is absolutely wrong in some of its positions. And agency fees require, as I understand it — correct me if I’m wrong — agency fees require that employees and teachers who disagree with those positions must nevertheless subsidize the union on those very points.

13 Jun, 2013

No patent on DNA


Court rules unanimously that a genetics company cannot patent a sequence of naturally occurring human genes, which it discovered and uses to assess patients’ cancer risk. The decision says Myriad Genetics, Inc. can patent cDNA a synthetic composite created by laboratory technicians. Justice Thomas writes:

A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but cDNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring,

28 Jun, 2012

Affordable Care Act upheld


The Court hands the President a major victory; upholds the “individual mandate”, which requires Americans to have health insurance or face a financial penalty in a 5-4 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts, siding with the court’s more liberal justices, writes in the majority opinion:

Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not [the court’s] role to forbid it, or to pass [decide] upon its wisdom or fairness.

Obama says the court’s decision reaffirms his belief that in the United States, the wealthiest nation on Earth, no illness or accident should lead any family to financial ruin.

14 Jun, 1993

Supreme Court nomination

Political Appointment

President Clinton nominates Ginsburg for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

I decided on her for three reasons. First, in her years on the bench she has genuinely distinguished herself as one of our Nation’s best judges, progressive in outlook, wise in judgment, balanced and fair in her opinions. Second, over the course of a lifetime, in her pioneering work in behalf of the women of this country, she has compiled a truly historic record of achievement in the finest traditions of American law and citizenship. And finally, I believe that in the years ahead she will be able to be a force for consensus-building on the Supreme Court, just as she has been on the Court of Appeals, so that our judges can become an instrument of our common unity in the expression of their fidelity to the Constitution.


Rules to seat Bond


The United States Supreme Court rules 9–0 in the case of Bond v. Floyd (385 U.S. 116) that the Georgia House of Representatives had denied Bond his freedom of speech and was required to seat him. He serves four terms in the Georgia House, where he organizes the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.

17 May, 1954

Bans racial segregation in public schools


In a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down an unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The decision deals with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

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