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29 Jun, 2015

Google appeal on Oracle suit denied

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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

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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.

Jun 2015

Reacts to ‘Obamacare’ decision

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Pres. Obama reacts to the Supreme Court decision on Affordable Care Act subsidies:

After multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.

He adds that, had the decision gone otherwise:

America would have gone backwards. That’s not what we do.

Upholds Fair Housing Act

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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.”

Upholds health care subsidies

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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”.

22 Jun, 2015

Favors inmate on excessive force claim

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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.

Denies police access to LA hotel registries

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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.

Jun 2015

Spider-Man Toy precedent upheld

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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.

Sides with raisin farmers

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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.

18 Jun, 2015

Confirms Texas’ Confederate plates rejection

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In a 5-4 decision, the justices rule that Texas did not violate the First Amendment when it refused to allow specialty license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag. Justice Breyer writes for the majority that such plates are the government’s speech and are thus immune from First Amendment attacks.

Children’s abuse statements can be evidence

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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

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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

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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

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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

Workers cannot be forced to pay union dues

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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.

Allows corporate contraceptive religious objection

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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.

26 Jun, 2014

Strikes down abortion clinic buffer zone

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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.

Rules against Obama recess appointments

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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.

25 Jun, 2014

Cell phone search warrant required

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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.