30 June 2011

Beginning a Discussion of the Supreme Court Term

Another term of the U.S. Supreme Court has come and gone.  Again, the court has issued a lot of decisions that are, in their own several ways, fascinating.  There is one that leaps out at me this year as THE decision of the term, in relation to my own usual net of obsessions, and I'll discuss that tomorrow.  Today, I'll do a round-up of others of this term's cases, in no particular order. 

I'll say nothing more about cases I've discussed in earlier blog entries, such as STANFORD v. ROCHE, the patent-law case I discussed on June 17.

1) Flores-Villar v. U.S.:  This is a sex discrimination case (the sort that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made her reputation litigating in the 1970s) in an immigration context.  It came out as a 4-4 decision, because Justice Kagan recused herself.   For these particular litigants, that means that the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remains the law.

The case turned on a quirk in US law regarding citizenship.  A child born out of the US, to a mother who is a US citizen, is a U.S. citizen, regardless of such matters as her marital status or the father's citizenship etc.  What then of a child born out of the U.S.,  to a mother who is not a US citizen, but with a father (acknowledged paternity) who is a U.S. citizen, in circumstances in which the parents are not married?

Under the law, this child is not a citizen of the US unless his citizen father had resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years after his 14th birthday. Thus, by obvious arithmetic, no one can become a US citizen in this way whose father is not at least 19 at the time of the child's birth.

Why are there different rules for citizen fathers than for citizen mothers?  Does that violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment?  This was the contested question -- contested under a body of law known as the "intermediate tier" doctrine, regarding sex discrimination.  Such a distinction is seen as suspect, but as somewhat less suspect than racial discrimination.  The appellate court upheld the law, and SCOTUS didn't muster the votes to change that. 

2) Bond v. United States.  This was the federalism case of the term, arising out of a bizaare mis-application of an anti-terrorism statute.   Sex-in-the-suburbs.  In this case the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Carol Anne Bond of Landsdale, PA was ticked off that her husband had impregnated a neighbor, and struck back by placing caustic substances on various surfaces she knew the Jezebel in question was likely to touch, including Jezebel's car door and mailbox.

Bond was convicted of a federal crime, violating the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998.  You can almost hear her introducing herself to the other inmates.  "I'm Bond.  Carol Bond."

The decision, by Justice Kennedy, used some sweeping pro-10th-amendment language, explicitly giving the right to "vindicate" 10th amendment interests to individuals.  "Her rights in this regard do not belong to a state."

It is possible that the Court expects that next term it will overturn Obamacare or crucial parts of it on federalism grounds, and it saw this case as a helpful set-up to that decision.

3) Skinner v., Switzer.  A petition for a Texas inmate on death row.  Always dramatic.  In this case, it was Justice Ginsburg who wrote a 6 to 3 opinion that said that convicted inmates seeking access to DNA evidence in an effort to prove their innocence may use a federal civil-rights lawsuit in order to do so.

4)  Boeing v. United States.  The court somewhat limited the range of the "state secrets" doctrine in the course of contract disputes.  Further, hearteningly (for those of us who are not lovers of "state secrets" in general) it did so unanimously, in an opinion by Justice Scalia.

It is a rare case involving a defense-industry contracts dispute that draws such a range of amicus briefs, including a brief from the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc., "in support of neither party," in which the Foundation's lawyers maintained that the court should inquire into the foundations of the state secrets doctrine itself, and should characterize it as a "common-law evidentiary rule of nonconstitutional provenance."   

I don't see any place in the opinion where Scalia takes them up on that.  He sticks to his knitting, in an opinion that declines to enforce a contract against private parties in a situation in which the invocation of the state-secret doctrine has precluded a prima facie valid defense to the governments claims.

5)  Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn.  Sale of video games to minors comes under the protection of the first amendment.

The cool thing about this case is that earlier in the proceedings it was known as Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants.  Given subsequent revelations, the puns there write themselves.
The really big case of the term ... tomorrow.

No comments:

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.