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Jun 26 2015

SCOTUS : New Rules

It’s been a busy court calendar for the Supremes this year. They had to add extra days for the release of their rulings. One of the biggies came today when the court rejected the lawsuit that would have ended the health care subsidies of the Affordable Care Act.

The stakes of the case, King v. Burwell, were enormous. Had the plaintiffs prevailed, millions of people who depend upon the Affordable Care Act for insurance would have lost financial assistance from the federal government. Without that money, most of them would have had to give up coverage altogether. And the loss of so many customers would have forced insurers to raise premiums, seriously disrupting state insurance markets.

But two of the court’s conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined the court’s four liberals in rejecting the lawsuit in a 6-3 decision. Roberts delivered the opinion (pdf) for the majority. And the decision was a concise, stinging rebuke of the plaintiffs, who contended that Congress intended to write a law that would leave so many people without coverage, and cause such disarray.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not destroy them,” Roberts wrote.

In the other ruling released today, in a 5 – 4 decision the justices backed a broad interpretation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act a crucial tool in the fight against housing discrimination.

The question in the case was whether plaintiffs suing under the housing law must prove intentional discrimination or merely that the challenged practice had produced a “disparate impact.” Drawing on decisions concerning other kinds of discrimination, Justice Kennedy said the housing law allowed suits relying on both kinds of evidence.

The first kind of proof can be hard to come by, as agencies and businesses seldom announce that they are engaging in purposeful discrimination. “Disparate impact,” on the other hand, can be proved using statistics.

Justice Kennedy wrote that the history of the law and of the civil rights movement supported the broader interpretation.

On Monday they handed down four rulings

Supreme Court rules on patents, property

By Jaelynn Grisso, Scripts Howard Foundation Wire

Patent holders cannot be paid after the patent expires

The Supreme Court ruled that patent holders cannot keep getting paid for their inventions after the patent expires, upholding a previous Supreme Court decision.

Marvel agreed to pay Stephen Kimble royalties for a Spider-Man glove that shot out fake spider webs. He held a patent on the glove, but the contract did not specify how long payments would last. When the patent on the toy expired after the typical 20 years, Marvel stopped paying Kimble. The district court and the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals sided with Marvel based on the Supreme Court case Brulotte v. Thys, which also ruled patent holders were not entitled to royalties after the patent expired.

The court reaffirmed these decisions in a 6-3 vote, determining Kimble’s reasons for overturning Brulotte were not substantial enough. [..]

Crops, like raisins, are protected property

In Horne v. Department of Agriculture, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot make raisin growers forfeit a portion of their crops because they are protected property under the Fifth Amendment.

Marvin and Laura Horne refused to give the USDA a portion of their raisin crop, violating a law passed in 1937, which allows the government to require growers to reserve a portion of their crops for government management. The law said the government could take the crops for free to help control market prices. It would pay farmers only if it made profit on the produce.

The court’s ruling reversed the 9th Circuit’s decision on an 8-1 vote, with Sotomayor dissenting. The ruling upheld that personal property – such as cars, computers or raisins – is protected under the Fifth Amendment as is real property, such as houses. [..]

Excessive force needs to be determined objectively

The Supreme Court ruled that county jails need to set objective standards for use of force against prisoners who have not yet been convicted. The court reversed a ruling from the 7th Circuit Court and sent the case back for a rehearing.

Michael Kingsley sued officers in a Wisconsin county jail after they used force to remove him from his cell after he refused to comply with their instructions. Kingsley had not been convicted of a crime and was being held until his trial.

After a jury trial found in favor of the officers, Kingsley appealed. He claimed the instructions to the jury did not require that jurors consider whether the guards had intentionally violated Kingsley’s rights or had use force with complete disregard for his rights.

The 7th Circuit disagreed, saying that subjective standards about the officers’ intentions – whether or not they meant to violate or disregard his rights – should be used. The Supreme Court reversed this decision on a 5-4 vote, with Breyer, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan agreeing. Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito dissented.

Officers cannot conduct a search without judicial review

In a case involving the city of Los Angeles and a group of hotel operators, the Supreme Court decided city ordinances allowing officers to search hotel records was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The 5-4 vote upheld the decision of the 9th Circuit.

Los Angeles requires hotel operators to keep records about their guests, and the hotel operators can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor if the records are not maintained correctly. The district court sided with the city because it said hotel operators did not have an expectation of privacy for the records. But the 9th Circuit reversed this decision because the ordinance did not allow for a neutral party, such as a judge, to review the records for compliance before a search.

The city will now need to get a subpoena before getting hotel records if the hotel operator declines to give up the records voluntarily. The city wanted access to records because it said maintaining the records is a deterrent to criminal activity like prostitution and housing undocumented immigrants.

The court also previously released these rulings:

Race and Redistricting

In two Alabama cases, the court found that the State Legislature had relied too heavily on race in its 2012 state redistricting by maintaining high concentrations of black voters in some districts.

Religious Freedom in Prison

In Holt v. Hobbs, the court found that Arkansas corrections officials had violated the religious liberty rights of Muslim inmates by forbidding them to grow beards over security concerns.

Pregnancy Discrimination

In Young v. United Parcel Service, the court found that the lower courts had used the wrong standard to determine whether UPS had discriminated against one of its drivers, Peggy Young, who was pregnant.

Judicial Elections and Free Speech

In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, the court ruled that states may prohibit judicial candidates from personally asking their supporters for money.

Employment Discrimination

The court decided in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores that Samantha Elauf was not required to make a specific request for a religious accommodation to wear a hijab when applying for a position at a children’s clothing store owned by the company.

Social Media and Free Speech

The court decided in Elonis v. United States that prosecutors did not do enough to prove Anthony Elonis’s intent when he published threatening rap lyrics on Facebook directed at his wife.

Separation of Powers in Foreign Affairs

The court decided in Zivotofsky v. Kerry that Congress was not entitled to order the State Department to “record the place of birth as Israel” in the passports of American children born in Jerusalem if their parents requested.

The Confederate Flag and Free Speech

The court decided in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans that Texas had not discriminated against the view of the group that “the Confederate flag is a symbol of sacrifice, independence and Southern heritage” when refusing to allow its license plate bearing the Confederate flag.

Religious Signs and Free Speech

The court decided in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz., that a town ordinance that places different limits on political, ideological and directional signs violates the First Amendment.

There are four more rulings coming down the pike for tomorrow and Monday:

1. Obergefell v. Hodges (Same Sex marriage)

2. Glossip v. Gross (Lethal Injection)

3. Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (Congressional Redistricting)

4. Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA et. al. ( EPA Emissions Regulations)

5. Johnson v. U.S. (Gun Laws and Criminals)

So far, the Supremes haven’t upset the apple cart too much

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