Major cases of the Supreme Court October 2012 term

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The Judicial Update
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This page is a synopsis of major cases decided by the Supreme Court of the United States during its October 2012 term. We understand that inclusion on this list is subjective, and that individuals may prioritize other rulings. Our starting point for choosing which cases to watch this year came from articles published by major news organizations at the start of the term. Below is a short sampling of articles used:

Our goal is to provide readers with an easy understanding of the important aspects of these rulings. For further exploration or information, please visit Supreme Court rulings included under each case. Cases are listed in the order of the day they were announced.

United States v. Windsor

In this ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) "is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment."[1][2]

Hearing:

The decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was affirmed in a 5-4 vote after an argument on March 27, 2013.

Majority opinion:

The opinion was written by Justice Kennedy and joined by Justice Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. It holds that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is:

invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.[3] [4]

Dissenting opinions:

Dissenting opinions were filed by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Alito. Every dissenting member of the Court agreed on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.[5]

Significance:

Same-sex couple who are legally married will receive equal treatment under federal law.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

In this ruling, the Court found that proponents of California's Proposition 8 did not have legal standing to argue the law in federal court. The legality of the measure was not addressed by the Court in this ruling.[6]

Hearing:

After an argument on March 26, 2013, the Court vacated and remanded the opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 5-4 vote.[6]

Majority opinion:

The majority opinion was authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan, individuals who generally approach cases with extreme differences in ideology. In it, the Court found that the sponsors of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal the lower court ruling on the government's behalf. (Since the State of California refused to defend the law after it was struck down in federal district court, this group was created to appeal the ruling.)

We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.[7] [4]

Dissenting opinion:

The dissent was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Justices Thomas, Alito and Sotomayor. It disagreed on the standing issue, finding that laws of the State of California dictate that individuals may argue on behalf of an initiative when the government refuses to do so. According to the dissent, the Supreme Court is bound by this aspect of California law.[8]

Significance:

Same-sex marriages in the State of California will again be legal and the Governor Jerry Brown has ordered officials to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses.[9]

Shelby County v. Holder

This opinion voided Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required states with a history of discrimination to have any changes to voting process examined by the Justice Department before taking effect.[10][11]

Hearing:

The appeal from United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was argued on February 27, 2013 and the ruling was released on June 25, 2013.[10]

Majority opinion:

In the 5-4 opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts found Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, meaning that jurisdictions can no longer be forced to participate in the preclearance of voting laws. The opinion was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito.

The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years. Yet the Act has not eased [Section] 5's restrictions or narrowed the scope of [Section] 4's coverage formula along the way. Instead those extraordinary and unprecedented features have been reauthorized as if nothing has changed, and they have grown stronger still.[12] [4]

Justice Thomas also filed a concurring opinion.[10]

Dissenting opinion:

The dissent was written by Justice Ginsburg and joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. It's main focus was that the success of this provision of the Voting Rights Act is the reason for its continued need.

In the Court's view, the very success of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy.[13] [4]

Significance:

This ruling has immediate significance for all the states still bound by the Voting Rights Act. Several voting laws that awaiting approval from the Department of Justice no longer need preclearance, allowing them to take effect immediately. Those include Voter ID laws in Texas, Alabama and Mississippi.[11]

It is also supposed that eliminating this section of the law spells a "death knell" for the rest of the Act.[14]

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

This ruling determined that a parent does not have absolute rights of adoption under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Hearing:

The hearing was held on April 16, 2013, and reversed a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court.[15]

Majority opinion:

The opinion, authored by Justice Alito, solely threw out the South Carolina high court ruling which awarded adoption of the girl to her biological father under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The case was remanded back to the state court. This ruling does not determine who will have eventual custody of the child, but instead focused on the scope of the ICWA. In the ruling, Alito wrote:

Under the State Supreme Court's reading, a biological Indian father could abandon his child in utero...and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother's decision and the child's best interest.[16] [4]

Concurring opinions were filed by Justices Breyer and Thomas.[15]

Dissenting opinion:

The dissenting opinion was filed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan. Justice Scalia joined in part.[15]

Significance:

The significance of this ruling seems to be that the Court is unwilling to allow the previous interpretation of laws to dictate their relevance to modern law.

Vance v. Ball State University

In this workplace discrimination case, the Court defined a supervisor as one who has power to hire, fire or refuse to promote an employee. This case was brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which declares that employers (or their agents) may not practice gender or race discrimination.[17][18][19]

Hearing:

The appeal from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was affirmed after an argument on November 26, 2012.[17]

Who brought suit:

An employee in the kitchen of Ball State University, who claimed she was repeatedly harassed with derogatory racial terms by individuals whom she regarded as supervisors.[18]

Majority opinion:

This opinion was authored by Justice Samuel Alito and was supported by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas. The Court's opinion hoped to simplify the definition of a supervisor, stating that the approach supported by the petitioner would "often be murky."[19] Justice Thomas also concurred, stating that he thought the two cases used as precedent had been wrongly decided.[17]

Dissenting opinion:

The dissent was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. it focused on the precedent of defining supervisors as anyone who directs a subordinate's daily work. Also in the dissent, Ginsburg attacked the Court's majority as being "out of touch with the realities of the workplace."[19]

One of the most notable things from the announcement of Vance was the reaction of Justice Alito as Justice Ginsburg read her joint dissent from Vance and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar. Though his reaction was silent, and therefore not on the record, several reporters in the courtroom said that Alito rolled his eyes and shook his head "no" in response to his colleague's opinion. This break from the decorum of the courtroom was summarized by one reporter as such: "I found it as jarring as seeing a Justice blow bubblegum during oral argument."[20]

Significance:

Depending on your point of view, the significance of Vance is that it protects companies from wrongful discrimination claims or it makes it harder for employees to sue when mistreated.[19]

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

This opinion, regarding affirmation action in the admissions policy of the University of Texas, was remanded to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court found that the lower court should have applied "strict scrutiny" when deciding the case, determining whether diversity could be achieved without the consideration of race.[21][22]

Majority opinion:

Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the 7-1 opinion. The case was vacated by the Court and remanded back to the Fifth Circuit, which needs to apply strict scrutiny to the university's use of racial consideration in its admissions process.[21][23]

Dissenting opinion:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored a solo dissent in this case, in which she agreed with the rulings of the lower court.[22]

Recusal:

Justice Kagan recused from participating in this case. Though her decision was not explained, it is widely believed that she had some experience with it while serving in the United States Department of Justice.[22]

Significance:

The significance of this ruling is difficult to find, since it was seen by many as a compromise. The team who challenged the admissions policy expressed confidence that as a result of this ruling the Fifth Circuit would strike down the college's admission policy. However, the president of the university said that they did not expect to change their policy as a result of this ruling.[23]

Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

The State of Arizona cannot require prospective voters to provide documentation proving their citizenship, holds the ruling written by Justice Antonin Scalia, since the federal National Voter Registration Act takes precedent over state election law.[24]

Hearing:

The appeal from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was argued on March 18, 2013, and affirmed in the decision released on June 17, 2013.[25]

Majority opinion:

The majority opinion focused not only on the unconstitutionality of Arizona's law, which was created via ballot measure in 2004, but also how the State could procedurally get the federal government to comply with its wishes. The majority ruling was supported by seven justices, though Justice Kennedy would not sign off on the aspect of the ruling which suggests an alternative mode for Arizona. That idea is for the State of Arizona to petition the federal Election Assistance Commission, which creates a federal voter registration form, to include citizenship information.[26]

Dissenting opinions:

Dissenting opinions were filed by Justices Thomas and Alito, which believed that the Court erred in overriding Arizona's law.[26]

Significance:

In addition to reasserting the Supremacy Clause as a bedrock of federalism, activists praised this decision for its real-world implications. According to them, this ruling will expand voting rights by simplifying the registration process.[27]

The State of Arizona does not agree with that assessment. In a press release following the ruling, the Arizona Secretary of State said, "We strongly believe that citizenship is the foundation from which eligibility is derived and we will continue to look for ways to ensure only eligible citizens are casting ballots in our elections." The release also announced that they would pursue the avenue for amending the federal form suggested by Justice Scalia.[28]

Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.

Justice Clarence Thomas authored a 9-0 decision holding that a naturally occurring segment of DNA cannot be patented though it can be isolated. Synthetic DNA is still eligible to patent.[29]

Hearing:

The appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was affirmed in part and reversed in part. The case was argued on April 15, 2013, and the opinion released on June 13, 2013.[30]

Majority opinion:

The majority opinion was written by Justice Thomas, and a concurring opinion was filed by Justice Scalia.[30]

Significance:

Some debate whether this ruling will change much in the scientific community. As a result, genetic testing for disease may be offered more widely and at a lower cost. Others noted that the patents in question would have expired in 2016 anyway, leading to changes in the next few years. The dominating cultural perspective, however, focused on the aspect that individual companies did not have the right to patent DNA.[29][31]

Clapper v. Amnesty International USA

In an opinion authored by Justice Alito, plaintiffs were found to not have standing to sue the federal government for actions under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), originally adopted in 1978 and amended in 2008. Because the case was ruled on standing, the constitutional merit of the program was not addressed by the Justices.[32]

Hearing:

The appeal from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was heard on October 29, 2012, with the ruling released on February 26, 2013. The opinion reversed the ruling by the Second Circuit.[32]

Who brought suit:

A group of lawyers, journalists and others who believed their international communications were being monitored by the federal government.

Majority opinion:

The majority opinion was authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas. The Court contended that the responsibility for monitoring the government's action under FISA falls to the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is bound by the Constitution. In addition, in order for the plaintiffs to suffer any injury, a specific set of steps would need to occur, which could not be proven in this case.[33]

Dissenting opinion:

The dissent, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. It argued that the case should move forward in the district courts, and that never before had the standard of a "certainly impending" injury need be apparent to sue.[33]

Significance:

According to SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston:

The decision fit into two ongoing patterns established by the modern Court: a narrowing of the scope of the right to sue in federal court as a general proposition, and a stream of decisions insulating highly secret government war programs from judicial review in the regular federal court system.[33][4]

See also

References

  1. The Supreme Court of the United States, United States v. Windsor (dead link) Scroll to page 2
  2. SCOTUSblog, United States v. Windsor
  3. The Supreme Court of the United States, United States v. Windsor (dead link) Scroll to page 25-26
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  5. SCOTUSblog, "A home run but not a grand slam for gay-marriage advocates," June 26, 2013
  6. 6.0 6.1 SCOTUSblog, Hollingsworth v. Perry
  7. The Supreme Court of the United States, Hollingsworth v. Perry Scroll to page 17
  8. The Supreme Court of the United States, Hollingsworth v. Perry Scroll to page 1 - dissent
  9. FindLaw.com, "SCOTUS Marriage Rulings: DOMA Is Dead, Prop. 8 Down on Standing," June 26, 2013
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 SCOTUSblog, Shelby County, AL v. Holder
  11. 11.0 11.1 The Associate Press, "Court halts use of key part of voting law," June 25, 2013
  12. The Supreme Court of the United States, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder Scroll to page 3
  13. The Supreme Court of the United States, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder Scroll to page 32
  14. SCOTUSblog live blog from June 25, 2013
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 SCOTUSblog, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl
  16. Reuters, "Supreme Court rule for couple over baby girl's adoption," June 25, 2013
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 SCOTUSblog, Vance v. Ball State University
  18. 18.0 18.1 Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Vance v. Ball State University
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 SCOTUSblog, "Court rules for employers in two employment discrimination cases," June 24, 2013
  20. The Atlantic, "Justice Alito's Inexcusable Rudeness," June 24, 2013
  21. 21.0 21.1 SCOTUSblog, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 The Associated Press, "High Court Send Back Texas Race-Based Plan," June 24, 2013
  23. 23.0 23.1 Bloomberg Law, "Affirmative Action Case Yields Compromise Court Ruling," June 24, 2013
  24. The New York Times, "Justices Reject Arizona Voting Law Requiring Proof of Citizenship," June 17, 2013
  25. SCOTUSblog, Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.
  26. 26.0 26.1 SCOTUSblog, "Details: Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc."
  27. Demos.org, "What Today's SCOTUS Ruling in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona Means for Voting Rights," June 17, 2013
  28. Secretary of State for Arizona, Press Release: "Secretary of State Ken Bennett statement on SCOTUS ruling," June 17, 2013
  29. 29.0 29.1 The New York Times, Justice, 9-0, Bar Patenting Human Genes," June 13, 2013
  30. 30.0 30.1 SCOTUSblog, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.
  31. National Geographic, "7 Takeaways From Supreme Court's Gene Patent Decision," June 14, 2013
  32. 32.0 32.1 SCOTUSblog, Clapper v. Amnesty International USA
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 SCOTUSblog, "Opinion recap: Global wiretap challenge thwarted," February 26, 2013