Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
The United States Supreme Court’s term begins, according to statute, on the first Monday in October of each year. The Supreme Court generally remains in session through late June. The Court’s most important and controversial decisions are often released at the very end of the term. Here is a summary of this year’s most awaited decisions, just in case you missed any of them:
EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch (June 1, 2015)
In a majority opinion written by Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court held that Abercrombie & Fitch was required to accommodate a Muslim job applicant’s religious practice of wearing a headscarf at work. To prevail on her Title VII claim, the plaintiff only had to show that her need for reasonable job accommodations was a motivating factor in Abercrombie’s decision not to hire her.
Zivotofsky v. Kerry (June 8, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court held that the President has the sole constitutional power to grant recognition to foreign nations. This includes the President’s power to not recognize any foreign country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. Congress lacks the authority to recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel because the formal recognition of foreign sovereignty is the President’s exclusive prerogative.
Reed v. Town of Gilbert (June 18, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court ruled that a local sign ordinance that places signs into different regulatory categories on the basis of their temporal, political, and ideological messages is a content-based restriction of speech that is presumptively violative of the First Amendment. The ordinance at issue did not survive strict scrutiny because it was not narrowly drawn to achieve a compelling governmental purpose.
McFadden v. United States (June 18, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court held that in order to convict a defendant of violating the Controlled Substance Analogues Act, the government must prove that he or she actually knew the substance at issue was specifically prohibited as an analogue under the act—not merely that the substance had effects similar to a controlled substance. In this case, the defendant was convicted of selling bath salts; but the jury was not instructed that it needed to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the bath salts were regulated as a controlled substance analogue. This was error requiring a remand for further proceedings.
Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (June 18, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court held that state-issued license plates are government property and that the messages and ideas conveyed on those license plates constitute government speech. The First Amendment does not require states to allow controversial or objectionable messages and images (in this case, a picture of the confederate battle flag) on its specialty license plates. Just as the government cannot force a private organization to express a view with which it disagrees, a private individual or organization cannot force the government to express a view with which it disagrees.
Ohio v. Clark (June 18, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court held that statements made by a young child to his teacher concerning physical abuse by his mother’s boyfriend were not “testimonial” within the meaning of Crawford v. Washington. Therefore, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment did not bar introduction of the out-of-court statements at trial, even though the young child did not testify.
Brumfield v. Cain (June 18, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Sotomayor, the Supreme Court held that an intellectually impaired defendant who was sentenced to death in Louisiana was entitled to a hearing on his low-IQ claim under Atkins v. Virginia. The Court concluded that the Louisiana state court’s rejection of the defendant’s request for an evidentiary hearing in accordance with Atkins was unreasonable under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). He was therefore entitled to a hearing on the merits of his claim on habeas corpus review in the U.S. District Court.
Horne v. Department of Agriculture (June 22, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court held that the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment applies equally to real and personal property. It is a Fifth Amendment taking, requiring just compensation, when the Department of Agriculture orders raisin growers to turn over a certain percentage of their raisin crop to the government.
Kingsley v. Hendrickson (June 22, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court held that in order to support a claim of excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a pretrial detainee only needs to show that the force used against him or her was objectively unreasonable, not that the officer subjectively knew the force was excessive. This is an objective standard that must be assessed from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene at the time.
City of Los Angeles v. Patel (June 22, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Sotomayor, the Supreme Court held that a statute or ordinance that authorizes no-reason, warrantless searches may be facially challenged directly under the Fourth Amendment.
Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC (June 22, 2015)
Steven Kimble patented a toy that allows children to shoot web-like strings from their hands like Spider-Man. He then sold his invention to Marvel Entertainment. In a majority opinion by Justice Kagan, the Supreme Court held that Kimble could not contract with Marvel Entertainment to continue receiving royalties for his invention after the term of his patent expired. The Supreme Court also observed that it is disinclined to overrule its own precedents, even if they were incorrectly decided, absent a showing of some special reason to do so.
King v. Burwell (June 25, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled that the phrase “an Exchange established by the State” in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) is ambiguous and therefore the proper subject of judicial interpretation. The Court found that it was necessary to look to the underlying purposes of the ACA rather than to its plain language alone. The Court determined that Congress’s purpose in enacting the ACA would be undermined if the tax credits that are available to individuals who live in states with State exchanges were not available to individuals in states with Federal exchanges. The former type of exchange would make insurance more affordable but the latter would not; this would not make sense in light of the stated reason for which the law was enacted. The Court therefore concluded that the phrase “an Exchange established by the State” must encompass both State and Federal exchanges.
Texas Department of Housing v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (June 25, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court held that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act in some cases. Although such claims are difficult to prove, there may be circumstances in which an entity’s disparate treatment of one race over another is sufficient to make out a prima facie case of disparate-impact discrimination. This would not only require a showing of statistical disparity, but also proof that the entity’s policies or procedures actually caused the disparate impact.
Johnson v. United States (June 26, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court held that the residual clause of § 924(e)(2)(B) of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Due Process Clause. Therefore, the courts may not rely on the residual clause in § 924(e)(2)(B) of the ACCA to increase the sentences of defendants who are convicted of certain federal firearms crimes.
Obergefell v. Hodges (June 26, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court determined that several states’ prohibitions against same-sex marriage violated the substantive component of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license marriages between two people of the same sex and to recognize marriages between two people of the same sex that have been lawfully performed out-of-state.
Michigan v. EPA (June 29, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to consider the cost of compliance before promulgating emissions regulations for power plants. The EPA determined that certain emissions regulations were “appropriate and necessary” within the meaning of the statute, but did not consider the cost to utilities in complying with the new rules. The Court ruled that even under Chevron deference, it could not defer to the EPA’s incorrect interpretation of the statue as excluding the consideration of cost in the rulemaking process.
Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (June 29, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court held that the Elections Clause of Article I of the United States Constitution does not confer upon state legislatures, as elected bodies, the exclusive authority to draw congressional districts in their respective states. Instead, the Court ruled that in states where the people are empowered to directly propose and vote on laws and constitutional amendments, the Elections Clause permits the citizens to establish an independent redistricting commission through the initiative process, which forms a part of the state’s legislative power.
Glossip v. Gross (June 29, 2015)
In a majority opinion by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court held that Oklahoma’s use of midazolam in its three-drug lethal injection protocol does not violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The majority noted that because the death penalty is constitutional, there must necessarily be a constitutional method of imposing it. The Court upheld the use of lethal injection, finding that the petitioners had not put forward a less-objectionable alternative method of execution and had not proven that the use of midazolam was likely to result in undue pain.