Posted on November 5, 2012 at 9:31 am by Lyle Denniston
The Supreme Court on Monday did not grant any new cases, and took no action on the constitutional challenges to the key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Justices asked for the federal government’s views on the division of powers between courts and arbitrators in a dispute over a two-nation investment treaty (BG Group PLC v. Argentina, 12-138). The order list is here.
The Court issued a summary ruling — that is, one without formal briefing and oral argument — in an attorney’s fees case, Lefemine v. Wideman (12-168). The decision overturned a Fourth Circuit Court decision in an anti-abortion demonstration case. Because the challengers who opposed limits on their displays of aborted fetuses had won a court order but did not receive a money damages award, the Circuit Court had found that they were not a prevailing party entitled to recover their attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, saying the court order forced officials to change their behavior in a way that benefited the demonstrators. There were no dissents noted.
The Court has now examined the Voting Rights Act cases twice in private sessions, without taking any action on them. At issue is the constitutionality of the 1965 law’s most important provision, Section 5, requiring nine states and parts of seven others to get advance clearance in Washington before they may make any changes, however small, in their election laws or procedures because of those states’ and counties’ past histories on racial bias in voting. Two petitions (Nix v. Holder, 12-81, and Shelby County v. Holder, 12-96) are pressing that constitutional challenge, in the wake of a twenty-five-year extension of Section 5 by Congress. There is no way for anyone outside the Court to know what is happening among the Justices with these petitions.
At its Conference last Friday, the Court also considered two other high-profile cases, but also took no action on those on Monday: a test of whether states have a constitutional duty to allow an individual to claim an insanity defense to criminal charges (Delling v. Idaho, 11-1515) and a plea for the Court to place some limits on the power of Congress to pass laws to implement a global treaty (Bond v. United States, 12-158).
(Disclaimer: Some of the attorneys who have roles in private practice and also with this blog represent BG Group in the case the Court referred to the Solicitor General’s office; some of those attorneys are also among the counsel to the petitioner in Delling v. Idaho. The author of this post, however, operates independently of the law practice.)