We are live blogging this morning as opinions are announced. The live blog is available here.

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If there is one thing that the Roberts Court seems consistently willing to protect, it’s speech – even controversial or unpopular speech like violent video games, protests at the funeral of a fallen soldier, lies about receiving military medals, and dog-fighting videos. And for the Court’s five more conservative Justices, this enthusiasm for the First Amendment extends to the campaign-finance arena. In recent years, a closely divided Court has struck down a ban on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions as well as the overall caps on how much one person can contribute to campaigns for federal office. But yesterday’s oral argument in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, a Tampa lawyer’s challenge to a Florida rule that prohibited her from personally contacting would-be donors to ask them to contribute to her campaign for a job as a trial judge, hinted that, when it comes to the First Amendment, judges might be different. After all, some Justices suggested, it would be undignified for judges – who, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, are supposed to be “above the fray” – to go around asking people for money. Continue reading »

Wednesday round-up

By on Jan 21, 2015 at 5:46 am

Today is the final day of the January sitting.  The Court will hear argument first in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, in which the question presented is whether the Fair Housing Act allows claims based on disparate impact.  Lyle Denniston previewed the argument for this blog, I added a preview in Plain English, and we hosted an online symposium on the case earlier this month.  Other coverage comes from Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News, Richard Wolf of USA Today, and Zachary Roth of MSNBC.  Commentary comes from Elizabeth Wydra at the Huffington Post, Todd Gaziano at The Blaze, Sherilynn Ifill at McClatchyDC, Valerie Schneider at ACSblog, and Roger Clegg at the National Review Online. Continue reading »

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Prior decisions of the Supreme Court addressing the constitutionality of the use of narcotics-sniffing dogs versus other law enforcement techniques have been on a theoretical collision course for years.  On Wednesday, the Court will hear argument in Rodriguez v. United States and consider aspects of the issue once again: does the Fourth Amendment restrict the use of drug-sniffing dogs by the police at a roadside traffic stop, when the officer has finished issuing any citation and the stop is prolonged for a few minutes solely to conduct the dog sniff?

The nuances of simple facts

As in many Fourth Amendment cases, although the facts in Rodriguez are relatively simple they raise difficult theoretical questions which often turn on nuances about the details.  One evening shortly after midnight, a car being driven by Dennys Rodriguez and carrying passenger Scott Pollman was stopped by Officer Morgan Struble.  Struble had observed the car drift slowly onto the shoulder of a highway and then jerk suddenly back onto the road — this was concededly “probable cause” to believe that Nebraska traffic statutes had been violated.  Coincidentally, Officer Struble was a “canine officer,” and he had his drug-sniffing dog with him in his patrol car. Continue reading »

 
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Petition of the day

By on Jan 20, 2015 at 10:11 pm

The petition of the day is:

14-619

Issue: Whether the Federal Circuit has erred in blocking all appellate review of United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) decisions made under 35 U.S.C. §§ 312 and 315, when the only limit in the statute is in Section 314, which is expressly limited to decisions made “under this section” – thus giving the USPTO complete and unreviewable authority under these two sections to reject assertions that the agency previously erred in granting patents.

On Wednesday morning, after opinions are released at ten o’clock, the Supreme Court will hold one hour of oral argument on the issue of how difficult it will be to prove discrimination in home sales or rentals, in the case of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities ProjectArguing for the state agency will be Texas Solicitor General Scott A. Keller of Austin. The private agency involved will be represented by Michael M. Daniel of the Dallas law office of Daniel & Beshara,, P.C., sharing time at the lectern with U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., representing the federal government as an amicus in support of the Project.

Background

For more than three years, it has been abundantly clear that the Supreme Court has a keen interest in setting some standards on federal enforcement of a major civil rights law, the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  Twice before, however, its agreement to decide the issue has been frustrated by settlement of those cases.  This week, it will try again, in a Texas case about placing low-income housing in racially segregated neighborhoods — a case that seems to have less chance of washing out than the previous ones.

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Opening the federal courthouse door slightly to state death-row inmates whose lawyers sloppily miss a deadline, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a new lawyer ought to be available to take up the cause, even if that is years later.  The Court fell well short of promising that a different lawyer would win a challenge, or even would be allowed to revive the case, but it at least created a chance to try.

The decision, reached by the Court in a summary ruling without briefs or a hearing, featured a strong complaint by two Justices that the Court was tampering with strict limits that Congress had put on state inmates’ access to federal habeas courts.  At least, the dissenters said in the case of Christeson v. Roper, the Court should not have acted until after full-scale review.

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Analysis

Florida used to have a tawdry reputation for corrupt judges, but one of the state’s key remedies for that may have gone too far.  That, at least, was the impression that emerged from an hour of argument Tuesday on the constitutionality of a flat ban on personal pleas for campaign donations by candidates for judicial seats.   The vote on it may be close, but a First Amendment umbrella over judicial money-raising could be the result.

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Last fall, the Court heard oral arguments in Holt v. Hobbs, an Arkansas prisoner’s challenge to a state prison policy that prohibits him from growing the beard that he believes his religion – Islam – requires. It’s an interesting case, but it drew even more attention because of the close parallels to last year’s high-profile decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that businesses provide their female employees with health insurance that includes access to birth control. Would a Muslim inmate serving a life sentence for slitting his ex-girlfriend’s throat fare as well with the Roberts Court as the devout Christian family that owns Hobby Lobby and believed that obeying the ACA’s birth-control mandate would cause them to violate their religious beliefs? Continue reading »

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