Supreme Court ends term with a bang

 WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. Supreme Court ended its 2005-2006 term on Friday with a blockbuster ruling that limits a key weapon in the Bush administration’s war on terror.

Click on the issues below to find out rulings on key cases.

Terrorism/military tribunals  
Texas redistricting
Assisted suicide
Military recruiting
Property rights/wetlands
Religion and drugs
Campaign finance reform
Abortion notification
Search and seizure
Foreign criminals’ rights
Workplace speech
Death penalty/lethal injection
Tax credits 
Terrorism/military tribunals

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld
At issue: Rights of accused foreign terrorists held overseas and facing military tribunals.

Ruling: 5-3 (reversed) for Hamdan. June 29, 2006.

Summary: In a blow to executive authority, the justices strongly limited the power of the Bush administration to conduct military tribunals for suspected terrorists imprisoned at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Majority quote: “We conclude that the military commission convened to try Hamdan lacks power to proceed because its structure and procedures violate both the (Uniform Code of Military Justice) and the Geneva Conventions.” — Justice John Paul Stevens

Minority quote: “Our duty to defer to the executive’s military and foreign policy judgment is at its zenith; it does not countenance the kind of second-guessing the court repeatedly engages in today.” — Justice Clarence Thomas

Texas redistricting
League of United Latin v. Perry; Travis County v. Perry; Jackson, Eddie v. Perry; GI Forum of Texas v. Perry

At issue: Whether 2003 congressional redistricting plan was partisan gerrymandering, and whether states can remake congressional map twice in the same decade when a valid plan is already in place.

Ruling: 7-2 (affirmed) for Texas on the overall congressional map; 5-4 (reversed) for League of United Latin that District 23 improperly diluted the voting strength of Latino voters, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. June 28, 2006.

Summary: The overall redistricting plan engineered by state Republicans was found to be proper, but a portion of the controversial Texas congressional map was tossed out.

Majority quote: “The text and structure of the Constitution and our case law indicate there is nothing inherently suspect about a legislature’s decision to replace mid-decade a court-ordered plan with one of its own.” — Justice Anthony Kennedy

Minority quote: “By taking an action for the sole purpose of advantaging Republicans and disadvantaging Democrats, the state of Texas violated its constitutional obligation to govern impartially.” — Justice John Paul Stevens

Assisted suicide
Gonzales v. Oregon

At issue: Whether federal authority trumps state law allowing doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to help terminally ill patients end their lives.

Ruling: 6-3 (affirmed) for Oregon. January 17, 2006.

Summary: In a setback to Bush administration claims of federal authority, Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law was ruled constitutional.

Majority ruling: “The idea that Congress gave the attorney general such broad and unusual authority through an implicit delegation in the [federal law's] registration provision is not sustainable… The importance of the issue of physician-assisted suicide… makes the oblique form of the claimed delegation all the more suspect.” — Justice Anthony Kennedy

Minority ruling: The government earlier claimed the voter-passed referendum had “no legitimate medical purpose.” “If the term ‘legitimate medical purpose’ has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death.” — Justice Antonin Scalia

Military recruiting
Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights

At issue: A free speech dispute over whether universities may ban military recruiters from campus.

Ruling: 8-0 (reversed) for Rumsfeld. March 6, 2006.

Summary: Colleges must allow military recruiters on campus, or risk the loss of federal funds.

Majority ruling: “Nothing about recruiting suggests the law schools agree with any speech by recruiters, and nothing in the Solomon Amendment restricts what the law schools may say about the military’s policies… The Solomon Amendment therefore does not violate a law school’s First Amendment rights. A military recruiter’s mere presence on campus does not violate a law school’s right to associate, regardless of how repugnant the law school considers the recruiter’s message.” — Chief Justice John Roberts

Property rights/wetlands
Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. Army Corps of Engineers

At issue: Whether federal wetland regulators went too far restricting development far from protected waterway.

Ruling: Ruling: 5-4 (reversed) for Rapanos. June 19, 2006.

Summary: Limited the reach of federal regulators to block private development that might affect water quality, an important property rights dispute. But the justices failed to agree on the broader issue of whether the government’s reach extends to tributaries that feed a maze of larger so-called “navigable” waterways.

Majority ruling: “In applying the definition to ‘ephemeral streams,’ ‘wet meadows,’ storm sewers and culverts, … man-made drainage ditches, and dry arroyos in the middle of the desert, the Corps has stretched the term ‘waters of the United States’ beyond parody.” — Justice Antonin Scalia Majority

Concurrence: “Important public interests are served by the Clean Water Act in general and by the protection of wetlands in particular.” Majority opinion “seems unduly dismissive of the interests asserted by the United States in these cases.” — Justice Anthony Kennedy

Minority ruling: “While there may exist categories of wetlands adjacent to tributaries of traditionally navigable waters that, taken cumulatively, have no plausible discernible relationship to any aspect of downstream water quality, I am skeptical.” — Justice John Paul Stevens

Religion and drugs
Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal

At issue: A church’s efforts to use a hallucinogenic tea, containing a banned substance, in its religious services.

Ruling: 7-0 (affirmed) for church. February 21, 2006.

Summary: Sided with a New Mexico church’s efforts to use a hallucinogenic tea, containing a banned substance, in its religious services, a defeat in the federal government’s aggressive anti-drug stance.

Majority ruling: “Congress has determined that courts should strike sensible balances. The government failed to demonstrate, at the preliminary injunction stage, a compelling interest in barring the (church’s) sacramental use of hoasca,” the tea central to this case. — Chief Justice John Roberts

Campaign finance reform
Randall v. Sorrell; Vermont State Republican Comm. v. Sorrell; Sorrell v. Randall

At issue: Three consolidated disputes over the constitutionality of state limits on campaign finance and spending limit laws.

Ruling: 6-3 (reversed) for Randall. June 26, 2006.

Summary: Struck down Vermont’s strict limits on state campaign spending limits, finding the laws unfairly violate the free speech rights of candidates to raise money and publicize their views.

Majority ruling: “We consequently agree with the district court that the act’s contribution limits ‘would reduce the voice of political parties’ in Vermont to a ‘whisper.’ ” — Justice Stephen Breyer

Minority ruling: Authors of the Constitution “would have been appalled by the impact of modern fundraising practices on the ability of elected officials to perform their public responsibilities.” — Justice John Paul Stevens

Abortion notification
Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

At issue: Is a state law requiring parental notification for minors seeking abortion too restrictive?

Ruling: 9-0 (vacated) for Ayotte. January 18, 2006.

Summary: Stopping short of a major ruling on abortion, the justices handed a temporary victory to officials in New Hampshire over the state’s parental notification law, ordering a lower court to reconsider its rejection of the legislation. The high court concluded that a federal appeals court went too far by blocking enforcement of the law requiring minors to notify their parents before receiving an abortion. The lower court found it was unconstitutional because it did not have a health exception for pregnant women facing a medical emergency. The law has never gone into effect as the case was appealed. The ruling from the high court essentially bypassed the larger question of whether such laws are an unconstitutional “burden” on women’s access to the procedure.

Majority ruling: “We do not revisit our abortion precedents today, but rather address a question of remedy.” The lower court “chose the most blunt remedy — permanently enjoining the act’s enforcement and thereby invalidating it entirely.” But she noted, “Under our cases it would be unconstitutional to apply the act in a manner that subjects minors to significant health risks.” — Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in her last authored opinion

Search and seizure
Georgia v. Randolph

At issue: May police search homes for drugs, when occupants disagree over consent?

Ruling: 5-3 (affirmed) for Randolph. March 22, 2006.

Summary: Ruled against police in a dispute between a husband and wife over a search for illegal drugs in their home, an important case testing the limits of law enforcement discretion.

Majority ruling: “A warrantless search of a shared dwelling for evidence over the express refusal of consent by a physically present resident cannot be justified as reasonable.” — Justice David Souter

Minority ruling: “We should acknowledge that a decision to share a private place, like a decision to share a secret or a confidential document, necessarily entails the risk that those with whom we share may in turn choose to share — for their own protection or for other reasons — with the police.” — Chief Justice John Roberts

Foreign criminal rights
Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon and Bustillo v. Johnson

At issue: Legal remedies for non-citizen criminal defendants who were not told of their right to contact their consulates upon arrest.

Ruling: 6-3 (affirmed) for states. June 28, 2006.

Summary: Foreigners imprisoned for serious crimes in the United States do not automatically deserve new trials even though police may fail to inform them of their right to speak with their consulates, as an international treaty required.

Majority ruling: “Although these cases involve the delicate question of the application of an international treaty, the issues in many ways turn on established principles of domestic law. Our holding in no way disparages the importance of the Vienna Convention… The relief (the criminal suspects’) request is, by any measure, extraordinary.” — Chief Justice John Roberts

Workplace speech
Garcetti v. Ceballos

At issue: Public employees rights to speak out on job-related issues.

Ruling: 5-4 (reversed) for Garcetti. May 30, 2006.

Summary: Government workers who blow the whistle on alleged illegal conduct do not deserve First Amendment protection that would automatically shield them from discipline from their bosses.

Majority ruling: Rejected the idea “that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties. Our precedents do not support the existence of a constitutional cause of action behind every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job.” — Justice Anthony Kennedy

Minority ruling: “Private and public interests in addressing official wrongdoing and threats to health and safety can outweigh the government’s stake in the efficient implementation of policy.” — Justice David Souter

Death penalty/lethal injection
Hill v. McDonough

At issue: Whether a death row appeal based on the “cocktail” of chemicals used in lethal injection is a sufficient last-ditch argument to stop a pending execution.

Ruling: 9-0 (reversed) for Hill. June 12, 2006.

Summary: Death row inmates were given another powerful procedural tool to challenge their executions by a lethal “cocktail” of chemicals.

Majority quote: “Hill’s challenge appears to leave the state free to use an alternative lethal injection procedure.” — Justice Anthony Kennedy

Tax credits
DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno and Wilkins (Ohio Tax Comm.) v. Cuno

At issue: How states may use financial incentives, such as investment tax credits, to lure companies to build car plants and other projects.

Ruling: 9-0 (vacated) for DaimlerChrysler. May 15, 2006.

Summary: Taxpayers have no standing to challenge nearly $300 million in tax breaks Ohio’s elected officials used to entice DaimlerChrysler Corp. to build a new plant in Toledo. Ruling avoided larger question of whether tax incentive programs are constitutional. It could have had a significant impact nationally because nearly every state uses billions of dollars in tax breaks to attract companies.

Majority ruling: “A taxpayer-plaintiff has no right to insist that the government dispose of any increased revenue it might experience as a result of his suit by decreasing his tax liability or bolstering programs that benefit him. To the contrary, the decision of how to allocate any such savings is the very epitome of a policy judgment committed to the ‘broad and legitimate discretion’ of lawmakers.” — Chief Justice John Roberts

Probate jurisdiction
Vickie Marshall v. Pierce Marshall

At issue: Limits of federal court jurisdiction over estate disputes.

Ruling: 9-0 (reversed) for Vickie Marshall. May 1, 2006.

Summary: Former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith’s (using her real married name in court filings) can continue her fight to claim a large part of her late husband’s vast business holdings, after the justices ruled federal bankruptcy courts do have a role, however limited, to play when state probate courts are hearing the same case. The so-called “probate exception” normally keeps federal courts from hearing such disputes, but there is no congressional law mandating the hands-off approach.

Majority quote: “The probate exception does not bar federal courts from adjudicating matters outside those confines and otherwise within federal jurisdiction.” — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

From Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau

 

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