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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Supreme Court Watch

A legal blog has had a series of posts on a recent ruling that gave some rights to those subject to incarceration at civil contempt hearings, in part noting how state courts led the field after the Supreme Court interpreted requirements somewhat narrowly.

Meanwhile, today was another decision day, though a few of the hot button cases (e.g., violent video games) were left to the final week.  The cases today were somewhat less flashy, but still legally important and divisive, the 5-4 split more prevalent than last time. For instance, yet another ruling concerning Anna Nicole Smith was a 5-4 split that struck down on constitutional grounds one aspect of a bankruptcy law. A case on the  Federal Employers’ Liability Act had an interesting split where Thomas was the swing vote, (mostly) joining with the liberals.  A tort case split the Court in more predictable lines. 

Sotomayor wrote a dissent in that case.  She also concurred separately in a Confrontation Clause case (Kagan along with Thomas didn't join a portion of the main opinion, but didn't concur separately) involving lab tests.  The case was important to the extent it sent a signal as to how the new appointees would join the expansion of the rules in that area, the matter still somewhat unclear since she (but not Kagan) suggested the case today was not as open-ended as some might suggest.  Sotomayor also was the only liberal justice who joined a ruling striking down a regulation on use of drug information. Breyer wrote the dissent, suggesting more discretion should be allowed for commercial speech regulation (and, anyway, precedent doesn't require it).  It is notable that Sotomayor joined the more restrictive majority opinion on the point. 

The cases are of some interest but nothing overly exciting jumps out.  I am somewhat annoyed that in more than one case the majority wasn't able to control themselves and not include sections that a majority of the justices were able to join.  The Vermont case is a tad technical, but generally I agree with at least somewhat stricter tests for commercial speech than Breyer would seem to require.  Not sure if this case is really anything to worry about, particularly given while listening to the orals, it seemed the law was in some fashion particularly badly drawn or litigated.  And, if the specific matter in the Confrontation Clause opinion seems somewhat minor, the basic principle of consistency in criminal protections is ideal.

Anyway, even given the last few cases, this term seemed pretty unexciting this time around, the issues of the OLC and so forth more interesting at the moment. See, here and here for a taste why we should be wary about not only the result on the meaning of the WPA regarding Libya, but how they got there.