This morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of United States v. Apel, concerning whether military bases have the authority to punish anti-war protestors who violate the rules of access to military facilities. The military base in question is Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, a base that the public needs special permission to enter, but across which runs Pacific Coast Highway, a public road, which are generally open to free speech activity. In the late 1980s, a commander set up a public protest area just outside the main gate, along the highway. There are laws making it a crime to enter a military base for an illegal purpose and to reenter a base after having been barred or removed from a base, but the federal government formally gave the state of California an easement to use the part of the Pacific Coast Highway that runs across the edge of the base as a public road. The protest zone is within the space covered by the easement.
The defendant in the case is no longer welcome in the protest zone due to an earlier incident in which he through blood on a sign at the gate of the base and then again years later for trespassing. In 2010, Mr. Apel entered the protest zone on three occasions. He was charged for violating the provision hat criminalizes entering a base after having been barred previously and convicted. The Ninth Circuit overturned that conviction, relying on a prior case from the same military base that stated the Air Force can only punish those entering a base without permission if the military has “the exclusive right of possession” of the property and concluding that it shares authority over the protest zone and the part of Pacific Coast Highway because of the easement.
Check out SCOTUSblog’s analysis on the upcoming arguments to see the issues that will likely arise and what the court will be considering.
On Monday, the Court refused to hear two new cases that challenged state taxes on Internet-only sales in states where those companies do not have a physical presence: Overstock.com Inc., v. New York Taxation Dep’t and Amazon.com v. New York Taxation Dep’t. In both cases, the Internet retailers argued that they had no presence in the state and should be exempt from taxes on purchases made on those Internet retail sites by New York customers. The Court of Appeals (the highest court in the state) ruled that they were subject to tax in New York because contracts with third-party local affiliates that generate customers for them through Internet links to the retailers’ websites is a substantial enough nexus to force the companies to collect taxes. The Washington post posited that the court’s decision to stay out of the issue may pressure Congress to come up with a solution on a national level; in the meantime, Overstock.com has suspended its relationships with the local affiliates to avoid having to conform to the New York law.
Check out this latest SCOTUSblog post on why Supreme Court cases settle. The post was written in light of the recent settlement in the Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Garden Citizens in Action Inc. housing discrimination lawsuit. The post is part of a larger series called SCOTUS for law students; you can check out all the post in the SCOTUS for law students series here.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held in Bland v. Roberts that the use of the “Like” button on Facebook qualifies as constitutionally protected free speech under the First Amendment and cannot be used against public employees. The case arose after five former appointees at the Hampton, Virginia sheriff’s office were not reappointed after they used the like button to support his opponent’s campaign. The court rule that their public expression did not interfere with their job duties as public servants and likened their actions to putting a campaign poster in their front yards, a type of speech that has long been protected.
In a long-awaited and highly debated ruling this morning, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional as a violation of the equal liberties guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment. The holding only applies to those same-sex couples lawfully married within a state authorizing same-sex marriage. The Court deliberately chose not to address the issue of whether states may continue to exercise their authority to restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman.
Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion, with dissents from Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.
This morning, the Supreme Court held, in a 5-4 decision, that the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act at question in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl were not designed to apply to circumstances like Baby Veronica’s, where the child’s “removal” is not causing an Indian family’s “break-up.” Baby Veronica’s biological father never held legal or physical custody of the child. This is the interpretation put forth by the adoptive parents. Justice Sotomayor wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan in full with Justice Scalia joining in part.
Previously, the South Carolina Supreme Court had given custody of the girl to her biological father, ruling that the Indian Child Welfare Act barred the adoption. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. For more information on this case, see SCOTUSblog’s analysis.
Today, the Supreme Court finally issued its decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which challenged the university’s use of race in its admission process for undergraduates. The Court did not outlaw affirmative action programs, as many had feared, instead reinforcing that the use of affirmative action by a university must meet the “strict scrutiny” test, in a 7-1 decision. Under this type of scrutiny, a university’s use of affirmative action is constitutional only if it is “narrowly tailored.” The court went on to explain that courts applying this test will need to confirm that the use of race is necessary to create a diverse student body. Because the lower court in Fisher had not done so, the Court sent the case back down so it could determine whether the University of Texas at Austin could show that the use of race is necessary.
For much more analysis on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, see SCOTUSblog’s coverage here and here.
On Monday, the Supreme struck down a voter-approved Arizona law requiring prospective voters to prove U.S. citizenship before being to permitted to use the expedited federal “motor voter” registration form. The “motor voter” form allows prospective voters to register while applying for licenses with the state department of motor vehicles.
In addition to Arizona, four other states–Alabama, Kansas, Georgia, and Tennessee–have similar laws that are affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Read more about the Supreme Court decision here.
This morning, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. The court’s unanimous decision held that researchers must create something to get protection to study and apply the phenomenon. Because the company at question in this case did not create anything, but only isolated genes that were already naturally occurring, the Court struck down its patent isolating human genes from the bloodstream. As Justice Thomas commented, “To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention. Groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the inquiry.”
For more coverage on the case and links to related documents, check out SCOTUSblog’s coverage.
On April 1 of this year, the small town of Nelson, Georgia (pop. 1,300) passed a new municipal ordinance requiring all heads of household to own guns and ammunition, in response to the recently renewed debate over gun violence and safety in the United States. The law is patterned after a similar law that has been in effect in a neighboring Georgia town since the early 1980s. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has gotten involved by suing the City of Nelson, Georgia in federal court, alleging that the new ordinance violates the First, Second, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.