Category Archives: Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court – Fisher v. University of Texas

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015/2016 session covered a wide spectrum of issues. One of these was the question of affirmative action, addressed in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas.

U.S. Supreme Court – Fisher v. University of Texas

In 2008 “Abigail Fisher, a white prospective student, sued UT, claiming that the school’s university program disadvantaged her.”

Providing some background on the case, Oyez posts:

In 1997, the Texas legislature enacted a law requiring the University of Texas to admit all high school seniors who ranked in the top ten percent of their high school classes. After finding differences between the racial and ethnic makeup of the university’s undergraduate population and the state’s population, the University of Texas decided to modify its race-neutral admissions policy. The new policy continued to admit all in-state students who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school classes. For the remainder of the in-state freshman class the university would consider race as a factor in admission.

Abigail N. Fisher, a Caucasian female, applied for undergraduate admission to the University of Texas in 2008. Fisher was not in the top ten percent of her class, so she competed for admission with other non-top ten percent in-state applicants. The University of Texas denied Fisher’s application.

Click here to read the complete Oyez post.

The Court upheld affirmative action and the use of race in the university admissions process as a means of promoting campus diversity. Justice Kennedy said that,

Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.

Click here to read more about the Court’s decisions.

U.S. Supreme Court – Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In its most recent session, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed many issues. One of the most contentious of these is abortion and the legislative trend in many states to regulate it.

U.S. Supreme Court – Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In a five-to-three vote, Justices John Roberts (Chief), Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Court declared two provisions of a Texas abortion law unconstitutional. This law, which you may recall was filibustered by State Senator Wendy Davis, “required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and it required the clinics to comply with several hospital-level standards.”

While proponents argued that the bill was intended to protect women’s health and safety, it actually reduced by half the number of facilities providing services. The Court, in a majority led by Justice Stephen Breyer, ruled against the law, stating that it “provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.”

This decision will effectively rule out the inclusion of similar provisions in the legislation of other states.

Click here to read more about the Supreme Court’s other decisions.

Click here to access a PDF of the Supreme Court’s opinion.

The Supreme Court After Scalia

During its last session, the most important issue facing the Supreme Court was not one of the cases, but the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Supreme Court After Scalia


Photo by Steve Petteway, photographer, Supreme Court of the United States – Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Appointed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, Scalia “was described as the intellectual anchor for the originalist and textualist position in the Court’s conservative wing.”

During his 30 year tenure, he was called upon to rule on a wide range of issues, including:

  • Separation of Powers
  • Detainees
  • Federalism
  • Abortion
  • Criminal Law
  • Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

His passing leaves the Court split four-to-four along liberal/conservative lines. Not surprisingly, several cases brought before the Court during this session resulted in a tie vote. Some of these may again be presented when Scalia’s position is filled; probably not until after the presidential election in November.

The Court was, however, able to rule on several important cases, which we’ll discuss in future posts.

Click here for more information on these cases.


Law Enforcement and the Use of Drones

Unmanned drones may be coming to a police force near you. Or maybe not.

Law Enforcement and the Use of Drones

In Florida v. Riley, 488 U.S. 445 (1989), the Supreme Court ruled “that police officials do not need a warrant to observe an individual’s property from public airspace.”

In this case, a Florida county sheriff used a helicopter to examine the contents of a greenhouse which was not directly visible from the road. Riley argued that the aerial search violated his “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The trial court agreed, but was overturned by the Court of Appeals, which sided with the state. The Florida Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeals decision and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Florida Supreme Court.

Individual states, however, may provide more protection from aerial surveillance.

The New Mexico Court of Appeals recently held that a warrantless helicopter search of a greenhouse was violative of Article 2, § 10 of the New Mexico Constitution.
How these rulings may apply to unmanned surveillance is also open to interpretation. According to Representative John Lesch, sponsor of Minnesota House File 2552, in an interview with Adam Lockhart, Principal Attorney Editor at Thomson Reuters:
…drones have the potential for increasing the frequency of surveillance because drones are less expensive to operate than manned aerial surveillance. H.F. 2552 would provide enhanced Fourth Amendment protection relative to drone surveillance, by requiring a search warrant in most situations.

H.F 2552 was passed by the Minnesota Senate and presented to the governor on May 19, 2016. Click here for more information on H.F. 2552.

As of April 2014, “five states have enacted legislation limiting the use of drones by law enforcement” and “bills in another 17 jurisdictions have been introduced to do the same.”

In California, a bill that would restrict the use of unmanned drones in warrantless surveillance was passed by the state Senate in 2014, but was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown. Click here to learn more.

Use this link to read Drones, law enforcement, and personal data by Adam Lockhart.



Supreme Court Appears Divided on Immigration

United States v. Texas, No. 15-674, now before the Supreme Court, concerns Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, which was introduced by the Obama administration in November 2014.

DAPA, if implemented, would allow some four million unauthorized immigrants, who are the parents of citizens or legal permanent residents, to apply for a program that would defer their deportation and allow them to apply for work permits.

Texas and 25 other states have filed suit, claiming that the president has exceeded his authority by proposing this program.

Supreme Court Appears Divided on Immigration

As is often the case, the arguments before the court are based not so much on the moral and ethical questions tied to immigration, but on a legal issue: standing to sue.

Standing to sue requires that the plaintiffs in a case would suffer some substantive injury. In this case, Texas claims that it would be prohibitively expensive to issue drivers’ licenses to the immigrants.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., presenting the administration’s case, argued that Texas had not – or would not – suffer the kind of injury that would give it standing to sue. Justice Sotomayor also questioned the idea that DAPA created a real, financial burden, asking:

Why can’t you just let people wait on line?

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s line of questioning suggested he might side with the more conservative members of the court, upholding the plaintiffs’ claim of standing to sue.

A four-to-four decision would leave in place a lower court decision blocking the plan, effectively preventing President Obama from reintroducing DAPA during the remainder of his term. It would also set no Supreme Court precedent, thus allowing for a challenge at some later date, presumably after the appointment of a new Justice to replace Antonin Scalia.

Click here to read the New York Times article.