Pirates, Pot, and Police: Busy SCOTUS Steps into a New Era

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In just this last week, we’ve seen a range of court actions on issues of import to us, here at SNN, let’s discuss.

With just a month left in the conclusion of this Supreme Court session, there’s been a flurry of decisions and rejection. In just this last week, we’ve seen a range of court actions on issues of import to us, here at SNN. The court has taken interest in police conduct, freedom of speech, immigration, healthcare, and Medicare, among other similar issues.

SCOTUS Docket: Pirated Pirate Pics, Marijuana Sentences, and Inflated IBM Stocks

The SCOTUS agreed to add three new cases to its docket this week, including one involving actual pirates and those who ‘pirate’ copyrights – a case that will decide the legal liability of a State towards artists and content copyright owners.

In (Allen v. Cooper), “the justices will consider whether Congress had the power to repeal the states’ immunity from lawsuits for copyright infringement when it enacted the copyright remedy clarification act,” explains Amy Howe, in her law blog. Frederick Allen, the plaintiff had copyrighted photos and videos he took of the Queen Anne’s revenge shipwreck and sued the state of North Carolina for allegedly violating that copyright. He had this to say, through his lawyers, that a decision in the state’s favor would mean “creators of original expression will be left without remedy when states trample their federal copyrights.”

“creators of original expression will be left without remedy when states trample their federal copyrights.”

Fredrick Allen, (Allen v.Cooper) arguing his case

Apart from pirates of the vintage and digital milieu, the court will hear challenges to a sentence for a marijuana charge (Holguin-Hernandez v. United States) and IBM’s stock ownership retirement plans(retirement plans committee of IBM v. Jander)   

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In the IBM case, the plaintiffs allege that their former corporation’s retirement plans committee violated federal securities law by investing in IBM Stock – they knew to be artificially inflated. The justices are being urged to side with IBM by vested interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Matters Rejected or Delayed by Justices: DACA, Death Row, and D.C. Metro ads

The court denied a Trump administration request to consider cases concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – an Obama-era program that allows exceptions in immigration laws for children of undocumented immigrants.

The court also chose to decline a first amendment challenge (American Freedom Defense Initiative v. WMATA) which would’ve involved the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) ban on issue-oriented advertisements. The ban first came into effect in 2915 when Pamela Geller’s “American Freedom Defense Initiative” ventured to commission ad-space for anti-muslim messaging. The D.C Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled that WMATA’s ban is not an infringement of first amendment rights.

“…demonstrates once again the unfortunate manner in which death sentences are often – perhaps inevitably – carried out in this country,” adding further that “the court should reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty in an appropriate case”.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing in his dissent (Price v. Dunn)

SCOTUS, also, declined to hear an appeal from Christopher Rice, a death row inmate. Rice was found guilty of murder in 1991 and executed by the state of Alabama last Thursday. In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the case (Price v. Dunn) “demonstrates once again the unfortunate manner in which death sentences are often – perhaps inevitably – carried out in this country,” adding further that “the court should reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty in an appropriate case”.

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Recent SCOTUS Decisions

  • Fort Bend county v. Davis: On June 2, in a unanimous decision, the court ruled in favor of a former city employee from Fort Bend, Texas. The employee said she was fired for reporting sexual harassment and out of anti-religious animosity. SCOTUS left the merit of her claims unattended but disagreed with the city that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. Read the full decision here
  • Azar v. Allina Health Services: In this 7-1 ruling, the Court held that a medicare hospital reimbursement rule should be struck down because the Department of Health and Human Services had not properly followed the rule-making process. This ruling is seen as a blow to the Obama-era Medicare rule. More here
  • Nieves v. Bartlett: This case concerning a man alleging retaliatory arrest in Alaska has some folks worried about its implications for free speech, protest, and police brutality. The Root wrote that the court “made it more difficult for people who say they were arrested for exercising their free speech rights to bring lawsuits against the officers who arrested them.”Only Justice Sotomayor dissented on the outcome of this case
  • Mont v. United States: In a 5-4 decision, the court held that “pretrial imprisonment on a new criminal charge puts a term of federal supervised release on hold,” explains SCOTUS BLOG. This complicated sentencing made for strange bedfellows on the bench with SCOTUS splitting 5-4. Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Roberts, Alito, Kavanaugh, and Ginsburg. Justice Sotomayor dissents, joined by Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Gorsuch
  • Taggart v. Lorenzen: Here, the court unanimously ruled that “creditors could face civil penalties if their attempt to collect old debt that was canceled in bankruptcy is ‘objectively unreasonable,’” The Wall Street Journal explains. More here
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This complicated sentencing made for strange bedfellows on the bench with SCOTUS splitting 5-4. Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Roberts, Alito, Kavanaugh, and Ginsburg. Justice Sotomayor dissents, joined by Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Gorsuch

Strange bedfellows: Read more about this here

And if your appetite for jurisprudence news is still unsatiated check out the following reporting for upcoming action from the Supreme Court:

a). CNN lists Supreme Court cases where arguments are completed but decisions have not yet been issued. Here the cases include controversial ones like the 2020 census questions, gerrymandering, crosses in public parks, and race in jury selection.
b). Volokh Conspiracy rounds up recent notable federal court decisions from around the country.

Positively, as this session ends, the Court is getting harder to read. Justice Kavanaugh joined in the middle of the session and, ideologically, he’s no Justice Kennedy, who he replaced. But only with time, the Court’s leanings will become clear as we can anticipate Roe. v. Wade and other contentious issues to hit the docket.

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