Winter 2004

Supreme Court Update

Supreme Court Decides Disability, Campaign Finance, Criminal Procedure Cases


In the first two months of its 2003-2004 term, the U. S. Supreme Court has decided or granted certiorari in several cases of interest to the Section. The most recent of these include an Americans with Disabilities Act case involving a corporate "no rehire" policy; a landmark decision upholding key provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act; and three decisions and four grants of certiorari in criminal procedure cases.

On Dec. 2, the Court held unanimously in Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez (No. 02-749) (opinion by Thomas) that a general "no rehire" policy is a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason for refusing to rehire a former employee who was terminated for violating workplace conduct rules due to illegal drug use. After having been discharged from Raytheon following a positive drug test, Hernandez later applied to be rehired and was rejected. He had claimed that Raytheon's decision not to rehire him was attributable to his substance abuse disability and that it therefore violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had held in his favor, ruling that Hernandez made a prima facie case of discrimination and that Raytheon had not met its burden of providing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its policy. The Supreme Court reversed, however, holding that Raytheon's neutral explanation not to rehire Hernandez was all that was required of the company under the ADA.

On Dec. 10, in a landmark First Amendment decision, the Court in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (No. 02-1674) (opinion by Stevens and O'Connor) upheld key provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), which Congress enacted in 2002 to address abuses of campaign finance laws and perceptions of inappropriate legislative influence exercised by well-financed special interests. In holding that "the statute's two principal, complementary features-Congress' effort to plug the soft money loophole and its regulation of electioneering communications-must be upheld in the main," the Court approved the BCRA's ban on soft money in federal elections and its regulation of campaign advertisements disguised as "issue ads." (For the full texts of the Court's multiple opinions in this case, visit the Supreme Court Web site: www.supremecourtus.gov.)

The Court also has decided three criminal procedure cases unanimously. On Dec. 2, in United States v. Banks (No. 02-473) (opinion by Souter), the Court held that the reasonableness of forcible entry under the "knock and announce" rule is not dictated by the mere passage of time, but by the totality of the circumstances. Further, police officers need only have had a reasonable suspicion that an exigency existed (i. e., that Banks was destroying evidence) in order to enter his home forcibly when executing a search warrant. On Dec. 15, in Maryland v. Pringle (No. 02-809) (opinion by Rehnquist), the Court held that a warrantless arrest authorized under state law does not contravene the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments where the arresting officer has probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed or is being committed in his or her presence. Also on Dec. 15, in Castro v. United States (No. 02-6683) (opinion by Breyer), the Court held that, where a pro se litigant mislabels his request for habeas corpus relief under 28 U. S. C. §2255, a court cannot, of its own volition, re-characterize the request as the litigant's first §2255 motion. Instead, the court must inform the litigant of its intent to re-characterize, warn him that the re-characterization will subject any subsequent §2255 motions to the law's "second or successive" motion restrictions, and provide him an opportunity to withdraw or amend the filing.

The Court also has granted certiorari in four additional criminal procedure cases:

· Summerlin v. Stewart (No. 03-526) (whether defense counsel's performance during the guilt phase of Summerlin's trial constituted ineffective assistance of counsel and whether the Court's decision in Ring v. Arizona applies retroactively);

· People v. Johnson (No. 03-6539) (whether, in order to make a prima facie showing of discriminatory use of peremptory challenges, the claimant must show that it is more likely than not that the challenged use, if unexplained, was based on impermissible group bias);

· Nelson v. Campbell (No. 03-6821) (whether a death row inmate is entitled to a second habeas corpus petition in order to bring a complaint under 42 U. S. C. §1983 to challenge applicable execution procedures as constituting cruel and unusual punishment); and

· United States v. Benitez (No. 03-167) (whether a trial court violates due process guarantees when it fails to inform a defendant that a guilty plea may not be withdrawn once it has been entered).

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