Issue # 3, October 2010 Term

Pepper v. United States

This case is another follow-up to the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005)—which declared judicial fact-finding within the mandatory federal Sentencing Guidelines unconstitutional and remedied this problem by making the Guidelines "effectively advisory." Since Booker, the Supreme Court in a series of decisions has stressed that district judges now have broad discretion at initial sentencings; this case presents the Court with its first opportunity to address the scope of a district judge's discretion after an initial sentence has been reversed on appeal and remanded for resentencing.

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Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting

An Arizona law makes it a violation of Arizona law for employers to hire unauthorized aliens. Violators may be sanctioned by the loss of their licenses to do business in the state, including revocation of their articles of incorporation. The law also requires employers to use a federal electronic employment verification system to check whether new hires have the right to work in the United States. The Supreme Court will consider whether such a law is preempted by federal law.

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Issue # 5, October 2009 Term

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

In this case, the Supreme Court will decide whether Hastings Law School violates the First Amendment rights of the petitioners, a student group, by refusing to recognize it as a "registered student organization" (RSO). The group welcomes all Hastings law students but requires its voting members and officers to sign and adhere to a Statement of Faith. The law school denied the group's RSO request on the grounds that the membership policies violated the school's nondiscrimination policy. The Court will decide whether the law school has violated the petitioners' free speech rights, rights of expressive association, or free exercise of religion.

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City of Ontario v. Quon

Jeff Quon, a sergeant on the SWAT team of the Ontario Police Department, was issued a pager which could send and receive text messages. The department told officers that pagers were to be used for work purposes only, though "light personal use" was permitted. The policy was clear that there was to be no expectation of privacy when using government issued machines for electronic communications, but the policy did not expressly mention pagers. Also, a lieutenant told Quon and other officers that their messages would not be read if they paid for additional use. In light of this, did the lieutenant’s reading of Quon's messages violate the Fourth Amendment right to privacy of Quon or of those he was communicating with?

Complete PREVIEW Article
Follow-up interview after oral argument

Issue # 4, October 2009 Term

American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League et al.

For twenty years, American Needle, Inc., held a license from the National Football League Properties LLC (NFLP) to produce and sell headwear adorned with the logos and trademarks of teams within the National Football League (NFL). In 2001, NFLP granted an exclusive license to Reebok International Ltd. to produce NFL headwear for ten years, effectively ending American Needle’s license. American Needle responded by bringing an antitrust suit against the NFL, NFLP, each of the NFL teams, and Reebok.

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Follow-up interview after oral argument
Briscoe et al. v. Virginia

Petitioners Mark Briscoe and Sheldon Cypress were convicted of drug offenses in Virginia state court. In each trial, the state introduced a certificate of drug analysis detailing the nature and amount of the alleged drugs. The state did not call the analyst as a witness in either case. Instead, the state invoked a statute that permitted petitioners to call the analysts as an adverse witness. Petitioners argue that this procedure violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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Follow-up interview after oral argument

Issue # 3, October 2009 Term

Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Co. Accounting Oversight Bd

In the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Congress created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB)—a board whose members may be terminated only for cause—and authorized it to regulate public accounting firms under the control of the independent Securities and Exchange Commission. Plaintiffs challenged the PCAOB as violating separation-of-powers principles and the Appointments Clause in Article II of the Constitution. The lower courts held that the PCAOB violated neither separation of powers nor the Appointments Clause and upheld the PCAOB.

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Follow-up interview after oral argument
Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. United States and United States v. Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz

In 2005, Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which was designed to prevent certain abuses in the bankruptcy system and to heighten the requirements for those filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcies in which nearly all debts are discharged. However, the law also imposed some restrictions and regulations on the speech of "debt relief agencies." The first question in the case is whether this phrase includes attorneys. The remaining questions ask whether these restrictions on attorney speech violate the First Amendment.

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Follow-up interview after oral argument
Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Dept of Environmental Protection

Beachfront property owners in Florida enjoy common law property rights over land up to the "mean high water line," which occasionally shifts as a result of natural phenomena, including storms. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Florida law denies such rights to owners whose property abuts state "beach renourishment" projects. The owners argue that this creates a "judicial taking" and seek compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court has never previously decided the issue of whether a state court judicial decision can be considered a taking.

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Follow-up interview after oral argument

Issue # 2, October 2009 Term

Jones v. Harris Association

The issue of executive compensation in the financial industry is highlighted in this case by the shareholders of Oakmark Mutual Funds. These petitioners allege that the fund’s creator and adviser, Harris Associates, L.P., breached its fiduciary duty under the Investment Company Act of 1940 with respect to the fees charged to the fund’s shareholders. They ask the Court to determine whether the fiduciary duties of an investment adviser can be breached when a disinterested board of trustees voted for the questionable fee structure.

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Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida

In 2005, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment forbids sentencing juveniles to death. Central to this holding was the Court’s conclusion that for purposes of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, "death is different"—and so are children. Now the Court has agreed to review two cases in which juveniles were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole. Both cases involve nonhomicide felony offenses.

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Follow-up interview after oral argument

Issue # 1, October 2009 Term

Salazar v. Buono - Docket No. 08-472

Seventy-five years ago, as a memorial to fallen service members, the Veterans of Foreign Wars erected a cross in a remote, federally controlled area that later became a federal preserve. The district court held the presence of the cross on federal land violated the Establishment Clause and permanently enjoined its display. Congress responded by directing the transfer of the plot of land on which the cross sat to the VFW in exchange for a nearby parcel of equal value.

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United States v. Stevens - Docket No. 08-769

In 1999, Congress made it a federal crime to create, sell, or possess depictions of "animal cruelty." In the first prosecution under the statute, the defendant-respondent was convicted of selling pitbull dogfight videos on his Internet site and sentenced to three years in prison. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit invalidated the statute under the First Amendment. The U.S. government is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate the conviction and to rule that depictions of animal cruelty are not constitutionally protected speech.

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Follow-up interview after oral argument

Issue #7, October 2008 Term

Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder - 08-322

Since 1965, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has required that designated regions of the country obtain approval, or "preclearance," from the federal government before changing local voting rules. Reauthorized most recently in 2006, this provision assumes changes to voting rules in these regions are discriminatory until local officials are able to prove otherwise. The Supreme Court is now being asked to consider whether placing this burden of proof on local officials remains constitutionally justified.

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Ricci v. Destefano – 07-1428 and 08-328

The Civil Service Board of the City of New Haven refused to certify the test results of exams administered to determine promotions within the fire department because the exams had an adverse impact on both African Americans and Hispanics. A group of candidates who had taken the tests filed a lawsuit claiming the refusal to certify discriminated against them based on their race in violation of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

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Issue #6, October 2008 Term

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Docket No. 08-205

An ideological corporation produced an anti-Hillary Clinton documentary. The corporation wanted to air the documentary during the presidential primary season through a cable television "video on-demand" service and to advertise for it on television. McCain-Feingold bars certain corporate-funded television broadcasts, such as this documentary, in the period before the election and requires disclosure by the funders of election-related broadcast advertising, such as these ads. The question before the Court is whether these limits and disclosure rules are unconstitutional as applied to this case.

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Follow-up interview after oral argument
Gross v. FBL Financial Services Inc., Docket No. 08-441

Justice O'Connor's Price Waterhouse opinion indicated that when a plaintiff presents "direct evidence" that discrimination motivated an employment decision, the defendant employer must prove, as an affirmative defense, that it would have made the same decision in the absence of discrimination. In these arguments the parties ask the Court to either abandon or clarify this litigation structure as it applies to cases under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

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Polar Tankers, Inc. v. City of Valdez, Alaska, Docket No. 08-310

In this case, owners of oil tankers that come to Valdez, Alaska, the terminus of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, challenged the constitutionality of Valdez's targeted property tax, which levies substantial taxes on 24 oil tankers and only four other vessels. The Supreme Court of Alaska held in favor of the City of Valdez. The Supreme Court of the United States is now reviewing the tankers' arguments that the tax should be struck down under the Constitution’s Tonnage Clause.

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Issue #5, October 2008 Term

Burlington No. & Santa Fe R. Co. v. United States, Docket No. 07-1601
and
Shell Oil Co. v. United States, Docket No. 07-1607


Over a 30-year period Shell Oil delivered bulk agricultural chemicals to a now-contaminated reseller’s site in California. Part of the site was leased from Burlington Northern Railroad. When the site operator failed, the United States and California incurred costs in cleaning the parcel and successfully sought to impose joint and several liability on Shell and the railroad. In these oral arguments Shell contends it is not liable under Superfund, and both responsible parties contest the imposition of joint and several liability.

Complete PREVIEW Article
Follow-up interview after oral argument
State of Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Docket No. 07-1372

In the Joint Resolution to Acknowledge the 100th Anniversary of the January 17, 1893, Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Congress acknowledged and apologized for the United States' role in that overthrow. The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments over whether this resolution strips Hawaii of its authority to sell, exchange, or transfer 1.2 million acres of state land until it reaches a political settlement with native Hawaiians about the status of that land.

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United States v. Navajo Nation, Docket No. 07-1410

In this case the United States is asking the Court to clarify the nature of statutory or regulatory language that is sufficient to create a full-fledged fiduciary relationship with an Indian tribe, such that the United States may be liable in money damages for breaching its duties as a trustee over Native American natural resources.

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Issue #4, October 2008 Term

Coeur Alaska, Inc., v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Docket No. 07-984
and
Alaska v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Docket No. 07-990


The issue in this case is whether the wastewater discharge from a new gold mine should be required to comply with the new-source performance standard established under § 306 of the Clean Water Act for this type of mine or whether the discharge qualifies as "fill material" under § 404. The difference is substantial: The applicable new source performance standard is zero discharge; the § 404 fill permit, on the other hand, allows the discharge of untreated wastewater into a pristine subalpine lake.

Complete PREVIEW Article
Follow-up interview after oral argument
Montejo v. Louisiana
Docket No. 07-1529


Jesse Montejo was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by a Louisiana jury. One important piece of evidence was a letter Montejo wrote admitting his guilt and apologizing to the victim’s widow. He now argues that this letter was obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Complete PREVIEW Article
Follow-up interview after oral argument

Issue #3, October 2008 Term

Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, Inc.
Docket Nos. 07-588, 07-589 and 07-597


Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate cooling water intake structures and requires that these structures reflect the "best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact." In developing implementing regulations, EPA weighed the costs and benefits of various compliance alternatives. In this case, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Clean Water Act permits EPA to conduct a cost-benefit analysis when determining the technology standard for existing cooling water intake structures.

Complete PREVIEW Article
Follow-up interview after oral argument
Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee
Docket No. 07-1125


Enacted in 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 has long served as a vehicle for federal courts to review state actors' violations of federally protected constitutional rights. In 1972, Congress enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments, prohibiting sex discrimination in education. Petitioners, the Fitzgeralds, invoked both laws against a school district charged with sex discrimination. The lower courts ruled that Title IX precludes the petitioners' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Supreme Court will resolve a split in the circuits on this question.

Complete PREVIEW Article
Follow-up interview after oral argument

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