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January 27, 2015 Articles

2014: Noteworthy Cases in Review

A roundup of some of the year's most important rulings.

By Stella Kim

The Supreme Court denies certiorari in state same-sex marriage cases.

On October 6, 2014, the Court denied review of seven petitions arising from challenges to state bans on same-sex marriages. This allowed the lower court rulings to stand in several federal circuit courts and invalidated several state bans. But that did not stop the Sixth Circuit from making a split among the circuits on the issue in DeBoer v. Snyder, 973 F. Supp. 2d 757 (2014), on November 6, 2014. The Sixth Circuit upheld same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The case, which was immediately appealed to the Supreme Court, will be an interesting case to follow this year.

Police may not obtain digital information on a cell phone seized without a warrant from an individual who has been arrested.

On June 25, 2014, in Riley v. California,134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the Supreme Court unanimously voted that a warrant is required to search a mobile phone. This ruling bases itself from Chimel v. California, in 1969, the landmark case in which the police, while making arrest, were not allowed to search a person’s home without a search warrant. The Riley ruling updates the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourth and Fifth amendments and a citizen’s right to privacy, which did not exist for digital data.

The Supreme Court allows closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a law its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest.

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 134 S. Ct. 2751 (2014), the main claim brings the issue of whether or not corporations are protected by the First Amendment, free exercise of religion. The Court decided that requiring employers to cover certain contraceptives was not the least restrictive way to ensure access to contraceptive care. The case will most likely affect many corporations that would try to claim religious exemptions from other federal laws. This case also brings up the issue of whether corporations are considered people.

A grand jury renders a decision in the death of Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri).

The case is based on the shooting of a young African American man, Michael Brown, by a Caucasian police officer by the name of Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The incident occurred on August 9, 2014. The circumstances surrounding the shooting, and the police officer’s actions leading up to and during the shooting, sparked social and media controversy amid allegations of racial profiling by the police. On November 24, 2014, the prosecutor announced that the grand jury “determined that no probable cause exists to file any charge against Office Wilson.” The issue in the case was whether Officer Wilson was authorized to use deadly force to defend himself. This decision prompted President Obama to announce on December 1, 2014, that the federal government will spend $75 million on body cameras for law enforcement officers. The federal government is conducting its own separate investigation into the incident.

A grand jury renders a decision in the death of Eric Garner (New York City).

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, an African American man, died partly as a result of a chokehold in the hands of a Caucasian police officer, Daniel Pantaleo in New York. The chokehold the police officer held Eric Garner in was an outdated policy of the New York City Police Department. On December 3, 2014, the grand jury in Richmond County decided not to indict Officer Pantaleo. This decision has prompted many politicians, including President Obama and former president George W. Bush, to speak about the issues between police and civilians. As in Ferguson, there will most likely be a second investigation by either the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office or the governor of the state of New York. The U.S. Department of Justice has also announced a federal criminal civil rights investigation.


Keywords: litigation, access to justice, Hobby Lobby, Eric Garner, Ferguson, police, equality, racial profiling, supreme court


Stella Kim is a newly licensed attorney and a graduate of Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California.

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