October 23, 2012

Case Highlights 2005-2006 Term

Following are case highlights for the topic areas of Campaign Finance, Civil Procedure, Civil Rights and Criminal Law. To access other case highlights for the 2005-2006 Term or previous terms, or to return to the main Case Highlights page, use the Topic Area menu to the right.


Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission
Docket No. 04-1581
Vacated: The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Argued: January 17, 2006
Decided: January 23, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 195

Do corporations and unions have a First Amendment right to use general treasury funds to broadcast genuine issue ads" ostensibly not intended to influence the outcome of federal elections?

Remanded: The Supreme Court remanded the case to the District Court to consider the merits of appellant's challenge in the first instance.

From the per curiam decision:

Appellant asks us to reverse the judgment of the District Court [dismissing the complaint] because that court incorrectly read a footnote in our opinion in McConnell v. Federal Election Comm'n, 540 U. S. 93 (2003), as foreclosing any "as-applied" challenges to the prohibition on electioneering communications. We agree with WRTL that the District Court misinterpreted the relevance of our "uphold[ing] all applications of the primary definition" of electioneering communications. … Contrary to the understanding of the District Court, that footnote merely notes that because we found BCRA's primary definition of "electioneering communication" facially valid when used with regard to BCRA's disclosure and funding requirements, it was unnecessary to consider the constitutionality of the backup definition Congress provided. … In upholding [BCRA § 203] against a facial challenge, we did not purport to resolve future as-applied challenges.

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DaimlerChrysler Corp., et al. v. Cuno, et al.

Docket No. 04-1704

Vacated in part: The Sixth Circuit

Argued: March 1, 2006

Decided: May 15, 2006

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 228

Do state taxpayers have standing under Article III to challenge state tax or spending decisions simply by virtue of their status as taxpayers?

No. The Court held that the plaintiffs' claim that the franchise tax credit depletes state funds to which they contribute through their taxes, and thus diminishes the total funds available for lawful uses and imposes disproportionate burdens on them, is insufficient to establish standing under Article III.

From the opinion by Chief Justice Roberts (joined by Justices Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito):

This Court has denied federal taxpayers standing under Article III to object to a particular expenditure of federal funds simply because they are taxpayers. … The animating principle behind these cases was announced in their progenitor, Frothingham v. Mellon, decided with Massachusetts v. Mellon (1923). In rejecting a claim that improper federal appropriations would "increase the burden of future taxation and thereby take [the plaintiff's] property without due process of law," the Court observed that a federal taxpayer's "interest in the moneys of the Treasury . . . is shared with millions of others; is comparatively minute and indeterminable; and the effect upon future taxation, of any payment out of the funds, so remote, fluctuating and uncertain, that no basis is afforded for an appeal to the preventive powers of a court of equity."

Concurring in part: Justice Ginsburg

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Will et al. v. Hallock et al.

Docket No. 04-1332

Vacated: The Second Circuit

Argued: November 28, 2005

Decided: January 18, 2006

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 139

Is a refusal to apply the judgment bar of the Federal Tort Claims Act open to collateral appeal?

No. Only some orders denying an asserted right to avoid the burdens of trial qualify as orders that cannot be reviewed "effectively" after a conventional final judgment.

From the opinion by Justice Souter (for a unanimous Court):

The requirements for collateral order appeal have been distilled down to three conditions: that an order "[1]conclusively determine the disputed question, [2] resolve an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and [3] be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment." … The conditions are "stringent" … and unless they are kept so, the underlying doctrine will overpower the substantial finality interests [28 U. S. C. §1291] is meant to further: judicial efficiency, for example, and the "sensible policy 'of avoid[ing] the obstruction to just claims that would come from permitting the harassment and cost of a succession of separate appeals from the various rulings to which a litigation may give rise.' "

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Hartman et al. v. Moore

Docket No. 04-1495

Reversed and Remanded: The District of Columbia Circuit

Argued: January 10, 2006

Decided: April 26, 2006

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 200

Must plaintiffs in a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging retaliatory prosecution show a lack of probable cause for the underlying criminal charges?

Yes. A plaintiff in a retaliatory-prosecution action must plead and show the absence of probable cause for pressing the underlying criminal charges.

From the opinion by Justice Souter (joined by Justices Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas):

In sum, the complexity of causation in a claim that prosecution was induced by an official bent on retaliation should be addressed specifically in defining the elements of the tort. Probable cause or its absence will be at least an evidentiary issue in practically all such cases. Because showing an absence of probable cause will have high probative force, and can be made mandatory with little or no added cost, it makes sense to require such a showing as an element of a plaintiff's case, and we hold that it must be pleaded and proven.

Dissenting: Justice Ginsburg (joined by Justice Breyer)

Taking no part in the decision or consideration of the case: Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito

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Dixon v. United States

Docket No. 05-7053

Affirmed: The Fifth Circuit

Argued: April 25, 2006

Decided: June 22, 2006

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 414

When a criminal defendant raises a duress defense, does the defendant have the burden of persuasion to prove duress by a preponderance of the evidence?

Yes. The Court held that the government did not run afoul of due process by placing on the defendant the burden of proof to establish duress.

From the opinion by Justice Stevens (joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Alito):

The offenses at issue in this case were created by statute in 1968, when Congress enacted the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. … There is no evidence in the Act's structure or history that Congress actually considered the question of how the duress defense should work in this context. … Congress can, if it chooses, enact a duress defense that places the burden on the Government to disprove duress beyond a reasonable doubt. In light of Congress' silence on the issue, however, it is up to the federal courts to effectuate the affirmative defense of duress as Congress "may have contemplated" it in an offense-specific context. … In the context of the firearms offenses at issue-as will usually be the case, given the long-established common-law rule-we presume that Congress intended the petitioner to bear the burden of proving the defense of duress by a preponderance of the evidence.

Concurring: Justice Kennedy

Concurring: Justice Alito (joined by Justice Scalia)

Dissenting: Justice Breyer (joined by Justice Souter)

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