Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SCOTUS: The Roberts’ Court Rulings

While the world watches the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court continues its work under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts. The court addressed a variety of notable issues.

The case that will define this term is the court's controversial 5 to 4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which reversed decades of law and precedent and said corporations and unions can play a more active financial role in elections. It prompted a denunciation not only from the liberal members of the court but also from President Obama, who criticized the ruling in his State of the Union address.

The court extended the 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that "the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home." This ruling is a long-sought victory for the NRA and other gun rights advocates.

The court upended the political scene in Arizona by putting on hold a public campaign-financing system that has been in place a dozen years. The court decided not to undertake another review of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act. It upheld a lower court and rejected a challenge by the Republican National Committee to the law's centerpiece prohibition on unregulated "soft money" contributions to political parties.

Liberals objected to the majority's decision that shifted to suspects the burden of invoking their right to remain silent under the famous Miranda ruling; simply not speaking for hours, the majority said, was not enough.

The court ruled that the federal government has the right to civilly confine sex offenders after they have served their prison terms. It overruled federal judges in California who wanted to beam the same-sex marriage trial to other courtrooms. Its gun decision could doom state and local laws across the nation, and its ruling that juveniles may not be sentenced to life in prison without parole for non-homicide crimes is contrary to the law in dozens of states.

The court criticized the work of Congress. It voted 8 to 1 to declare unconstitutional a statute that prohibited creating or selling videos that depicted animal cruelty, saying it violated the First Amendment.

The court upheld a U.S. law that bars "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations, rejecting a free speech challenge from humanitarian aid groups. The court ruled 6-3 Monday that the government may prohibit all forms of aid to designated terrorist groups, even if the support consists of training and advice about entirely peaceful and legal activities. Material support intended even for benign purposes can help a terrorist group in other ways, Chief Justice John Roberts said in his majority opinion.

It should be noted that the court decided 56 percent of its cases by either unanimous or 8 to 1 margins, compared with less than 40 percent a year ago. While Democrats portray the court as a haven for corporate interests, others remark favorably about the court’s bold new direction. Time will tell whether Elena Kagan is appointed to the court and, if so, how she will impact the dynamics of the Roberts’ court.

Sources: The Washington Post; Scotusblog

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