Category Archives: Legal News

Big Week at the Supreme Court

 

Quite a few significant Supreme Court opinions were announced this week, including two of the biggest cases from this term: same-sex marriage and Obamacare.

Read on for more information on each case from this week and links to the Court’s opinion.

 

 

Same-sex marriage – Obergefell v. Hodges
Issues:
1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

Holding:
The Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, and concluded the majority opinion with the following paragraph:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Obamacare – King v. Burwell
Issue:
Whether the Internal Revenue Service may permissibly promulgate regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through exchanges established by the federal government under Section 1321 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Holding:
The Court held that the tax credits are available to individuals living in states with their own health care exchanges as well as individuals living in the 34 states that have a federal exchange.

Other cases from this week

  • City of Los Angeles v. Patel
    Constitutionality of a Los Angeles Municipal Code ordinance which requires hotel operators to keep specific information about guests for 90 days and make it available to LAPD officers on demand.
  • Kingsley v. Hendrickson
    Whether proving an excessive force claim requires a pretrial detainee to show that officers are subjectively aware that their use of force was unreasonable.

For full coverage of these decisions and others, check out these websites:

SCOTUSblog
The SCOTUSblog covers all aspects of the Supreme Court and provides both commentary and resources related to the Court including opinions, briefs, select petitions for certiorari, and news coverage of every merits case before the Court.

Oyez
This website offers a variety of resources devoted to the Supreme Court including opinions, recordings of oral arguments, information about the individual justices, and more.

Free ABA Membership for Law Students

ABA law student divisionThe American Bar Association announced on Monday that it now provides free membership to law students attending ABA-approved schools.  The benefits of ABA membership are numerous and include access to ABA publications, the ABA Job Board, continuing legal education (CLE) courses, and member discounts.  To join, enroll online at http://www.americanbar.org/abalawstudents or call the ABA Service Center at 800-285-2221.

HeinOnline On the Go

Hein app

A new app is available for HeinOnline!  The app allows you to view the database’s image-based PDFs, access content by citation, browse by volume, navigate a volume with the electronic table of contents, and use full advanced searching techniques on an iPhone or iPad.  The app can be downloaded from iTunes. HeinOnline has also created a User’s Guide to maximize your use of the app.

Note on access:  ASU utilizes IP authentication for students, faculty, and staff access to HeinOnline, so in order to IP authenticate using this app, you must be on campus. After you IP authenticate via the app on campus, the authentication will be good for 30 days.  After 30 days you will need to once again authenticate on campus.

Halloween Lawsuits: Scary Stuff

Costumes gone awry, haunted houses, and mean-spirited decorations – oh my!  Have care while celebrating Halloween this week, because as these cases show, Halloween is fertile ground for lawsuits:

Mary and Her (flaming) Little Lamb
Susan and Frank Ferlito attended a Halloween party dressed as Mary and Her Little Lamb.  Frank’s lamb costume consisted of hundreds of Johnson & Johnson cotton balls glued to a set of long underwear.  While at the party, Frank tried to light a cigarette using a butane lighter and set his costume aflame, causing significant burn injuries.

Frank sued. A jury found in favor of Frank, but the District Court held that Johnson & Johnson’s failure to label their cotton balls as flammable was not a proximate cause of Frank’s injuries, that the injuries were not foreseeable, and that the jury’s verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence.  The court concluded, “Plaintiffs…failed to demonstrate the foreseeability of an adult male encapsulating himself from head to toe in cotton batting and then lighting up a cigarette.”  The Sixth Circuit Court of appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling.

Haunted, as a matter of law
Jeffrey Stambovsky bought a lovely Victorian home in the Village of Nyack, New York, only to find out (much to his horror) that the house was widely reputed to be haunted.  In fact, the seller had reported seeing ghosts in the home in both a national publication (Readers’ Digest) and the local press.  Jeffrey sought to rescind his purchase contract and collect damages.  The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, agreed that Jeffrey should be able to rescind the contract and held that as to the purported ghosts haunting the home, the seller “is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”

Dead Neighbors
A neighborhood feud over a 38-foot RV led Jeffrey and Vicki Purtell to display a series of tombstones in their yard, each of which chronicled the demise of one of the neighbors involved in the feud.  One tombstone read: “Bette wasn’t ready, but here she lies, ever since that night she died, 12 feet deep in this trench… Still wasn’t deep enough, for that wenches stench!” The Purtell’s lawsuit in this case was brought against the unlucky police officer who was dispatched to mediate the dispute and sued for his efforts, accused of violating the Purtell’s First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Judges are Movie Lovers Too

The Justices of the Texas Supreme Court must be movie lovers.  In the recent Kinney V. Barnes opinion, Justice Lehrmann quotes Walter Sobchak, a character in the cult favorite The Big Lebowski. Lehrmann states that “The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is similarly suspicious of prior restraints,” and goes on to point out that “This cornerstone of First Amendment protections has been reaffirmed time and again by the Supreme Court, this Court, Texas courts of appeals, legal treatises, and even popular culture.”  The popular culture reference is to Walter’s statement in the 1998 film: “For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint…This affects all of us, man! Our basic freedoms!”

 

A 2008 Texas Supreme Court concurring opinion also cites a well-known movie character: Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  In this case, Justice Willett joined by Justice Lehrmann, writes that “Appropriately weighty principles guide our course. First, we recognize that police power draws from the credo that ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’ Second, while this maxim rings utilitarian and Dickensian (not to mention Vulcan), it is cabined by something contrarian and Texan: distrust of intrusive government and a belief that police power is justified only by urgency, not expediency.”  The footnote for this statement references Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which Spock tells Admiral Kirk “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh . . .” to which Kirk replies, “the needs of the few.”

For your reading pleasure, we rounded up a few other court opinions and orders that quote movies:

Noble v. Bradford Marine, Inc. (1992)
This 1992 decision from the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida contains multiple references to the movie Wayne’s World, including sections labeled “Hurling Chunks” and “A Schwing and a Miss.”  In addition, the decision holds that the defendants’ “most bogus” attempt at removal is “not worthy” and “way improvident.”  The District Court concludes that the defendant must “party on” in state court and remands the case.

Factac v. King (2006)
This 2006 order from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Texas dismisses the defendant’s motion based on “incomprehensibility” and cites a scene from the movie Billy Madison in support: “Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

Supreme Court Decisions Are Not as Final as You Think

A new study from Harvard Law professor Richard J. Lazarus has revealed that the Supreme Court Justices routinely make changes to Court opinions that extend beyond fixing typographical errors and spelling mistakes.  In fact, Lazarus asserts that the Justices “correct mistakes in majority and separate opinions relating to the arguments of the parties, record below, historical facts, relevant statutes and regulations, opinions of their colleagues, and Court precedent.  The Justices also, even more significantly, sometimes change their initial reasoning in support of their legal conclusions.”  This is major news, because while every Supreme Court opinion contains the formal notice that “this opinion is subject to formal revision” when it is first published, the public is generally not aware of this practice.  Even more concerning is the fact that the Justices rarely announce any changes that are made, and according to Lazarus, “deliberately make it hard for anyone to determine when changes are made.”

Exposing the changes
In response to this practice, David Zvenyach, a lawyer and coder, has created a tool that flags and publicizes changes made to Supreme Court opinions after their publication.  When Zvenyach’s code detects a change to slip opinions posted on the Supreme Court’s website it sends a message to the Twitter account @Scotus_servo, which tweets out an alert.  Zvenyach also tweets about any detected change.

You can read more about the clever piece of code that exposes hidden changes to Supreme Court opinions in this Gigaom article as well as read about the ramifications of changing language in Supreme Court opinions in the New York Times article Final Word on U.S. Law Isn’t: Supreme Court Keeps Editing.

Diane Humetewa Confirmed to Federal Judgeship

Congratulations to ASU’s Diane Humetewa on her historic appointment to the U. S. District Court for  Arizona.  The  U. S.  Senate voted unanimously to confirm her yesterday, Wednesday, May 14th!

Collaborative Research for the Digital Age

While there have been significant changes in the realm of legal research (such as the shift from print to digital resources) conducting legal research is still often a solitary endeavor.  Two new websites are trying to change that, however, and have provided platforms designed to make online legal research a collaborative enterprise: Casetext and Mootus.

casetext.14b50743c8b2

Casetext is a “community of lawyers, law professors, and law students helping each other understand the law by annotating key legal documents.”  The website contains a database of over a million cases, statutes, regulations, and contracts which users can add analysis and commentary to, including tags, documents, and links to secondary sources.  The site also allows users to “upvote” commentaries they like as well as post questions which others answer with case law.  Registering and using the site is free.

Mootus

Mootus states that it “helps law students and lawyers build skills, reputation and knowledge…through open, online legal argument.” Registered users can post legal questions on the site, to which other users respond with legal arguments and supporting cases (in the future users will be able to add statutes and regulations).  Users can also vote for cites, indicating whether they think they are “on point” or “off base.”  Registering and using the site is free although there is a fee for use of upgraded features.

The next time you need to brief a case for class or would like some insightful commentary when working on a memo, check these two sites out.

*Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi’s article “Crowd Searching” in the January 2014 issue of the ABA Journal.

Celebrate Constitution Day with the New U.S. Constitution App

The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office (GPO) mark Constitution Day today by launching a new app and web publication that make analysis and interpretation of constitutional case law by Library experts accessible for free to anyone with a computer or mobile device.

The new resources, which include analysis of Supreme Court cases through June 26, 2013, will be updated multiple times each year as new court decisions are issued.

Get the App:  The app can be downloaded for free from iTunes. A direct link is here: beta.congress.gov/constitution-annotated. An Android version is under development.

Happy Constitution Day!

SCOTUSblog Interviews with Nina Totenberg

SCOTUSblog has conducted a five-part series of interviews with Nina Totenberg, NPR’s award-winning legal affairs correspondent and Dean of the Supreme Court Press Corps.  The videos are excellent and provide a unique insight in to the Court from someone who has been reporting on it since the 1970’s.  Links to each of the five interviews are provided below.

Part One: Totenberg talks about her background, how her career began, and how she first started covering the Supreme Court.

Part Two: Totenberg addresses how the Supreme Court works and how to convey its subtleties.

Part Three: Totenberg speaks to which actions of the Court are newsworthy and which are not, as well as how to interview a Supreme Court Justice.

Part Four: Totenberg gives her thoughts on the confirmation process and her role in breaking the Anita Hill story.

Part Five: Totenberg provides insight in to understanding the Court amid its jurisprudence and stories.