Highlights of the Supreme Court’s 1999-2000 Term
During the past term the Supreme Court ruled on:
- Protests near clinics – Hill
v. Colorado (June 28, 2000)
The Court upheld a Colorado statute making it unlawful for a person to knowingly approach another person without that person's consent in order to pass a leaflet, display a sight, orally protest, etc. within 100 feet of a health care facility. The Court acknowledged the demonstrators valid First Amendment interests. However, it held that statute was a valid time, place and manner restriction. The state had a significant and legitimate interest protecting those entering health care facilities from unwanted communication, and the statute left open ample alternate channels of communications.
- Partial birth abortions – Sternberg
v. Carhart (June 28, 2000)
By one vote, the Court reaffirmed earlier abortion decisions Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 and applied their reasoning to the current statute. It struck down a Nebraska law criminalizing "partial birth abortions" because the law placed an undue burden on the woman seeking an abortion by limiting her options to less safe procedures and because the law provided no exception for cases where the health of the mother was at risk.
- Burden of proof – Reeves
v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc. (June 12, 2000)
Petitioner, 57 years old, contended that he had been fired because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. He made a prima facie showing of discrimination and also made a substantial showing that the respondent's explanation for the firing was false. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that petitioner had not introduced sufficient evidence to sustain a jury finding of unlawful discrimination. The Court disagreed and held that a plaintiff’s prima facie case, combined with sufficient evidence to find that the employer’s asserted justification is false, permit a trier of fact to conclude that the employer unlawfully discriminated.
- Civil remedy for gender motivated violence – United
States v. Morrison (May 15, 2000)
Petitioner, after being assaulted and repeatedly raped, brought a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 13981, which provides a civil remedy for the victims of gender-motivated violence. The Court struck down the law because it exceeded federal authority, holding that it could not be sustained under either the Commerce Clause or §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Enhanced penalties for hate crimes – Apprendi
v. New Jersey (June 26, 2000)
A New Jersey hate crime law provides for an “extended term” of imprisonment if the trial judge finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that “[t]he defendant in committing the crime acted with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, gender, handicap, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity.” N. J. Stat. Ann. §2C:44-3(e). The Court struck down the law on the ground that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that a factual determination resulting in an increased prison sentence be made by a jury on the basis of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Ex Post Facto limitations on amendments to criminal statutes – Carmell
v. Texas (May 1, 2000)
Petitioner was convicted of sexual crimes, in compliance with current Texas law, on the basis of the victim's testimony alone. However, at the time the alleged crimes were committed the applicable statute required that there be other corroborating evidence. The Court held that the convictions could not be sustained under the Ex Post Facto clause.
- Miranda upheld – Dickerson
v. United States (June 26, 2000)
Congress cannot overturn through legislation a constitutional holding of the court. The standard for admissibility is whether the suspect received Miranda warnings before being interrogated, not the standard set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3501 where the admissibility of such statements turns only on whether or not they were voluntarily made.
- Use of prior convictions for purposes of impeachment – Ohler
v. United States (May 22, 2000)
Petitioner, arrested for possession of marijuana, testified as a witness in her own defense. During her direct testimony, she admitted a prior felony conviction. On cross-examination, the government used her prior conviction, possession of methamphetamine, as impeachment evidence. The Court held that, under these circumstances, use of the prior conviction did not unconstitutionally burden petitioner's right to testify.
- Public aid to parochial schools – Mitchell
v. Helms (May 15, 2000)
Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981, 20 U.S.C. § 7301, distributes funds used to provide equipment and materials to public and private schools. The Court held that Chapter 2 does not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment as applied to schools that are Catholic or otherwise religiously affiliated.
- Visitation rights of Grandparents – Troxel
v. Granville (June 5, 2000)
The Troxels petitioned for the right to visit their deceased son's daughters. Washington Rev. Code §26.10.160(3) permits “[a]ny person” to petition for visitation rights “at any time” and authorizes state superior courts to grant such rights whenever visitation may serve a child’s best interest. The Court held that the Washington law was overly broad and infringed on parent's fundamental right to make decisions regarding the care and control of their children, thus violating the Fourteenth Amendment.
- State foreign policy in the face of a congressional act – Crosby
v. National Foreign Trade Council (June 19, 2000)
Massachusetts passed a law barring state entities from doing business with Burma. Congress subsequently imposed trade sanctions on Burma. The Court held, according to the Supremacy Clause and the Commerce Clause, that the Massachusetts law must yield to an act of Congress when Congress has addressed a foreign policy issue.
- Federal criminal law under the Commerce Clause – Jones
v. United States (May 22, 2000)
Under 18 U.S.C. § 844, it is a federal crime to damage or destroy by fire any property used in interstate commerce. The Court held that arson of an owner-occupied private residence is not subject to federal prosecution. Since the property in question was not used for commercial purposes, the Court viewed it as outside the scope of the Commerce Clause.
- States' rights and the right to privacy – Reno
v. Condon (January 12, 2000)
The Court held The Driver's Privacy Protections Act of 1994, 18 U.S.C. § 2721, which establishes a regulatory scheme restricting the ability of a state to disclose a driver's personal information without the driver's consent, does not violate the Tenth Amendment or the Eleventh Amendment.
- Mandatory student activities fees – Board
of Regents of Univ. of Wisconsin System v. Southworth (March 22, 2000)
The Court rejected students' claim that mandatory student activity fees designed to facilitate extracurricular student speech violated their First Amendment rights. So long as the program is viewpoint neutral, a mandatory student activity fee used to further the university's educational mission is not unconstitutional.
- Exclusion of gays from the Boy Scouts – Boy
Scouts of America v. Dale (June 28, 2000)
Respondent was an adult member of the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts revoked his membership upon learning that he was an avowed homosexual and gay rights activist, asserting that respondent's membership was inconsistent with their value system. The Court held that requiring the Boy Scouts to accept respondent as a member violated their First Amendment right of expressive association. It further concluded that the state interests embodied in New Jersey’s public accommodations law did not justify such a severe intrusion on the freedom of expressive association.
- Open primaries and free association – California
Democratic Party v. Jones (June 26, 2000)
California changed from a "closed primary" system, where only a political party’s members can vote on its nominees, to a "blanket primary," where each voter’s ballot lists every candidate regardless of party affiliation, allowing the voter to choose freely among them. The Court held that California's "blanket primary" violated a political party's First Amendment right to free association. It did not find the asserted state interests to be a compelling justification for the intrusion.
- Nude dancing and expressive speech – Erie
v. Pap's A.M. (March 29, 2000)
The Court upheld a City ordinance that prohibited public nudity and included erotic dancing establishments within its definition of public places. Although nude dancing of the type at issue here is expressive conduct that falls within the outer ambit of First Amendment protection, the ordinance satisfied the four prong standard set forth in United States v. O'Brien 391 US 367 (1968), for content neutral restrictions on symbolic speech.
- Content based cable regulations – United
States v. Playboy (May 22, 2000)
Section 505 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 561, requires cable television operators primarily dedicated to sexually oriented programing to either fully block those channels, or limit their transmission to hours when children are unlikely to be viewing. The Court struck down the law as violative of the First Amendment because the law failed to employ the least restrictive means for addressing the problem.
- Search based only on an anonymous tip – Florida
v. J.L. (March 28, 2000)
The Court held that an anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun does not, without more, justify a police officer's stop and frisk of that person. Holding such a search invalid under the Fourth Amendment, the Court rejected the suggestion of a firearm exception to the general stop and frisk rule
- HMO liability for treatment decisions – Pegram
v. Herdrich. (June 12, 2000)
Petitioner was required to wait eight days for an ultrasound of her inflamed abdomen. During the delay, her appendix ruptured. She sued her HMO alleging that provision of medical services under its scheme, which rewarded physician owners for limiting medical care, entailed inherent or anticipatory breach of an ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq., fiduciary duty. The Court held that mixed treatment and eligibility decisions by HMO physicians are not fiduciary decisions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Consequently, their patients have no ERISA cause of action in federal court.
- FDA tobacco regulation – FDA
v. Brown Williamson Tobacco Corp. (March 21, 2000)
The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C §§ 301 et seq., grants the FDA authority to regulate drugs and devices. The FDA asserted that cigarettes were devices delivering the drug nicotine. However, because Congress had enacted several tobacco-specific statutes while aware of the FDA's position, the Court concluded that Congress had not given the FDA authority to regulate tobacco.
- Student led prayer – Santa
Fe School District v. Doe. (June 19, 2000)
A high school student occupying the office of student council chaplain delivered a prayer of the intercom before every varsity football game. The Court held that this practice violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.