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Highlights of the Supreme Court’s 2001-2002 Term

During the past term the Supreme Court ruled on:

Congressional Apportionment

Eighth Amendment

  • Death Penalty for the Mentally RetardedAtkins v. Virginia (June 20, 2002)
    The Court ruled that executions of mentally retarded criminals are "cruel and unusual punishments" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. A significant number of states have concluded that death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal. However, the Court said it is not so much the number of these states that is significant but rather the consistency of the direction of change. Additionally, even in those states that allow the execution of mentally retarded offenders, the practice is uncommon. Further references.

First Amendment Rights (Speech, Press, Assembly, Religion)

  • Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (April 16, 2002)
    The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA) expanded the federal prohibition on child pornography to include “any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture” that “is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct,” 18 U.S.C. § 2256(8)(B), and any sexually explicit image that is “advertised, promoted, presented, described, or distributed in such a manner that conveys the impression” it depicts “a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct,” §2256(8)(D). The Court ruled that §§2256(8)(B) and 2256(8)(D) are overbroad and unconstitutional. Further references.
  • Regulation of Adult Entertainment Los Angeles v. Alameda Books, Inc. (May 13, 2002)
    The City of Los Angeles passed a law (§ 12.70) prohibiting adult entertainment establishments from being within 1000 feet of each other or within 500 feet of a religious institution, school, or public park based on a 1977 study that concluded adult entertainment establishments are related to increased crime rates in the surrounding area. The Court ruled that the city could prohibit two adult entertainment establishments from being located in the same building by relying on the findings of the 1977 study. Further references.
  • Child Online Protection ActAshcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union (May 13, 2002)
    The Child Online Protection Act's (COPA) reliance on "community standards" to determine what material would be harmful to minors does not by itself render the statute unconstitutional. The Court, however, expressed no view as to whether COPA suffers from substantial overbreadth under the First Amendment for reasons other than its use of community standards, whether the statute is unconstitutionally vague, or whether the statute survives strict scrutiny. Further references.
  • School Vouchers - Zelman v. Simmons - Harris (June 27, 2002)
    The Court ruled that Ohio's school voucher program, which allows parents to use voucher money to send their child to either private or public school, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Because parents can choose to use the voucher in either form of education, the Court said it is neutral and does not infringe on the separation of church and state. Further References.
  • Judicial Candidate Speech - Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (June 27, 2002)

  • The Minnesota Supreme Court adopted a canon of judicial conduct which included a provision that prohibited a “candidate for a judicial office” from “announc[ing] his or her views on disputed legal or political issues." The Court ruled that the provision is unconstitutional because it both prohibits speech based on its content and burdens a category of speech that is at the core of First Amendment freedoms–speech about the qualifications of candidates for public office. Further References.

Fourth Amendment (Search and Seizure)

Intellectual Property

  • PatentsFesto Corp. v. Shoketsu Kinzoku Kogyo Kabushiki Co. (May 28, 2002)
    The Court overturned a U.S. Court of Appeals decision which held that when a patentee narrows a claim to obtain a patent, the patentee surrenders all patent protection for the amended claim element. In setting aside the decision, the Court reaffirmed the doctrine of equivalents, which expands the scope of a patent beyond its literal terms to embrace all equivalents to the claims described, thereby protecting a patentee "against efforts of copyists to evade liability for infringement by making only insubstantial changes to a patented invention." Further references.

Securities and Exchange Commission

  • Securities and Exchange Act – SEC v. Zandford (June 3, 2002)
  • The SEC has consistently adopted a broad reading of SEC Rule 10(b)'s "in connection with the purchase or sale of any security" language, and has therefore maintained that a broker who accepts payment for securities that he or she never intends to deliver, or who sells securities with intent to misappropriate the proceeds has violated Rule 10(b)-5 and § 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act. The Court defers to this interpretation and holds that a broker's misappropriation of proceeds are "in connection with" securities sales and therefore a violation of the Securities and Exchange Act. Further references.

Sixth Amendment Rights

  • Right to CounselAlabama v. Shelton (May 20, 2002)
    The Court ruled that a suspended sentence that may "end up in the actual deprivation of a person's liberty" may not be imposed unless the defendant was accorded the assistance of counsel in the prosecution of the crime charged. Further references.
  • Death PenaltyRing v. Arizona (June 24, 2002)
    The Court ruled that a jury, rather than a judge, must make a finding of "aggravating factors" when those factors underlie a judge's choice to impose the death penalty rather than a lesser, statutory punishment. Further references.