Analysis of Five Supreme Court Decisions

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Members of the Supreme Court gather for a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington before the start of the 2010 session. October 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Members of the Supreme Court gather for a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington before the start of the 2010 session.

Not since Bush v. Gore was a Supreme Court decision so augured, anticipated and analyzed. With a bang, the Supreme Court closed out their term last week with the surprising decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Attention is still focused on that decision, and you can read a roundup of analysis on this blog and at the SCOTUSBlog. But the Supreme Court delivered 64 other opinions this term — fewer than they have decided in any of the past 20 years — and we’ve gathered links to varied analyses of five other key decisions below.

American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock
Decision: 5-4, Not Argued
Summary: “The Court was split 5-4 in striking down — without full briefing or oral argument — a 100-year-old Montana state law that banned corporations in that state from spending any of their corporate cash to support or oppose a candidate or a political party.” SCOTUSBlog

Analysis:
• “And there we have a portrait of today’s Supreme Court: Breyer is saying that he does not trust the majority enough to even listen, and would rather that it not hear the case at all; since he was joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, that means the four of them didn’t believe that a single of the other five Justices had been at all chastened by the consequences of Citizens United.” Amy Davidson, The New Yorker
• “It’s a reminder that Roberts and his conservative colleagues have not shied away from empowering malignant, moneyed interests who undermine our democracy. Thursday’s decision notwithstanding, this is still a court of, by and for the 1 percent.” Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Washington Post
• “Bush v. Gore is indefensible. Citizens United is not. In fact, it was correctly decided, however deplorable the consequences. Liberals ought to show the chief justice that we too can acknowledge a principle even when we don’t agree with the result.” Michael Kinsley, Bloomberg View

Arizona v. United States
Decision: 5-3
Summary: “The Supreme Court on Monday struck down several key parts of Arizona’s tough law on illegal immigrants, but it left standing a controversial provision requiring police to check the immigration status of people they detain and suspect to be in the country illegally.” The Washington Post

Analysis:
• “The Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s attempt to legislate immigration is likely to have far-reaching effects on other states’ efforts to enact similar legislation and underscores the need for federal action, experts said…” Tom Watkins, CNN
• “The provision that’s left standing — and that can be still be challenged in the future — simply allows police officers to inquire about the status of someone. If they contact the federal government and the government says, we’re not interested or the line is busy, there’s nothing they can do. It’s a law without any teeth.” Steven Gonzalez, PBS Newshour
• “The simple political reality on immigration for Romney goes like this: the Republican base is vehemently opposed to illegal immigration or a path to citizenship in any way shape or form but to adopt that policy would be to essentially write off the growing Hispanic community for years to come.” Chris Cizilla, The Washington Post
• “The imperial presidency, much criticized by Democrats during the Bush administration and by Republicans during the current administration for its dominance over security and war policy, now prevails in the immigration arena as well.” Eric Posner, Slate

Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama
Decision: 5-4
Summary: “The Eighth Amendment prohibits a sentencing scheme that requires life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders.” SCOTUSBlog

Analysis:
• “The United States is one of the few countries that have not signed the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans life sentences without parole and execution for those under age 18, said Connie de la Vega, a law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law.” Adam Liptak and Ethan Bronner, The New York Times
• “The Court’s decision now gives judges the discretion to consider a child’s past in deciding his/her future.… While past history of trauma does not excuse taking someone’s life, such a violent and troubled past should be considered by a judge when imposing a sentence on a child like Miller.” Joanne Page, Salon
• “Now that the Evan Miller case has cast a spotlight on the fundamental differences between the maturity and judgment of adults and adolescents, it is time to examine why the United States tries so many juveniles as adults. ” Matthew M. House, The Detroit News

Knox v. SEIU
Decision: 7-2, Reversed and Remanded
Summary: “Thursday’s decision in Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) dealt a blow against public sector labor unions and in favor of employees who are represented by a union but are not members.” SCOTUSBlog

Analysis:
• “[T]here’s a good argument to be made that, by further skewing the Democratic process that was so badly warped by the 2010 Citizens United ruling, the court has done even greater damage to the long-term prospects for renewing the republic.” John Nichols, The Nation
• “Yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Knox v. SEIU, prohibiting public-sector unions from charging non-members for political activities, led a Harvard Law School professor to muse on NPR this morning about whether the same rule should apply to corporations.” Daniel Fisher, Forbes
• “However, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January 2010, which was predicated in part on the tenuous claim that labor unions would counter the political influence of corporations, the Knox case has the potential to further rig the playing field in favor of big business and the right wing.” Bill Blum, TruthDig
• “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is pulling no punches when it comes to the US Supreme Court’s recent pattern of decisions regarding the way in which corporations can engage in politics versus the way in which unions can engage.” John Nichols, The Nation

United States v. Alvarez
Decision: 6-3
Summary: “A divided Supreme Court on Thursday overturned [the Supreme Valor Act] that made it a crime to lie about having earned a military decoration, saying that the act was an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.” The New York Times

Analysis:
• “The plurality explained first that the Stolen Valor Act posed a significant – and perhaps unique – threat to protected speech.” Tejinder Singh, SCOTUSBlog
• “The plurality opinion (written by Justice Anthony Kennedy) agrees [with Alvarez], declaring that the category of exceptions to the First Amendment’s general protection of speech does not include false statements.” Stanley Fish, The New York Times’ Opinionator blog
• “Breyer didn’t mention Stephen Colbert. But he did invoke the famous assertion of John Stuart (Mill) that falsehoods in debate promote the truth through their ‘collision with error.’ This might be closer to the right answer. Rooting out those who lie about military commendations should make us consider publicly the extraordinary debt we owe to those who risk or give their lives and merit the real thing.” Noah Feldman, Bloomberg View

End of Term Summaries and Observations
• “Final October Term 2011 Stat Pack and Summary Memo,” SCOTUSBlog
• “After Supreme Court term, line between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is blurrier,” Robert Barnes, The Washington Post
• “Was John Roberts Being Political?” Barry Friedman and Dahla Lithwick, Slate

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