6 Things You Need To Know Right Now: The Other SCOTUS Decisions

Supreme_Court_BuildingThe Supreme Court of the United States issued some whopper opinions this week, as previewed on The Broad Side. The decision in Shelby County v. Holder held a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be unconstitutional. Two others related to the constitutionality of same-sex marriages, with Hollingsworth v. Perry ultimately re-legalizing same-sex marriage in California, and United States v. Windsor nullifying part of the Defense of Marriage Act – a statute that ignored, for purposes of all federal laws, same-sex marriages recognized in the states that allowed them.

Despite what your news outlet of choice might have you believe, these were not the only decisions SCOTUS issued in the past several days. Here is a sampling of the high court’s other pronouncements:

1. Arizona’s Voter Registration Law Ruled Invalid. In 2004, Arizona voters adopted a ballot initiative that required would-be voters to present concrete evidence of citizenship in order to register to vote. A federal agency, the Election Assistance Commission, issues a uniform federal form that all states must use to register voters for federal elections. The EAC’s form does not require actual proof of citizenship; the EAC form only requires that the registering voter attest to his or her citizenship. Arizona officials were instructed to reject any EAC form that did not include the state-required documentation. In Arizona v. Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., the Court held that the federal election laws “pre-empt” Arizona’s competing state law, rendering the Arizona law inoperative. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in a 7-2 opinion.

2. University of Texas’ Race-Based Admission Policy Remains in Doubt. Texas resident Abigail Fisher applied for undergraduate admission at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008, but wasn’t accepted. She sued, claiming the university’s consideration of race in the admissions process violated her constitutional rights. (Fisher is white.) The university won at the District Court level, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling, noting that the University was owed “substantial deference” in the design and application of its admission plan. In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals had been too deferential to the University of Texas and its admissions process. The Court therefore sent the case back to the Court of Appeals, with the instruction that it subject the admissions plan to “strict scrutiny” – the most demanding form of judicial review. Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority in a 7-1 opinion (Justice Elena Kagan did not participate).

3. Silence Deemed Insufficient Invocation of Fifth Amendment Rights. Way back in 1992, two brothers were shot and killed in their Houston home. Investigators were eventually led to a man who agreed to speak with them at the police station and to turn over his gun for ballistics testing. The man was interviewed by the police for approximately one hour, during which time he was neither read his Miranda rights nor formally taken into custody. The man answered most of the officers’ questions, but clammed up when asked whether his shotgun would match shell casings recovered from the scene. At trial, lawyers argued that the man’s silence in response to that question suggested his guilt. The man objected that such an insinuation violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In Salinas v. Texas, the Supreme Court held that because the man did not verbally invoke the Fifth Amendment during his police station interview, he could not benefit from its protection. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion of a highly-divided Court.

4. Protection From Workplace harassment Does Not Extend to Co-Workers. Maetta Vance, an African-American woman, worked for Ball State University’s catering and dining services division. Saundra Davis, a white woman, worked as a catering specialist in that same division. Davis did not have the authority to fire, demote, otherwise discipline, or promote Vance, but Vance complained that Davis racially harassed and discriminated against her by making continuing racial slurs about her and physically threatening her, among other things. Vance contended that the university took steps to address the problem. When the situation failed to improve, Vance sued the University under Title VII, on the theory that the university was “vicariously liable” for Davis’ discriminatory actions. In Vance v. Ball State University, the Supreme Court held that, because Davis could not take “tangible employment actions” against Vance, the University was not be liable for Davis’ actions, and affirmed judgment in favor of the University. Justice Alito wrote for the majority in a 5-4 opinion, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a strong dissenting opinion that is well worth your time to read.

5. New Sex Offender Registration Requirements Apply Retroactively. In a special court-martial trial, a then-member of the U.S. Air Force, Anthony Kebodeaux, was convicted of a sexual offense. Several years after Kebodeaux had served his sentence and had been discharged from the Air Force, Congress passed the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). SORNA requires those convicted of federal sex offenses to register where they live, work and study. SORNA also made clear it applied to offenders who had already served their sentences.  Kebodeaux was prosecuted under SORNA after failing to register. In United States v. Kebodeaux, the Supreme Court held that, because Kebodeaux was subject to federal oversight under a precursor to SORNA after serving his sentence, it was constitutional to apply SORNA’s registration requirements retroactively to him. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority in a 7-2 opinion.

6. Funding Condition Relating to Prostitution Violates First Amendment. In 2003, Congress authorized the appropriation of billions of dollars in grants to non-governmental organizations fighting against the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. There were at least two conditions to the funding: the money could not be used to promote or advocate for the legalization of prostitution, and the money could not go to an organization that did not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking. A group of domestic organizations engaged in fighting HIV/AIDS overseas challenged the act under which funding was provided, arguing that an explicit policy against prostitution might alienate some of their host countries and make it difficult to conduct outreach with prostitutes themselves. In Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., the Supreme Court held that the funding condition violated the First Amendment, as the government would be denying benefits to groups who declined the funds simply because they disagreed with the imposed message. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in a 6-2 opinion (Justice Kagan did not participate).

Don’t forget to check back next week for the “6 Things” you’ll need to know!

Associate Editor Abby Diaz is a mother, wife and lawyer who shares her opinions and her sarcasm while blogging about current events at What’s Left Over. Hailed by readers as “hilarious,” “insightful” and “related to me,” she is sure to cover a subject that resonates with you. Assuming you care about things like life, entertainment, and/or family. If reading full paragraphs is too much for you, enjoy Abby over at Facebook or Twitter.
  • In regards to the Arizona ruling, I was reading the dissenting opinions. I tend to agree with both of the dissenting Justices. The states determine who is eligible to vote, and regardless of what is on the form, the states should be able to decide how to determine if someone is qualified. Even in the majority opinion, they stated that the states are allowed to determine eligibility, how can they do that if one of the conditions for registration is US Citizenship, yet they aren’t allowed to verify it?

    My personal opinion is that SCOTUS got this one wrong. The Federal Government is not supreme in all things, and this is one area that the founders of the country realized could be used as an abuse to control who voted if it was centralized. SCOTUS should reconsider this issue and reverse their own ruling.

    • Dana

      They already verify your citizenship when you register. They should not have to do it again when you vote. No one wants to have to carry their birth and citizenship documents around with them in public; that’s a recipe for getting your identity stolen. And it’s ridiculous to make someone pay for an ID just so they can vote. Voting is supposed to be free. Registration already is.

  • Dana

    They also disregarded the Indian Child Welfare Act which is going to harm the Indian nations in the long run. But I guess that’s OK if half your staff are child-adopters and want that made as easy as possible to do no matter whose rights you violate.

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