Tuesday, June 12, 2012
In mid-June, the Supreme Court watching & waiting gets serious. The Court currently has only two scheduled "Non-Argument" days on its June calendar to announce opinions, June 18 and 25, although it could add more.
[UPDATE: On June 14, the Court added Thursday, June 21, to its calendar].
Certainly, the health care reform cases on the constitutionality of the ACA, argued over several days (March 26, March 27, and March 28) are the most anticipated, but there are at least three other not-yet-decided opinions that are much anticipated and involve controversial constitutional issues.
In January, the Court heard oral arguments in FCC v. Fox presenting the Court again with the First Amendment problems of "fleeting expletives" and "fleeting nudity" in a regulated media context, although the precise issue is more muddled than not. Fox (represented by Carte G. Phillips) focused on the "fleeting expletive" sanction based on Cher's statement at an award ceremony and ABC (represented by Seth Waxman) focused on a nudity sanction based on an episode of NYPD Blue, argued against the FCC (represented by the Solicitor General Verrilli). The Justices - - - sans Sotomayor who did not participate - - - did seem reluctant to honor the respondents' request to overrule FCC v. Pacifica Foundation (1978) (the "seven dirty words" case), yet also seemed uncertain to what extent the case survived into the current proliferation of media.
In February, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in another First Amendment case, United States v. Alvarez, the so-called "Stolen Valor" case. The Ninth Circuit, in a divided opinion, held a provision of the act unconstitutional: 18 U.S.C. § 704(b), criminalizes false representations, verbal or written, that one has been "been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item." A few weeks before oral argument, the Tenth Circuit, in a divided opinion, upheld the provision.
In late April, the Court heard oral arguments in Arizona v. United States involving the constitutionality of several provisions of Arizona's notorious SB 1070 that the DOJ argues are pre-empted by federal law as the lower courts held. These include requiring every Arizona law enforcement officer to verify the immigration status of every person stopped, arrested, or detained if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country unlawfully; criminalizing the failure to carry an “alien registration document;'" criminalizing undocumented immigrants applying for employment or being employed; and authorizing warrantless arrests if based upon probable cause that a person has committed a deportable crime. Several commentators suggested that Justice Scalia's remarks at oral argument were other than judicial.
While it is not always true that opinions rendered late in the term are the most divisive and complex, the conventional wisdom supports this perception, especially if the oral arguments were earlier in the Term.
[image of Supreme Court courtroom via]