Supreme Court

Recent Supreme Court Decisions

Supreme-Court These cases may not be Marbury v. Madison or Brown v. Board of Education, but they are still landmarks in the legal system. Here’s a list of the top ten Supreme Court Cases from the last five years.

  1. National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012)—In what is casually known as the “Obamacare” decision, the Supreme Court limited the federal regulation of commerce, claiming that under the Commerce Clause the federal government doesn’t have the power to force states to expand their Medicaid programs under threat of stopping payments. Under the Taxing and Spending Clause, however, the federal government may levy taxes on individuals who choose not to make purchases. Lead by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court upheld the “individual mandate” within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” Aside from securing Obama’s place within history and giving his re-election campaign a large boon, the ruling has strongly limited federal spending and its coercion of states.

  2. United States v. Antoine Jones (2012)—When the local police suspected a D.C. nightclub owner, Antoine Jones, of narcotics possession, they secretly placed a global positioning system device on his car. After being convicted on the strength of that evidence, Jones appealed the use of it, claiming that the device constituted an unwarranted search. The Supreme Court agreed, and ruled that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle and then using the device to monitor the vehicle’s movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. This ruling is just the beginning of the legal navigations that will follow as tracking and search technology advances.

  3. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012)—The Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bars the government from interfering in ministerial appointments for religious organizations, including hearing wrongful employment termination suits. Public opinion was divided on the ruling, with conservatives lauding the opinion and liberals asserting that religious organizations should abide by the same rules as other non-profits.

  4. Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Graham v. Florida (2010)—In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a sentence of life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, may not be imposed on juvenile non-homicide offenders. In 2012, they expanded the decision to rule as cruel and unusual punishment mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders (including murder charges).

  5. Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011)—In 2005, California passed a law criminalizing selling violent video games to minors. The Supreme Court struck the law down as unconstitutional, claiming that video games are protected forms of media speech, and states may not ban the sale of them to minors. The ruling sparked a large public controversy, with conservatives decrying the ruling as “disappointing,” and liberals invoking the threat to the First Amendment that the law had posed.

  6. Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky (2010)—In the middle of a frenzied immigration reform controversy, the Supreme Court ruled that defense attorneys must inform clients of deportation and other “collateral consequences,” or civil punishments that accompany criminal charges, under three circumstances.

    1. Where the law is clear, attorneys must advise their criminal clients that deportation “will” result from a conviction.
    2. Where the immigration consequences of a conviction are unclear, attorneys must advise that deportation “may” result.
    3. When the immigration is ever in question, attorneys must inform their client; they cannot remain silent on the subject.
  7. Berghuis v. Thompkins (2010)—In the investigation of fatal shooting in 2000, a suspect, after being read his Miranda rights, stayed silent for three hours. At the end of three hours of fruitless interrogation, the police switched to a religious tack, asking the suspect if he prayed for forgiveness for the murders. When he answered yes, the police used the admission as incriminating evidence. The suspect appealed his conviction on the premise that by refusing to talk for three hours, he had invoked his right to remain silent and that the police had violated his Fifth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court disagreed 5-4, claiming that the right to remain silent does not exist unless the suspect invokes it. The decision was highly controversial, and critics decried the erosion of Miranda rights and coercive power the ruling gives the police.

  8. Ricci v. DeStefano (2009)—In 2009, the New Haven, Connecticut fire department administered a promotional exam to 118 firefighters. The test produced racially skewed results, where all top scorers were white with the exception of two Hispanics. Not wishing to violate Title VII, the city threw out the test results and promoted no one. The twenty candidates who received the highest scores protested, eventually bringing their case in front of the Supreme Court, who ruled that municipalities may not decline to certify the results of an otherwise fair exam merely because it would have made disproportionately more white applicants eligible for promotion.

  9. Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008)—In a particularly brutual rape case, a man raped his eight-year-old step-daughter, causing serious internal damage, and the judge sentenced him to death. The man appealed the sentencing, claiming that capital punishment for a rape charge constituted cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eight Amendment. The Supreme Court upheld his claim 5-4, decreeing that a death sentence may not be imposed for the crime of rape, when the victim did not die and death was not intended. The decision received criticism of both the heinous nature of the crime and the restriction of states’ rights from both presidential candidates at the time.

  10. Boumediene v. Bush (2008)—In another lawsuit concerning the U.S. War on Terror and Guantanamo Bay, a prisoner challenged the United States’ right to detain him at Guantanamo Bay without a writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court found that fundamental rights of the Constitution apply to the Guantanamo detainees as well, including habeas corpus.

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