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U.S. Supreme Court

Video of Judge Touches Off Debate Over Offenders Who Can't Pay

Richard A. Diment, a Municipal Court judge in Bowdon, Ga., has been excoriated after a video surfaced in which he threatened to jail defendants who didn't cough up money toward their fines, The New York Times' Shaila Dewan reports. Diment told the NYT that he only made an empty threat to pressure people to pay their fines.

Dewan notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the poor can't be jailed solely if they can't pay a fine. But Diment, analyzing the precedent in Bearden v. Georgia, noted that a defendant "must make bona fide efforts to seek employment or borrow the money." The case, however, didn't address whether defendants should be forced to accept onerous terms on lending, Dewan writes.

Circuit Split Looms Over Birth Control Mandate

There is now a circuit split over whether President Obama's administrative accommodation for charities and nonprofits--who object to the mandate that health insurance cover birth control--impinges on their religious beliefs. SCOTUSBlog's Lyle Denniston reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that merely notifying the government of their objection would trigger the coverage in their health insurance plans and violate their religious beliefs. But six other circuit courts have ruled in favor of the administrative process. A circuit split makes it more likely the Supreme Court will take up the case.

The nonprofits oppose the birth control mandate because they oppose abortion and some of them consider some birth-control methods to be "abortion on demand," Denniston reports.


Alito For President?

Conservative commentator Bill Kristol recently suggested the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito enter the Republican presidential race, which prompted Scott Bomboy, writing for the Constitution Daily blog, to write about the long history of Supreme Court justices getting active in electoral politics.

For example, John Jay, the nation's first chief justice, ran twice for the governorship of New York without resigning. Justice Arthur Goldberg resigned from the court to be appointed as President Lyndon Johnson's ambassador to the United Nations.

However, most of Bomboy's examples are from the 1800s. A Supreme Court justice is much less likely to run for political office in today's political environment.

2016 Presidential Race Is About the Supreme Court

Lawyer Donald Scarinci, opining on the PolitickerNJ site, writes that the 2016 presidential race is really about which party will be in power to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice. But he notes, with the current polarization of politics, that the next president won't be able to select an ideological twin for the court. "Like those before them, the ultimate nominee will likely be an excellent jurist whose views on significant constitutional issues tend to stay in the middle of the road," Scarinci opines.

SCOTUS: Kentucky Clerk Must Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an emergency application by a Kentucky clerk against having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious objections, CNN's Ariane de Vogue and Jeremy Diamond report. The high court refused to stop a lower court ruling while clerk Kim Davis' appeal is pending.

Davis' lawyers argued that her "'conscience forbids her from approving a (same-sex marriage) license -- because the prescribed form mandates that she authorize the proposed union and issue a license bearing her own name and imprimatur."'

Protestors Don't Have Free Speech Rights at U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled last week that protestors don't have the right to demonstrate closer to the U.S. Supreme Court than the sidewalk out front, The Washington Post's Robert Barnes reports. A law forbids demonstrations on the high court's grounds on the theory that closer protests could lead to the perception that the justices are swayed by public pressure.

U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote that the Supreme Court's plaza "is designed as an extension of the court ... and restrictions on protests there need only be reasonable and viewpoint-neutral."

Environmental Groups Seek to Contain Fallout From Supreme Court's Mercury Ruling

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the Environmental Protection Agency's power plant regulations, environmental groups say that the decision was narrow and temporary, The Washington Post's Steven Overly report.

The court ruled that the EPA should have considered the financial burden on power plant operators when crafting the regulations of emissions of mercury by power plants. The case has been remanded to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for further litigation. Overly notes that the D.C. Circuit could put the regulations on pause while the EPA conducts the analysis of the regulatory costs, but advocates note the regulation was not thrown out entirely.

Overly also notes that many power plants have already installed equipment to curb their emissions of mercury.


Supreme Court, 5-4, Upholds Lethal Injection Drug

The U.S. Supreme Court, voting 5-4, has upheld the use of a drug in Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol that has been criticized as likely to cause inmates cruel and unusual punishment, The Huffington Post's Kim Bellware reports. Lawyers for the inmates on Oklahoma's death row aruged that midazolam "can't reliably render an inmate unconscious and free of pain while the second and third drugs paralyze him and stop his heart, thus making the execution cruel and unusual punishment."

Supreme Court Authorizes Nationwide Health Care Subsidies

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government can provide tax subsidies to help low-income and midde-class Americans buy health insurance, whether they buy their policies on the federally-run exchange or state-run exchanges, The New York Times' Adam Liptak reports. The decision was 6-3 with only Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissenting.

At issue was whether subsidies were only available to people buying insurance on "an exchange established by the state."

About 85 percent of customers using the exchanges qualify for subsidies, Liptak reports.



Class Actions Face New Test in Supreme Court Next Term

Class actions will face a new test in the U.S. Supreme Court next year after the justices granted certiorari on two issues:

1) Can workers at an Iowa meatpacking plant rely on statistical sampling to establish liability and damages regarding wages?

2) Can a class be certified when it contains membesr who weren't injured and have no legal right to damages?

Reuters' Alison Frankel says in her analysis that class action lawyers "could be looking back with nostalgia and regret at the good old days when they only had to worry about Wal-Mart v. Dukes and Comcast v. Behrend."

Frankel notes that the Supreme Court also has taken up Spokeo v. Robins, presenting "the question of whether Congress can confer constitutional standing on otherwise uninjured class members by providing a private right to recover statutory damages for violations of consumer laws."

The Supreme Court also has taken up Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, presenting the issue of whether defendants can stop class actions by offering lead plaintiffs a settlement that addresses their full damages.


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