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Lethal Injection in Oklahoma Faces Test in Supreme Court Today

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today on whether a drug used in Oklahoma's lethal-injection executions violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, Christian Science Monitor's Warren Richey reports. At issue is whether midazolam, the first drug used in a three-drug cocktail, is "reliably effective in preventing condemned prisoners from suffering an intolerable level of pain during the execution process." The drug is supposed to make prisoners unconscious, but there have been three botched executions in which prisoners awoke and struggled during the administration of the later drugs.

Supreme Court Cautious About Making Sweeping Change to Marriage

The National Law Journal's Tony Mauro reports that the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments this morning about the constitutionality of several states' bans on same-sex marriage, appeared to be cautious about making sweeping change to the definition of matrimony in the United States.

According to Mauro, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has authored several of the court's landmark decisions on LGBT rights and is considered a swing vote on the issue, said, '"The word that keeps coming to me is 'millennia.'" Kennedy, however, also said that there is nobility in marriage that same-sex couples should enjoy. I think that sentiment from Kennedy seems to reflect the kind of rhetoric he deployed in decisions that struck down criminal bans on consensual sodomy and a Colorado state constitutional amendment that barred any extra legal protections for LGBT Coloradans.

According to Mauro, Michigan special attorney general John Bursch asserted that states have a rational basis for keeping marriage to opposite-sex couples in order to encourage children being raised in stable families. But the liberal justices sharply challenged that argument.

Supreme Court Rules Traffic Stops Can't Be Extended for Drug-Sniffing Dogs

The U.S. Supreme Court, 6-3, has ruled that police can't prolong traffic stops in order to await the arrival of drug-sniffing dogs to inspect motor vehicles, The New York Times' Adam Liptak reports: "'“A police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures,'" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote for the majority.

The Nebraska defendant had his traffic stop delayed by eight minutes after he got a written warning for driving on the shoulder of a state highway. The court's ruling means that the large bag of methamphetamine found in the defendant's car could be suppressed if a lower court does not find that there was reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop.

In separate dissents, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court's new rule is not workable, and Justice Samuel Alito wrote that police officers will now make sure to issue tickets or warnings as the last step during traffic stops.

FOIA Suit Seeks DOJ 'Confession of Error' in Supreme Court American Indian Cases

The California Indian Law Association has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to get more information about an alleged "confession of error" by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katya that his office made misrepresentations to the U.S. Supreme Court in American Indian law cases, The Legal Times' Tony Mauro reports. Katyal made his remarks in a video for the Federal Bar Association's annual Indian law conference in 2011.

According to the association's complaint, Katyal made a "'confession of error' for the solicitor general's role in two Supreme Court cases that were setbacks for tribal sovereignty: United States v. Sandoval, a 1913 decision that limited tribal property rights in New Mexico, and the 1955 ruling in Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States, which rejected an Alaskan tribe's Fifth Amendment claim seeking compensation for timber taken on tribal lands," Mauro reports.

A confession of error could undermine those precedents, which have been cited hundreds of times in federal court, Mauro also reports.

Healthcare Providers Can't Force Medicaid Increases After Supreme Court Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court, 5-4, ruled in the past week that healthcare providers can't force states to raise Medicaid rates to keep up with rising medical costs, the Associated Press' Sam Hananel reports. The mostly more conservative justices in the majority said that private medical providers have no private right to enforce Medicaid funding laws because Congress did not create such a right.

The case involved five centers in Idaho that provide care to developmentally disabled children and adults, which claim that Idaho ignoring rising costs by keeping reimbursement rates low.

The Consequences of Community Care After Supreme Court Ruling

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that two Georgia mental health patients are entitled to care in the community, there has been a push by the U.S. Department of Justice to move patients out of state hospitals, The Augusta Chronicle's Tom Corwin reports. Transfers from institutional to community settings can't be carried out over the opposition of patients, if their placements can't be reasonably accommodated or if patients wouldn't be able to benefit from being out in the community.

There have been unintended consequences of the court ruling in Georgia. The state has not been meeting patient-care standards and there have been a number of unexpected deaths in community-care homes, Corwin reports. U.S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes ruled 3.5 years ago that the Justice Department was seeking to enforce patients being moved to community settings even though parents and guardians of patients hadn't asked for it.

Corwin found that the death rates for patients in long-term care in the community is higher and that many parents fear that "patients will not receive a comparable level of care in the community, and particularly for the many medically fragile patients, this could prove fatal." 

Do the Lives of the Mentally Ill Matter to the Supreme Court?

The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a police shooting case--and this time the victim wasn't a man of color, but a woman with mental illness who was shot to death in her own residence, Slate's Cristian Farias reports. Farias notes that one advocacy group estimates that at least half of all people shot to death by police have mental health issues. One issue in the case is "the extent to which the Americans With Disabilities Act serves as a check on police officers’ interactions with people with mental illnesses" when they are exhibiting erractic or violent behavior. Farias noted that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said during oral argument that '''isn’t the ADA ... intended to ensure that police officers try mitigation in these situations before they jump to violence?”'

Supreme Court Rules Against UPS in Pregnancy Discrimination Suit

The U.S. Supreme Court, 6-3, has ruled in favor of a former UPS employee who sued for pregnancy discrimination, Huffington Post's Dave Jamieson reports. Justice Stephen Breyer, author of the majority opinion, said the issue is why UPS did not accomodate Peggy Young with lighter duty during her pregnancy when it offered such accommodations to employees with on-the-job injuries or to satisfy the American with Disabilities Act. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers are required to treat "women affected by pregnancy" the same as "other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work."

Young's case has been remanded for further proceedings.

The UPS started offering light duty to pregnant women at the start of the year, but is defending its old policy as legal and fair.

Justices Mull if Homeowners Can Wipe Out Underwater Mortgages

The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in a couple of cases yesterday over whether homeowners can void mortgages that are completely underwater, Supreme Court Brief's Marcia Coyle reports. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit allowed homeowners whose homes were worth less than their primary mortgage to void a second mortgage. Bank of America appealed.

At issue is whether a bankruptcy court can "strip off" those valueless mortgages. The lawyer for the homeowners told the justices that eight circuit courts allow liens to be voided in Chapter 13 bankruptcies, and that resolving subordinate liens has been the "biggest obstacle to the housing recovery." Bank of America's counsel, however, argued that properties can have real value if liens are not stripped off because the housing market is moving back up.

Corporations Displacing Protesters in First Amendment Arena

The New York Times' Adam Liptak writes that corporations, rather than protesters and civil rights activists, are becoming the main beneficiaries of the First Amendment. Harvard law professor John C. Coates IV has conducted a study finding that "'corporations have begun to displace individuals as the direct beneficiaries of the First Amendment.'" Coates found that First Amendment cases involving businesses have risen before the U.S. Supreme Court, while First Amendment cases involving individuals have fallen.


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