Category: Supreme Court

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Stand-ins for Justice?

The original title for this post was The People’s Supreme Court? because it was triggered by an article in last week’s New York Times about the increased use by law firms of place-holders (paid stand-ins) for seats at the United States Supreme Court.  According to the article, “place holding is common at Congressional hearings and is on the rise at the Supreme Court, where seats for last month’s arguments went for as much as $6,000.”  An earlier piece, published around the time the same-sex marriage cases were argued, noted that the practice has its detractors, including former Congressman Barney Frank, whose proffered remedy is televised Supreme Court arguments.

I changed the title of this post after an incident on Friday.  While returning to my law school midday I passed a scraggly group picketing in front of a neighboring Marriott Hotel.  The signs said that the protesters were picketing because the Carpenters Union had a beef with the management.  As my very general description suggestions, I did not look at the signs too closely.  I was distracted because many of the protests were so drunk or drugged that they could not walk in a circle.  A colleague with whom I was walking informed me that some labor unions now hire homeless people to walk picket lines for them.  Surely the Union did not think that the picketing would be effective.  I was astonished that actual Union members were shirking their membership responsibilities, but did I have a right to be appalled?

Hiring stand-ins for pay is a very American institution.  Read More

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Bones and Genes: Fortune’s Bones Redux

As a follow up to my post last week asking about human dignity, unburied bones and ownership of human cells, here are two related issues that appeared in the Sunday news.

The first item from Sunday’s Baltimore Sun is the belated report of a Reuters story about the controversy over disposition of King Richard III’s newly discovered remains uncovered in a municipal parking lot by the University of Leicester.  The long-lost remains of the King, who died in 1485, were exhumed, and the University was given permission to re-inter the remains in Leicester. But the King’s descendants objected claiming that they were not “consulted … over the exhumation and the license allowing the university to re-bury the King, and [that] this failure breached the European Convention on Human Rights.” They want the body buried in York.

The second item is an op-ed by two medical school academics, Jeffrey Rosenfeld and Christopher E. Mason, that appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post about Association for Molecular Pathology et al v. Myriad Genetics, et al, a case that will be argued in the Supreme Court on April 15th. This is important case that has been mentioned on this blog as recently as last February.  SCOTUS even featured a symposium spurred by the controversy. At issue is whether, on some level, human genes are patentable. Rosenfeld and Mason oppose patenting DNA.  On the other hand, much like the researchers discussing the HeLa cell, the respondents, Myriad Genetics, et al, argue that the issue is much narrower, namely whether the “human” aspect of the specific sequence of isolated human DNA is the result of the efforts of the respondent, and thus patentable. Read More

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Bartelt’s Dog and the Continuing Vitality of the Supreme Court’s Tacit Distinction between Sense Enhancement and Sense Creation

Last Term, in an amicus brief in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. __, several colleagues and I highlighted the Supreme Court’s long, albeit not always clearly stated, history of distinguishing between sense-enhancing and sense-creating technologies for Fourth Amendment purposes.  As a practical matter, the Court has consistently subjected technologies in the latter category to closer scrutiny than technologies that merely bolster natural human senses.  Thus, the use of searchlights, field glasses, and (to some extent) beepers and airplane-mounted cameras was not found to implicate the Fourth Amendment.  As the Court explained, “[n]othing in the Fourth Amendment prohibit[s] the police from augmenting the sensory faculties bestowed upon them at birth with such enhancement as science and technology” may afford.  460 U.S. at 282 (emphasis added).  In contrast, the Court has held that technologies that create a new capacity altogether, including movie projectors, wiretaps, ultrasound devices, radar flashlights, directional microphones, thermal imagers, and (as of Jones) GPS tracking devices, do trigger the Fourth Amendment.  To hold otherwise, as the Court has stated, would “shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy,” leaving citizens “at the mercy of advancing technology.”  533 U.S. at 34-36.

In fact, of the landmark cases involving technology and the Fourth Amendment during the past 85 years (from United States v. Lee, 274 U.S. 559, in 1927 to Jones in 2012), only in one instance did the Supreme Court appear to deviate from this distinction between sense enhancement and sense creation.  In that case, United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, and its successors, City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, and Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, the Court held that the use of trained narcotics-detection dogs (more apparently similar to using a new capacity than merely enhancing a natural human sense) did not implicate the Fourth Amendment.  In our amicus brief in Jones, we rationalized Place, Edmond, and Caballes by arguing that dogs were unique, being natural biological creatures that had long been used by the police, even in the time of the Framers.  Further, we argued, a canine sniff, unlike the use of, say, a wiretap or a thermal imager, “discloses only the presence or absence of narcotics, a contraband item.”  462 U.S. at 707 (emphasis added).  Still, the apparent ‘dog exception’ was rankling. Read More

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Double deference

I know that I am supposed to be caught up along with everyone else in the same-sex marriage cases, but I am still distracted by Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, decided last week at the Supreme Court. In a separate opinion designed to push the buttons of what Scotusblog’s John Elwood called Supreme Court nerderati, Justice Scalia again called for the reconsideration of the principle of Auer deference. Auer says that just as courts should defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of ambiguous provisions in their organic statutes, so should they defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of ambiguous provisions in regulations that they themselves promulgate. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito suggested that they would also be open, in a different case, to reconsidering Auer.

Read More

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Counting to Five

Here is a link to a terrific post by Tom Goldstein that raises two very interesting points:

1.  The Court could vacate and remand Perry for reconsideration in light of Windsor (the DOMA case).  That would not resolve the standing issue, but would allow the Justices to dodge the issue.

2.  If Justice Kennedy did not vote to grant certiorari, voting to dismiss the writ as improvidently granted could be contrary (at least in spirit) to the rule that you only need four Justices to vote yes on certiorari for the Court to hear the case.

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Some Thoughts On Florida v. Jardines

Amidst all of the discussion of gay marriage at One First Street NW today, you may have missed that the Supreme Court decided Florida v. Jardines.  In a five-four opinion by Justice Scalia, the Court held that bringing a police dog within the curtilage (in this case, the front porch) of the home to sniff for drugs constitutes a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.  As Orin Kerr predicted, the opinion turned on the lack of implied consent to approach with a dog, which converted the detectives’ action into a trespass.  Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined Justice Scalia’s opinion.  Justice Alito wrote for the dissent, joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, and the Chief Justice.  Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, wrote separately to note that they “could just as happily have decided [the case] by looking to Jardines’ privacy interests.” Read More

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Stanford Law Review Online: Anticipating Patentable Subject Matter

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Dan L. Burk entitled Anticipating Patentable Subject Matter. Professor Burk argues that the fact that something might be found in nature should not necessarily preclude its patentability:

The Supreme Court has added to its upcoming docket Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., to consider the question: “Are human genes patentable?” This question implicates patent law’s “products of nature” doctrine, which excludes from patentability naturally occurring materials. The Supreme Court has previously recognized that “anything under the sun that is made by man” falls within patentable subject matter, implying that things under the sun not made by man do not fall within patentable subject matter.

One of the recurring arguments for classifying genes as products of nature has been that these materials, even if created in the laboratory, could sometimes instead have been located by scouring the contents of human cells. But virtually the same argument has been advanced and rejected in another area of patent law: the novelty of patented inventions. The rule in that context has been that we reward the inventor who provides us with access to the materials, even if in hindsight they might have already been present in the prior art. As a matter of doctrine and policy, the rule for patentable subject matter should be the same.

He concludes:

“I can find the invention somewhere in nature once an inventor has shown it to me” is clearly the wrong standard for a patent system that hopes to promote progress in the useful arts. The fact that a version of the invention may have previously existed, unrecognized, unavailable, and unappreciated, should be irrelevant to patentability under either novelty or subject matter. The proper question is: did the inventor make available to humankind something we didn’t have available before? On this standard, the reverse transcribed molecules created by the inventors in Myriad are clearly patentable subject matter.

Read the full article, Anticipating Patentable Subject Matter at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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The Yale Law Journal Online: New Essays

The Yale Law Journal Online has just published Courts as Managers: American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock and Summary Disposition at the Roberts Court, by Alex Hemmer, and Emerging Counties? Prospects for Regional Governance in the Wake of Municipal Dissolution, by Ashira Pelman Ostrow. 

Ostrow writes that

[i]n Dissolving Cities, Professor Michelle Wilde Anderson suggests that municipal dissolution could enable counties to serve regionalist goals. This Essay argues that, on balance, municipal dissolution will not trigger the emergence of counties as agents of regional reform. Modern metropolitan regions span city, county, and state borders. As the scale of the region expands, state and local governments, including counties, will increasingly lack the territorial jurisdiction and regulatory capacity to respond to complex metropolitan problems. The Essay concludes by considering the role that the federal government can play, and has historically played, in facilitating regional collaboration at the appropriate scale. 

As Hemmer explains, 

Summary disposition is a procedural innovation—added only belatedly to the Supreme Court’s rules—in which the Court dispenses with a case without briefing or oral argument. It presents a puzzle for students of appellate decisionmaking: how can a case be significant enough to merit the Court’s consideration, but not significant enough to warrant the benefits of adversarial procedure? Commentators have asserted that the Roberts Court is more likely than its predecessors to use summary disposition to resolve cases, but this Essay presents the first systematic look at its use of that procedure. The Essay finds that—contrary to general understanding—the Roberts Court has not used summary disposition more than its predecessors did. Rather, it has used the procedure in different and potentially dangerous ways.

Preferred citations:

Alex Hemmer, Courts as Managers: American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock and Summary Disposition at the Roberts Court, 122 YALE L.J. ONLINE 209 (2013), http://yalelawjournal.org/2013/1/23/hemmer.html.

Ashira Pelman Ostrow, Emerging Counties? Prospects for Regional Governance in the Wake of Municipal Dissolution, 122 YALE L.J. ONLINE 187 (2013), http://yalelawjournal.org/2013/01/03/ostrow.html.