SCOTUS issues 3 decisions; opinions on Ball State case, same-sex marriage to come

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Those who hoped to learn how the Supreme Court of the United States will rule on same-sex marriage likely will need to wait until next week. The U.S. justices issued three opinions Thursday, although none were from the highly anticipated cases before them.

The court issued Descamps v. United States, 11-9540; American Express Co., et al. v. Italian Colors Restaurants, et al., 12-133; and Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International Inc., 12-10.

The issue in Descamps is whether, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, when a state crime doesn’t require an element of the federal crime of burglary, the federal court may find the existence of that element by examining the record of a state proceeding under the “modified categorical approach.” Michael Descamps was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and the government sought to enhance his sentence under the ACCA, which included a prior conviction in California for burglary.

The justices held that the modified categorical approach doesn’t apply to statutes like California Penal Code Ann. Section 459 that contain a single, indivisible set of elements, and they found Descamps’ ACCA enhancement was improper. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, and Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

In American Express, the court held the Federal Arbitration Act does not allow courts to invalidate a contractual wavier of class arbitration on the ground that the plaintiff’s cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery. Scalia delivered the opinion, and  Kagan, Ginsburg and Breyer dissented. Sotomayor did not participate.

American Express users filed a class action, claiming the company violated the Sherman Act, to which American Express sought to compel individual arbitration under the FAA based on the cardholder agreement. The users argued the cost of expert analysis necessary to prove the antitrust claims would exceed the maximum recovery for an individual plaintiff. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals held that because of the prohibitive costs respondents would face if they had to arbitrate, the class-action waiver is unenforceable.

In Agency for International Development, recipients of United States Leadership Against HIV/AID, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 funds who wish to remain neutral on prostitution sought a declaratory judgment that the policy requirements of the Act violate their First Amendment rights. The Act requires an organization to have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking to be able to receive federal funding to provide HIV and AIDS programs oversees. The 2nd Circuit affirmed the issuance of a preliminary injunction, holding the policy requirement violated the groups’ freedom of speech.

Roberts delivered the decision. Scalia and Thomas dissented, and Kagan did not participate in the case. The majority held that the policy requirement violates the First Amendment by compelling as a condition of federal funding the affirmation of a belief that by its nature cannot be confined within the scope of the government program.

Also pending before the court is Vance v. Ball State University, et al., 11-556, which was argued in November. Ball State employee Maetta Vance filed her lawsuit claiming she was racially harassed by a co-worker and another employee who had the authority to tell her what to do and how to clock her hours. The case hinges on the definition of “supervisor.” The school claims it can’t be held liable because Vance’s harasser didn’t have the power to fire, hire, demote, promote discipline or transfer her.

The federal court and 7th Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled in favor of the university.

Still awaiting ruling are several high-profile cases, including Hollingsworth v. Perry, 12-144 and United States v. Windsor, which deal with same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act; and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 11-345, which deals with affirmative action. Indiana authored one amicus brief and co-authored another before the court regarding the same-sex marriage issue.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to release opinions Monday and will likely add extra days next week to hand down decisions. Court watchers expect the same-sex marriage cases to come on the last scheduled day for the court, as has been the case with other controversial cases including last year’s decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.



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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues