Recent Supreme Court Term: The Supreme Court Openly Challenges Its Own Legacy

One of the more politically opportune reactions to the final week of the Supreme Court Term came from Senator Ted Cruz. His proposal: a Constitutional amendment that would replace life tenure for the Supreme Court with periodic retention elections. Under the Cruz plan, each Justice would face the voters in the second national election after initial confirmation, and every eight years thereafter. Justices would need a simple majority of “retain” votes to stay on the bench. Justices who are not retained would be replaced and would not be eligible for reappointment.

The Senator couched his proposal as a response to “a long line of judicial assaults on our Constitution and the common-sense values that have made America great.” Offering some red meat for his conservative base, he added that retention elections would provide a remedy for “the decisions that have deformed our constitutional order and have debased our culture” by “giving the people the regular, periodic power to pass judgment on the judgments of their judges.”

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Recent Supreme Court Term: King v. Burwell

“The issue in this case is whether the Act’s [the Affordable Care Act] tax credits are available in States that have a Federal Exchange rather than a State Exchange.” King v. Burwell, 576 U.S. __ (2015) (p. 5). The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires each state to create its own health insurance Exchange, however, if a state refuses to do so, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is authorized to “establish and operate such Exchange within the State.” Sec. 18041(c)(1).” (p. 5). Only sixteen States and the District of Columbia created their own Exchanges, while thirty-four States utilize the federal Exchange administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. (p. 6).

The tax credits, which are authorized by IRC sec. 36B, are allowed to “applicable taxpayers” who obtain health insurance through “an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act….” (p. 5). The IRS addressed the availability of tax credits to individuals acquiring health insurance through an HHS Exchange by adopting the definition of “Exchange” as used in an HHS regulation, 45 CFR sec. 155.20, which provided that taxpayers are eligible for a tax credit if they are enrolled in an Exchange which serves the individual market, “regardless of whether the Exchange is established and operated by a State… or by HHS….” (p. 6).

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Faculty Blog: Recent Supreme Court Term: Obergefell v. Hodges: Equality and Constitutional Interpretation

On June 26 the U.S. Supreme Court decided the “same-sex marriage” case Obergefell v. Hodges. The Court held unconstitutional, by a 5-4 vote, state laws that limit marriage to heterosexual couples. According to the Court, these limits violate both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court focuses on the crucial role that marriage, as a component of the liberty protected by the Due Process clause, plays both in individuals’ lives and in structuring society. Denying same sex-couples the opportunity to marry not only affects what type of society we live in, but also impoverishes the lives of a particular group of people in society. According to the Court, individuals define themselves through marriage. In addition, through marriage they access other “freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.” (p. 13) Marriage is also a means for individuals to achieve the “highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” (p. 28) Furthermore, children in same-sex families are injured by having to endure the stigma of familial inferiority as a result of the non-recognition of their parents’ marriages. (p. 15)

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Faculty Blog: Recent Supreme Court Term: Zivotofsky v. Kerry

In a recent blog my colleague Lawrence Friedman noted, “many cases implicating the Constitution do not turn on the document’s text.” He was writing in the context of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, but his observation is equally if not even more true in the context of foreign affairs and separation of powers. This is an area where the Court does not frequently tread for many reasons, not the least of which is that the Court is not keen to involve itself in what is usually seen as a turf battle between the two political branches.

Nonetheless, this past term the Court did take up a seemingly mundane case that has potentially significant consequences in the foreign affairs and national security arenas, areas where the Framers purposely created vague lines of authority between the President and Congress. Zivotofsky v. Kerry involved the petition of the Zivotofskys to have the birth of their child listed on his U.S. passport and consular report as “Jerusalem, Israel.” However, since 1948, when President Truman recognized Israel, he and every subsequent U.S. president have never acknowledged any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. Further, the Secretary of State has instructed State Department employees to record the place of birth for U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem as “Jerusalem,” with no further state affiliation.

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Faculty Blog: Recent Supreme Court Term: Los Angeles v. Patel

Students in constitutional law come to learn what seasoned constitutional lawyers know: many cases implicating the Constitution do not turn on the document’s text. Which is not to say the text isn’t important, just that, in certain areas of constitutional law, the doctrinal tests the court has devised to implement textual commands often take precedence over the words themselves. Consider the Fourth Amendment, as demonstrated by the recent decision in Los Angeles v. Patel, involving the scope of protection afforded business records.

The case concerned a challenge to a Los Angeles ordinance that compelled hotel operators to keep records containing specified information provided by guests, and to make these records available to police officers “for inspection” on demand. The law made the failure to make the records available for inspection punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

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Mass. Crim. Dig.: Commonwealth v. Sheridan

Contributing Editor: Rachel Murray

Commonwealth v. Sheridan, 25 N.E.3d 875 (2015)

I. Facts

Early one morning, the defendant, Matthew J. Sheridan, was pulled over by Officer Sean Glennon for an unilluminated headlight. While Glennon was conducting the stop, Sheridan appeared nervous, his hands shaking as he “fumbled” around for his license and registration. A second officer, Scott Walker, was patrolling the area, stopped at the scene, and approached the passenger window. Walker looked in the car’s passenger window and saw a small plastic sandwich bag sticking out from under a t-shirt on the floor; the bag appeared to contain about one-ounce of marijuana.

Walker indicated the presence of marijuana to Glennon, who then ordered Sheridan out of the car; a pat frisk revealed a cell phone and $285.00 cash. Glennon handcuffed Sheridan and searched the car, recovering two additional bags of marijuana. Sheridan was transported to the police station where, during booking for possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, the officers seized the cell phone and cash. Glennon proceeded to read the text messages in the cell phone, some of which appeared to be orders to purchase marijuana.

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Mass. Crim. Dig.: Commonwealth v. Burgos

Contributing Editor: Sameera Navidi

Commonwealth v. Burgos, 19 N.E.3d 843 (2014)

I. Facts

On July 4, 2005, Dana Haywood was shot and killed in the Monte Park neighborhood of New Bedford. Three years later, Rico Almeida contacted the District Attorney’s office about Haywood’s murder. At the time, Almeida was sharing a cell with the defendant, John Burgos, when he found out that the defendant murdered Haywood. Almeida offered to help police by wearing a concealed recording device to get the defendant’s confession on tape. In order to secure a search warrant, police submitted an affidavit, which contained information about police officers’ prior dealings with Almeida. The affidavit also detailed the background of gang involvement between the defendant’s gang, United Front, and Haywood’s gang, Monte Park. Additionally, the affidavit stated that police suspected Haywood’s death was in retaliation for a United Front member’s murder.

A Superior Court judge issued the search warrant, which allowed police officers to provide Almeida a recording device to record a conversation with the defendant. The defendant admitted on tape to being one of the shooters that killed Haywood.

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Article Preview: “Mature Person Preferred”

Contributing Editor: John Mara

The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 with the purpose of outlawing discrimination by a property owner when renting or selling a dwelling based on “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Section 3604(c) of the Fair Housing Act, which deals specifically with discriminatory advertising practices, prohibits housing advertisements through any medium that show “any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Since the passage of that act, applying section 3604(c) has become more difficult due to issues such as internet advertising and First Amendment challenges.

This Note examines the federal court system’s interpretation of section 3604(c) of the Fair Housing Act. To determine whether an advertisement has violated section 3604(c), the courts use the “ordinary reader” test to determine whether an “ordinary reader would understand an advertisement to suggest a preference for or against a protected group.” In Ragin v. New York Times Company, the Second Circuit interpreted the term “preference” to mean “any ad that would discourage an ordinary reader of a particular race.” The Seventh Circuit also equated the word “preference” with discouraging an ordinary reader in Jancik v. Department of Housing & Urban Development. However, in Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Inc. v. Connor Group, the Sixth Circuit declined to follow the Second and Seventh Circuits, ruling that the terms “preference” and “discourage” are not synonymous, and therefore the ordinary reader standard should apply any time an ordinary reader would believe an advertisement indicates a preference. These three decisions created a circuit split on the issue of whether the ordinary reader test applies to advertisements that discourage readers, or merely show a preference.

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Mass. Crim. Dig.: Commonwealth v. Valentin

Contributing Editor: Sarah Gage

Commonwealth v. Valentin, 470 Mass. 186 (2014)

I. Facts

In July 1991, Timothy Bond stole cocaine from Angel Ruidiaz, who was selling drugs for the defendant’s brother, Simon. Ruidiaz paid Simon for the stolen drugs, but Simon told Ruidiaz that he was “still going to get” Bond. Later that same month, while Bond was with a group of friends, including Kenneth Stokes, Simon and the defendant approached Bond from behind and shot him in the back of the head. Bond fell to the ground and Simon shot him again in the head. Stokes testified that the defendant next stomped on the victim’s head while making a profane death threat. Then the defendant and Simon fled on foot and, as they were running away, the defendant told Simon, “Man, put the gun away, the police are coming.”

At the trial, the defendant’s primary defense was an alibi, calling three witnesses to testify that he was playing dominoes elsewhere at the time of the shooting. The Commonwealth called four witnesses, including Stokes, who were at the shooting. All four of these witnesses testified that the defendant either “kicked” or “stomped” on the victim’s head after Simon fired the second shot. However, only Stokes testified that the defendant made a profane statement while he kicked or stomped on the victim’s head. On cross-examination, two witnesses acknowledged they did not tell the police shortly after the incident that they saw the defendant stomp on Bond. Stokes, though cross-examined, was not questioned about his failure to initially tell the police about the defendant’s statement. On the second day of jury deliberations, defendant’s trial counsel, Robinson, asked for the judge’s permission to have her law partner stand in for her. Although her partner had not worked on the case and had only discussed it with Robinson, the judge granted the request without seeking defendant’s consent to the substitution.

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Mass. Crim. Dig.: Commonwealth v. Leclair

Contributing Editor: Taylore Karpa

Commonwealth v. Leclair, 469 Mass. 777 (2014)

I. Facts

On May 2, 2012 the defendant was arraigned on charges of assault and battery, following an incident between him and his girlfriend that occurred earlier that day at Matthew Sheehan’s (“Sheehan”) apartment. The case went to trial on August 1, 2012, and it was on that day that the Commonwealth first disclosed its intent to call Sheehan as a witness. The judge appointed an attorney to represent Sheehan and to counsel him regarding the potential assertion of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. After consulting with Sheehan about the questions he could expect upon examination, his attorney informed the court that Sheehan intended to invoke his privilege. Sheehan sought to assert this privilege in order to refuse answering questions that might expose him to criminal charges for possession of a controlled substance and conspiracy to violate the drug laws. After an in camera hearing on this issue, the judge ruled that Sheehan would not be permitted to invoke this privilege. As grounds for this ruling, the judge stated that Sheehan failed to demonstrate that he faced an actual risk that his testimony would “tend to indicate involvement in illegal activity, as opposed to a mere imaginary, remote, or speculative possibility of prosecution.”

The case proceeded to trial and Sheehan took the stand as the first witness. During the cross-examination, defense counsel posed questions to Sheehan regarding his use of illegal drugs on the night of the incident. Sheehan responded by invoking his privilege against self-incrimination. The judge then instructed Sheehan to answer the question at which time Sheehan testified that he had used cocaine that night. Defense counsel then proceeded to ask Sheehan further questions regarding his cocaine use. Despite the judge’s prior instruction, Sheehan responded each time by invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege and refusing to answer, as instructed by his attorney.

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