Lunch Links: Whiparound coverage of the courts

Supreme court

Courts across the country stepped into 2014 in earnest this past week, taking on several of the hot-button issues that have been percolating in arguments and through decisions.

So with a nod to ESPN, we offer our own version of whiparound coverage of the week’s activity for today’s Lunch Links.

Abortion rights were front and center at the U.S. Supreme Court this past week, as the court took a new case brought by a pro-life group challenging a state law prohibiting lying in campaign materials, refused to hear an appeal concerning an Arizona law that banned most abortions at the 20-week mark, and struggled through arguments about whether buffer zones keeping pro-life protesters a set distance away from  abortion clinics violated the right to free speech. 

These cases, plus the one brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor challenging the contraceptive mandate, show just how women’s health issues are now playing out in the free speech arena, leading Slate’s court commentator to ask this question: “Do we have the right to choose about how we talk about the right to choose?”

Proponents of same-sex marriage got yet another victory yesterday when a federal judge in Oklahoma found that  the state’s voter-approved constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. That ruling comes on the heels of a similar decision in Utah in late December, leading one constitutional law professor to forecast a trend in this CNN report:

Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at the University of Richmond, said that federal district judges striking at state bans “looks like a trend” that, ironically, is kicking into gear in the generally conservative states of Utah and Oklahoma.

“It seems to be moving much more quickly than people thought,” said Tobias.

The health care law got a boost from a federal judge in Washington, who ruled yesterday that subsidies were available to eligible income consumers regardless of whether they bought their insurance through a state or federal exchange. Calling the position taken by those challenging the subsidies “absurd,” U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman wrote that “The plain text of the statute, the statutory structure and the statutory purpose make clear that Congress intended to make premium tax credits available on both state-run and federally facilitated exchanges.”

“Net neutrality” took a hit on Tuesday when the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the federal government could no longer require Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally. Not quite sure what that means?  Elise Hu at NPR can help you, with this primer.

And in a largely under-reported decision, state Attorneys General landed a win from the Supreme Court when it confirmed that they have the right to bring so-called “parens patriae” actions in state court — not necessarily in federal court, as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had held.

State AGs typically bring actions to enforce consumer, antitrust and other state laws, in the state’s name but for the benefit of its residents.  A maker of LCD crystals used in flat screen televisions and computer monitors, with the support of the defense bar and manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies, had argued that because AG actions inured to the benefit of large numbers of people, they were more akin to mass actions that had to be litigated in federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act. Wrong, said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for a unanimous court in Mississippi v. AU Optronics Corp.

That’s plenty to chew on for a lunch hour, but wait . . . . there’s been plenty of Bruce in the news this week too:

The album, the  interview, the heroes’ list and, of course, the skit with Jimmy Fallon.  I couldn’t resist.

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