In what SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein called “a sweeping endorsement of digital privacy,” the U.S. Supreme Court today unanimously ruled that police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cellphone seized from an individual who has been arrested.

The direct issue in two cases before the court was whether police could search the contents of cellphones without a warrant under the established doctrine of “search incident to arrest.” That doctrine has been justified by courts over the years as necessary to remove weapons that might otherwise be used to harm officers and to seize documents or other types of evidence of a crime that might otherwise be quickly destroyed by the person under arrest.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court in Riley v. California.

Read the full case here.

Women's-healthThe U.S. Supreme Court yesterday blocked efforts by Wisconsin’s Attorney General to reinstate a state law requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

That provision was one of several restrictive measures hastily passed by the Wisconsin legislature in 2013. In the lawsuit that followed in federal court there, U.S. District Judge William Conley enjoined enforcement of the provision and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. 

Until a final resolution of the case, the requirement of admitting privileges remains unenforceable.

During the trial in the lower court, which concluded May 30, doctors argued that obtaining admitting privileges was a difficult if not impossible task, according to this report:

Doctors providing services submitted letters from hospitals rejecting their requests for admitting privileges mostly because they wouldn’t admit the number of patients required.  Hospitals normally require physicians with admitting privileges to admit a certain number of patients each year and with complications of abortions being rare, those minimum admission rates would never be met by doctors performing abortion.

The law requiring hospital admitting privileges only applies to abortion providers.  Those providing outpatient surgery, oral surgery, or other outpatient procedures are not required to have admitting privileges.

As in Wisconsin, the admitting privileges requirement was one of several abortion restrictions proposed here early in the 2013 long session but dropped from the bill ultimately signed into law, pending the adoption of regulations by the Department of Health and Human Services. That process is ongoing.

The case is Van Hollen v. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, 13-1127.

 

love is loveAs this post on SCOTUSblog reminds us, same-sex marriage cases are now pending in five federal appeals courts, including one in the Fourth Circuit, Bostic v. Schaefer, which was argued in Richmond in May.

How the three-judge panel will rule in Bostic, which deals with Virginia’s same sex marriage law, is not clear cut, according to court-watchers.  From the argument, Judge Roger L. Gregory is apparently leaning toward opposing the ban, with Judge  Paul V. Niemeyer supporting the ban and Judge Henry F. Floyd wavering in the middle.

A ruling in that case, though, may be binding on similar cases in North Carolina, including Fisher-Borne v. Smith and Gerber v. Cooper, both pending in federal court in Winston-Salem,  General Synod v. Cooper, pending in federal court in Charlotte, and McCrory v. North Carolina, pending in federal court in Asheville.

For that reason, magistrate judges in three of the cases have stayed proceedings until a decision is rendered in Bostic and are considering a stay in the fourth (General Synod).

But plaintiffs in Fisher-Borne and Gerber are not waiting patiently for that ruling, saying they have waited long enough. In each of those cases, certain plaintiffs have asked the court to block enforcement of the state’s ban so that their marriages can be recognized and the couples can gain the rights afforded other married couples.

For example, in Fisher-Borne, a couple with a son who has cerebral palsy are unable to get the medical care he needs because state law does not recognize the partner with more comprehensive health insurance as his parent.

In Gerber, plaintiffs with serious illnesses in advanced stages have spouses and in one case a child who will be unable to receive benefits typically afforded spouses and children should those plaintiffs die.

As they argue in their brief to the court:

While this case is stalled, Ms. Mejia cannot establish a legal relationship with her son. Each day, J.G.-M. misses out on the benefits that would be conferred to him as Ms. Mejia‘s legal child, and each Plaintiff continues to suffer from the stigma and indignities that result from the North Carolina‘ ban on same-sex marriage. The need for recognition of their marriages is all the more pressing in light of Plaintiffs‘ circumstances. Dr. Berlin is 89 years old and suffers from complex seizures and blood clots that cannot be treated. Ms. Blackburn is 66 years old and has Stage IV cancer. Ms. Mejia, a war veteran, suffers from cancer and currently lives with significant lung damage and a replacement liver that requires her to take immunosuppressive drugs. In light of their ages and medical conditions, Dr. Berlin, Ms. Gerber, and Ms. Mejia each have a substantial fear that she might pass away before her marriage is recognized by North Carolina, depriving her forever of the dignity and social recognition that state recognition affords. If Ms. Mejia passes away, J.G.-M. would also be deprived of the important benefits that flow to children, particularly to children of veterans, by virtue of legal parentage. Each Plaintiff also fears—based on experience—that her right to care for her spouse in medical emergencies will be denied because North Carolina refuses to recognize their marriage.

 

Supreme courtjudgeIt’s been widely assumed though not necessarily documented that life experiences shape a judge’s world views.

And indeed that notion makes perfect sense. If you’ve walked the walk of a person on unemployment, or a person who’s endured on the job discrimination, you’ve learned a little about that experience.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thought as much when she attributed former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s shift on women’s issues to his dealings with a daughter struggling as a newly-divorced mother with a demanding job.

But now political scientists have proof.

In a report released last week, Maya Sen from the University of Rochester and Adam Glynn from Harvard concluded — after reviewing 2,500 votes by 224 federal appeals court judges — that having at least one daughter increased the likelihood that a judge would vote in a feminist direction on gender-related issues.

Here’s their conclusion as stated in the report abstract:

Using new data on the family lives of U.S. Courts of Appeals judges, we find that, conditional on the number of children a judge has, judges with daughters consistently vote in a more feminist fashion on gender issues than judges who have only sons. This result survives a number of robustness tests and appears to be driven primarily by Republican judges. More broadly, this result demonstrates that personal experiences influence how judges make decisions, and it is the first paper to show that empathy may indeed be a component in how judges decide cases.

Professor Sen called the result of the study “startling.”

“Here, we’ve found evidence that there is a third factor [in addition to law and ideology] that matters: personal experiences,” she told the New York Times. “Things like having daughters can actually fundamentally change how people view the world, and this, in turn, affects how they decide cases.”

And that revelation may just extend across issues.

“Having daughters,” she said, “is just one kind of personal experience, but there could be other things — for example, serving in the military, adopting a child or seeing a law clerk come out as gay. All of these things could affect a justice’s worldview.”

 

Gun violenceBuying a gun for someone else while claiming on federal forms to be the intended owner is a crime, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a 5-4 decision.

“We hold that such a misrepresentation is punishable under the statute, whether or not the true buyer could have purchased the gun without the straw,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority in Abramski v. U.S., joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The case before the court involved a purchase by a former police officer who, when buying  a Glock 19 handgun for his uncle, falsely claimed that he would be the actual owner of the gun.

In a challenge to his subsequent indictment and conviction, the officer claimed that his misrepresentation was immaterial because his uncle met the legal requirements to own a gun and that in any event, a false response about the gun buyer is never a violation of the law, regardless of whether the intended true owner is or is not eligible to buy a gun.

The majority on the court rejected those arguments, affirming the Fourth Circuit. Justice Kagan wrote:

Contrary to his contention, the information [the question] requests —“[a]re you the actual transferee/buyer[?]” or, put conversely, “are [you] acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person[?]”— is relevant to the lawfulness of a gun sale. That is because, for all the reasons we have given, the firearms law contemplates that the dealer will check not the fictitious purchaser’s but instead the true purchaser’s identity and eligibility for gun ownership. By concealing that [the uncle] was the actual buyer, [the straw purchaser] prevented the dealer from transacting with [the uncle] face-to-face, recording his name, age, and residence, inspecting his photo ID, submitting his identifying information to the background check system, and determining whether he was prohibited from receiving a firearm. In sum, [the straw] thwarted application of essentially all of the firearms law’s requirements. We can hardly think of a misrepresentation any more material to a sale’s legality.

For more on the decision, read the analysis by Scotusblog’s  Lyle Denniston here.