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The Fourth Amendment makes strange bedfellows.

Today’s 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Maryland v. King—that police can take DNA samples from individuals arrested for serious crimes—found the unlikely combination of Justice Antonin Scalia with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joining on the dissent.

States allow the collection of DNA for those convicted of a crime, but lower courts are split on whether states can collect DNA without a warrant from people who have only been arrested. The federal government and 28 states allow the collection of DNA from arrestees.

In 2009, after Alonzo Jay King Jr. was arrested on assault charges in Wicomico County, Md., police obtained his D.N.A. profile by swabbing his cheek. That profile matched evidence in a 2003 rape case, and King was later convicted of that crime. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that a state law authorizing D.N.A. collection from people arrested but not yet convicted violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches.

Writing for the majority and reversing that court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said:

When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s D.N.A. is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

But Justice Scalia and his colleagues typically on the other side of court rulings disagreed, with Scalia summarizing his opinion from the bench—a rare move signaling sharp disagreement among the members of the Court.

Scalia wrote:

“The court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the state’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous.

Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes. Then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the ‘identity’ of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school. Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise. But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”

The Court has yet to issue its decisions on another 25 pending cases, among them the controversial and potentially historical cases involving affirmative action, marriage equality and voting rights.

The next round of rulings are expected on Monday, June 10.

Here’s a quick look at what many consider to be the major cases still awaiting decision as the U.S. Supreme Court heads towards the close of its term in late June, with affirmative action, marriage equality and voting rights topping the list.

Though the Court typically releases opinions on Mondays, it could add additional days as the month winds down, as it did last year when it released the opinion in the Affordable Care Act case.

Other cases to be on the watch for:

Collection of DNA from criminal arrestees

In Maryland v. King, the court must weigh the needs of law enforcement against the privacy rights of those who have been arrested for a crime. States allow the collection of DNA for those convicted of a crime, but lower courts are split on whether states can collect DNA without a warrant from people who have only been arrested. The federal government and 28 states allow the collection of DNA from arrestees. Justice Samuel Alito called this “perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that the court has heard in decades.”

Arizona proof of citizenship 

At issue in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. is a section of state law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote in federal elections. Critics of the law argue that it puts an additional burden on voters and conflicts with a federal law, the National Voter Registration Act.

Patents on human genes

In Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., researchers, doctors and others are challenging patents held by a company on isolated DNA from the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes. Women with mutations in those genes are said to have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The challengers say that the patents prevent other companies from developing better genetic testing. But the company, Myriad Genetics, argues that their innovation has led to that testing and that they need the patents to protect billions of dollars for research.

Lethal injectionIn keeping with its practice of reversing progress and bucking national trends toward saner and more progressive public policies, the state Senate will take up a bill this morning to repeal the Racial Justice Act and jump-start executions. If the bill advances, however, it will do so over the objections of a group of more than 70 college and university professors who have delivered a letter to lawmakers spelling out the flaws in the legislation.

Meanwhile, one of the professors in the group — Appalachian State criminologist Matthew Robinson – authored an op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal yesterday that does an excellent job of explaining why the proposed legislation is counterproductive. 

“As a professional criminologist who has written numerous articles and books on the factors that produce crimes like murder and how to prevent them, I am confident that the death penalty is a distraction from policies that actually work. So we should stop wasting our time “tinkering with the machinery of death” and get to the hard work of finally getting serious about instituting more effective crime prevention policies.”

You can read Robinson’s entire essay by clicking here.

Public News Service reports this morning on new polling that shows growing sentiments among North Carolinians to do away with the death penalty:

“North Carolina support ending the death penalty in the state, according to a poll released this week. Of the 600 people polled, 68 percent said they would rather the state replace capital punishment with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to Dustin Ingalls, assistant director of Public Policy Polling, the organization that conducted the poll, public opinion appears to be shifting.

“More and more, support for death penalty is decreasing, and that sort of falls in line with opposition on other social issues,” he said.

Support for abolishing the death penalty crosses party lines, according to the poll, with even a majority of conservative respondents in favor of ending capital punishment.”

Read the rest of the story and the poll results by clicking here.

In case you missed it over the weekend, the Sunday New York Times included the following editorial specifically urging Governor Perdue to pardon the Wilmington 10:

Before leaving office next month, Gov. Bev Perdue of North Carolina should finally pardon the Wilmington 10, a group of civil rights activists who were falsely convicted and imprisoned in connection with a racial disturbance in the city of Wilmington more than 40 years ago. The convictions, based on flimsy evidence and perjured testimony, were overturned by a federal court in 1980. But by then, the lives of the convicted had been broken on the wheel of Jim Crow justice.

Wilmington was experiencing a bitter civil rights struggle in 1971 when a white-owned grocery store in a black neighborhood was firebombed. The police officers and firefighters who arrived to extinguish the flames came under gunfire. Nine black men and one white woman were railroaded to jail in connection with the event.

Years later, both the prosecutor and the state trial court were denounced in a blistering ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.   Read More