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The Supreme Court agreed today to decide whether, under the Fair Housing Act, proof that a residential property practice had a disparate impact on a particular group suffices for a claim of discrimination, or whether challengers must prove instead intent to discriminate.

In the case, Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action — which will be argued in the fall – African-American and Hispanic residents of a neighborhood pegged for demolition and redevelopment in Mount Holly, N.J., sued to block the project, saying it targeted a predominantly minority area.

As noted here , the housing act does not explicitly cover disparate impact claims, unlike other anti-discrimination laws.  The outcome could affect other laws as well, including one that prohibits discrimination in lending and is enforced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

 

 

In a 7-2 decision by Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court held today in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council that the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that required local election officials to refuse to register any would-be voter who did not present satisfactory evidence of U.S. Citizenship.

In separate opinions, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

The Constitution gives the states the authority to decide “the time, place and manner” of holding elections for federal officials, but also gives Congress back-up authority to “make or alter such regulations.” The Constitution also provides that when federal and state law clash, federal law will prevail.

The NVRA was passed in an effort to increase the number of eligible voters in federal elections, and to ensure that voter registration rolls are accurate and current.  It spells out three methods for registering voters for federal elections.  Voters may sign up to vote when they apply for a driver’s license, apply by mail using a federal form, or register – using the federal form – at sites designated under state law or by state voter registration officials.  States must create a combined driver’s license (or non-driver ID) and voter registration form, and the law requires federal officials to draw up a federal form — a nationally uniform voter registration application to be used in getting registered by mail or at a registration office. On the federal form, the would-be voter must declare that he or she meets voter eligibility requirements, including U.S. citizenship.

Under Arizona law, the requirement of proof of  citizenship was a separate mandate, not fulfilled by having the federal form.

 

 

 

 

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.