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For lunch today, some random morsels about happenings at the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices prepare to open the new term on Monday.

Life on the Roberts Court

Marcia Coyle, who writes about the Court for the National Law Journal, talks about the backstories underlying some landmark decisions reached under the reign of Chief Justice John Roberts, as detailed further in her book, “The Roberts Court.”

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Linkrot, Tumblr and Technology at the Court  

As Adam Liptak reports in this New York Times piece, long gone are the days when the justices cited only to printed text in decisions that appeared only in books. “Since 1996,” he writes, “justices have cited materials found on the Internet 555 times.”   Apparently though no one told them links had to be maintained, because now close to half of the web links in opinions lead to nowhere.

This can sometimes be amusing. A link in a 2011 Supreme Court opinion about violent video games by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. now leads to a mischievous error message.

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t cite to this Web page?” it asks. “If you had, like Justice Alito did, the original content would have long since disappeared and someone else might have come along and purchased the domain in order to make a comment about the transience of linked information in the Internet age.”

Tumblr.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large  And as noted here in The Atlantic, the microblogging platform Tumblr makes its first appearance at the court  this year, nestled in a brief filed by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig in the campaign finance case  McCutcheon  v. FEC. As Lessig explains on his own Tumblr page, the focus is on the origins of the word  “corruption”:

The basic argument of the brief is that the Framers of the Constitution used the word “corruption” in a different, more inclusive way, than we do today. The Tumblr captures 325 such uses collected from the framing context, and tags to help demonstrate this more inclusive meaning.

Scalia v. Ginsburg: The Opera                       

Scalia & Ginsburg     Just after last year’s term came to an end in June, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia — who when not sparring over decisions are actually friends, travel together and share a love of opera — sat down for a rare preview of an  opera written for and about them.  Listen here to part of the opera, as reported by NPR.

 

 

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why courts matterIn its 5-4 decision today in Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially gutted the requirement that covered jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination (including 40 counties in North Carolina) seek approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures.

In his opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts claimed that the Court was not invalidating the principle that preclearance can be required. Rather, he said, the Court was merely discarding the coverage formula used to determine which jurisdictions had the preclearance obligation:

Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.

The practical effect, though, is that preclearance is at least stalled until Congress enacts a new coverage formula — not likely to be a speedy process, if it occurs at all.

According to Adam Liptak at the New York Times, “The chances that the current Congress could reach agreement on where federal oversight is required are small, most analysts say.”

 

 

 

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Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 marriage equality case the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to  hear today,  took close to four years to wind its way through the federal courts.

Chris Dusseault, a partner with Gibson Dunn in Los Angeles who typically handles business cases, found himself at the center of that case, acting as a field director before trial and working with the all-star team put together by David Boies and Ted Olson on behalf of the named couples.  It was the legal experience of a lifetime, he says, not only because of the talent working with him but also because of personal and fundamental rights involved:

“In the weeks before trial it hit me what a powerful story this was going to be . . . . . I looked at the testimony of the four plaintiffs and the powerful things they had to say about discrimination, and then I turned to the experts. We had really the top scholars from throughout the world, who had spent their whole lives just study­ing specific fields — the study of relation­ships, the study of the history of marriage, the study of discrimination against gays and lesbians, the study of political power, all of which were relevant to the issues before the court — and it brought home to me what an educational moment this was.”

Read more about his transformative experience here.

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In an order issued this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not hear Kinston, N.C.’s challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

 The Court will nonetheless be considering the merits of Section 5, given its decision on Friday to hear a challenge brought by Shelby County, Alabama.

Section 5 of the VRA requires certain states and jurisdictions to get U.S. Department of Justice preclearance of changes to voting practices.

In Nix, Kinston voters who had approved a 2008 referendum for non-partisan local elections challenged the Justice Department’s refusal to preclear that change, saying that DOJ was using Section 5 in racially divisive ways. Though the Department had initially refused to preclear the change, it ultimately withdrew its objections.

The Court did not comment on why it declined to hear the Nix appeal, but a lower court had already ruled that case to be moot since DOJ had withdrawn its objections.