Supreme Court Clears Its Slate

The Supreme Court started the first Monday in October, its traditional start date, with a lot of rejects.

The High Court refused to hear appeals from several cases it decided did not need lower court reviews. 

In a defeat for racial profiling opponents, the Court rejected an appeal from a group of black men who accused city police in Oneonta, New York, of unconstitutionally targeting them.  The group claimed the cops rounded them up and indiscriminately questioned them after a burglary attack on an elderly woman.

In the case, police requested and received a list of all black male students at a state college near the home where a 77-year-old woman said she was attacked. The victim was slightly injured.

The woman identified her attacker as black because she saw his forearm, and she said he may have been cut during the struggle. She said she concluded he was young by listening to the pace of his footsteps.

Police questioned nearly 100 black male students, and examined their hands for cuts. They also stopped or examined about 200 black town residents who were not students. No one was ever arrested.

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo, the state police and university officials all apologized for the searches. A group of students, townspeople and others sued in federal court in 1993, claiming local police, state police, the city, state and college violated their constitutional rights.
A federal judge dismissed the claim in 1995. The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in part last year, ruling that the searches did not violate the Constitution's "equal protection" guarantee.

— The High Court also decided not to hear a case whether some Japanese-Americans can sue the government for discrimination for being held in camps during World War Two.

Two Japanese Americans and four members of a family in Japan had sued after they were turned down for U.S. government stipends, which had been paid to thousands of people whose land was taken or who were forced into camps.

Lower courts ruled that the statute of limitations had run out.

— Amway Corp. lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday in its six-year fight with rival Procter & Gamble Co. over rumors that P&G was linked to devil worship.  The court declined to review a lower court's decision that rumors spread to hurt a company are not entitled to free-speech protection.

False rumors began linking P&G's former crescent-shaped "man in the moon" logo to Satanism in the late 1970s. The false story also spread that P&G's president had revealed his association with the Church of Satan during a national television interview.

P&G claims distributors for Amway revived the rumors in 1995 when a distributor recounted a version of the TV show rumor on the company's national voice mail system for distributors.

Speech, in this case a rumor, gets no First Amendment protection if the "speakers' motives in spreading the Satanism rumor were economic," the appeals court wrote. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court and ordered the judge to look at P&G's claims under a trademark law that makes it a civil offense to misrepresent goods, services or commercial activities. Ada, Mich,.-based Amway sells household products, many of which compete with Procter & Gamble's brands, directly to customers.

P&G has sued 15 times to stop the rumors, eight times involving Amway or its distributors. Amway, now known as Alticor Inc., says it has tallied $30 million in legal bills since the suits began six years ago. 

— The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider Barbara Brown's appeal of a $2.35 million judgment against Steven Spielberg's production company Amblin Entertainment, Inc.  Brown, a Maryland quiltmaker, said one of her patterns was improperly used in the Spielberg film How to Make an American Quilt

Brown had a contract to provide 15 designs to make a quilt for the film, for which she was paid $750. She protested after one of the designs was incorporated in a second quilt, called "Where Love Resides." 

Because the $50 million film was a financial failure, the judge determined that Brown had no profits to go after.  The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

— The Court also won't take up an appeal by the Church of Scientology in a libel case brought by the church against Time magazine.

Ten years ago, Time published the article, "Scientology: The Cult of Greed," which depicted the so-called religion as "really a ruthless global scam."  It won several high-profile journalism awards.

The church argued that the writer was biased and only interviewed critics. It also said the story had a number of defamatory comments.  Lower courts have sided with Time, saying the magazine was not guilty of writing the report with actual malice. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.