Menu

ARCHIVE

SCORECARD -- A Round-Up of Supreme Court Decisions

The 2007-2008 Supreme Court term is complete. The justices heard oral arguments for 70 cases and returned opinions in 69 of them. One case was dismissed. Below is a quick look at those cases and how the Court ruled. The Court will next hear oral arguments at the start of its 2008-2009 term on October 6.

#70) District of Columbia v. Heller (decided June 25, 2008)

Justice Antonin Scalia authored the 5-4 opinion in favor of Dick Heller. The court's last opinion of the term was perhaps its most anticipated. In no uncertain word the court ruled that "the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home." It further declared that "the District must permit Heller to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home."

Justice Stevens leading the so-called liberal bloc in dissent argued the majority created a right that cannot be found in the Constitution. "The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. ... Neither the text of the amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature's authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the framers of the amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution."

The District resident at the center of the case could hardly lose the smile on his face outside the courthouse after the opinion was released. Dick Heller was surrounded by reporters and supporters who alternately chanted his name and "Bye Bye, Gun Ban." Heller, while signing autographs, said he would "as soon as possible" show up at the District's permits office and apply for his handgun license. Across town at City Hall, a dour Mayor Adrian Fenty said the city would respect the court's ruling but predicted it would lead to an increase in gun-related violence.

#69) Morgan Stanley v. Public Utility Dist. No. 1 of Snohomish County (decided June 25, 2008)

Justice Antonin Scalia authored the 5-2 opinion in favor of the utility. The court ruled that the federal government must re-review energy contracts that were agreed to during the western power squeeze earlier this decade. Various utilities bought long term energy contracts at inflated rates. It then sought to nullify those contracts when rates returned to normal. The court's decision remands back to the 9th Circuit and to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with instructions to consider in part "whether the contracts imposed an excessive burden 'down the line,' relative to the rates consumers could have obtained (but for the contracts) after elimination of the dysfunctional market."

Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Ginsburg. Justices Stevens and Souter dissented. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Breyer did not take part in the case.

#68) Davis v. FEC (decided June 26, 2008)

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the 5-4 opinion in favor of Jack Davis. The court's ruling is the latest partial strike against the federal campaign finance law (a.k.a. McCain-Feingold.) This case featured Jack Davis, a twice defeated Democratic candidate for New York's 26th Congressional District. He successfully argued that the law's so-called "millionaire's amendment" was a violation of his First Amendment rights. The law allowed for candidates who run against self-financed candidates (like Davis) to raise more money than they would be able to if their opponent did not spend more than $350,000 of their own money. The law also required reporting requirements on the self-financing candidate that Davis and court contend were violations of free speech.

Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy. He wrote "We have never upheld the constitutionality of a law that imposes different contribution limits for candidates who are competing against each other, and we agree with Davis that this scheme impermissibly burdens his First Amendment right to spend his own money." Alito went on to write that "The disclosure requirements were designed to implement the asymmetrical contribution limits...[which] violates the First Amendment. In light of that holding, the burden imposed by the [disclosure requirements] cannot be justified, and it follows that they too are unconstitutional."

#67) Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle (decided June 25, 2008)

Chief Justice John Roberts penned the 5-4 opinion in favor of Plains Commerce Bank. This dispute concerns the ability of Native American to sue non-Native interests in a tribal court. The High Court rejected this premise and sided with the South Dakota bank. In sum, Chief Justice Roberts concluded: "The Tribal Court did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate a discrimination claim concerning the non-Indian Bank sale of its fee land."

#66) Kennedy v. Louisiana (decided June 25, 2008)

Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the 5-4 opinion in favor of Patrick Kennedy. This controversial case that divided along the court's familiar fault lines was the second significant death penalty case this term. Kennedy was convicted of raping his eight year old stepdaughter and sentenced to Louisiana's death row. He appealed to the Supreme Court calling his sentence cruel and unusual and a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. The court's narrow ruling mandates the use of "capital punishment be restrained, limited in its instances of application, and reserved for the worst of crimes...[that] take the victim's life." Justice Samuel Alito led the dissent and expressed concern that the ruling was overly broad and covered future criminals whose acts would be far more heinous than the disgusting crime Patrick Kennedy committed.

#65) Giles v. California (decided June 25, 2008)

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the 6-3 opinion in favor of Dwayne Giles. The central dispute of this case focused on the admissibility of certain testimony against Giles at his murder trial. The testimony in question was statements made by the victim -- his estranged girlfriend -- to police several weeks before he shot and killed her. The trial court ruled that those statements could be entered into evidence even though Giles would be unable to cross examine her. Of course, the reason he could not confront her is because he killed her. Nonetheless, Justice Scalia's opinion makes clear that while there are exceptions to the Constitution's Confrontation Clause, those offered in this case were not applicable and the testimony of the murdered woman should have been excluded.

#64) Exxon v. Baker (decided June 25, 2008)

Justice David Souter wrote the 5-3 opinion in favor of Exxon. This ruling should mark the end of 19 years of litigation stemming from the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the Alaskan coast. Exxon appealed the 9th Circuit's ruling that it pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages to a class of Alaskan residents directly impacted by the environmental disaster. Exxon appealed and the high court ruled that the punitive damages award should not exceed the amount of compensatory damages. That amount, just a bit over $500 million, cuts the punitive award by 80 percent -- a significant victory for Exxon.

Justice Souter was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy. Justice John Paul Stevens led the dissent and argued the $2.5 billion award should have remained in effect. "In light of Exxon's decision to permit a lapsed alcoholic to command a supertanker carrying tens of millions of gallons of crude oil through the treacherous waters of Prince William Sound, thereby endangering all of the individuals who depended upon the sound for their livelihoods, the jury could reasonably have given expression to its 'moral condemnation' of Exxon's conduct in the form of this award," Stevens wrote. Justice Samuel Alito did not take part in the case.

#63) Rothgery v. Gillespie County, Texas (decided June 23, 2008)

Justice David Souter authored the 8-1 opinion in favor of Walter Rothgery. The Texas man, as it turns out, was improperly arrested on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Following his arrest, Rothgery was brought before a magistrate judge who ordered him behind bars. Repeated petitions for a court-appointed lawyer went unanswered and Rothgery was unable to pay his bond to get released. Eventually he was appointed counsel who promptly assembled the paperwork showing that his client was not a convicted felon and therefore should never have been locked up in the first place. Rothgery, now free, filed a lawsuit in federal court saying his imprisonment would never have happened had a lawyer been appointed shortly after his hearing before the magistrate judge. Justice Souter's majority opinion in favor of Rothgery concluded that the high court "reaffirm[s] what we have held before and what an overwhelming majority of American jurisdictions understand in practice: a criminal defendant's initial appearance before a judicial officer, where he learns the charge against him and his liberty is subject to restriction, marks the start of adversary judicial proceedings that trigger attachment of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel."

#62) Greenlaw v. United States (decided June 23, 2008)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the 7-2 opinion in favor of Michael Greenlaw. This sentencing case involved the unusual act of an appellate court doing something no one asked it to do. Greenlaw felt his 37 year sentence for drug and weapons violations was too high. Upon review, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Greenlaw's sentence was actually too low and ordered the district court to add an additional 15 years. This upward sentencing departure was not asked for by the government. The high court ruled that courts are supposed to play a reactive role in adjudicating cases, thus making it improper for the Eighth Circuit to unilaterally decide to increase the sentence when no one asked.

#61) Sprint Communications v. APCC Services (decided June 23, 2008)

Justice Stephen Breyer penned the 5-4 opinion in favor of APCC Services. This case involved the payment of charges associated with placement of long distance phone calls from payphones. The law states that long distance companies have to reimburse payphone operators for some of the calls made at those payphones. An industry-wide dispute over those reimbursements resulted in some 1,400 payphone operators hiring agents to collect the funds. Those agents then brought suit against the long distance providers who in turn argued that the collection agents lacked standing to file suit. The high court sided with the payphone operators and ruled the collection agents working on their behalf do in fact have legal standing.

#60) U.S. Chamber of Commerce v. Brown (decided June 19, 2008)

Justice John Paul Stevens authored the 7-2 opinion in favor of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This ruling invalidates a couple of sections of a California law intended to curb the financial influence employers may exercise in union matters. The California law prohibited certain employers who received state monies from using those funds "to assist, promote or deter union organizing." The high court ruled that federal law under the National Labor Relations Act pre-empts the California statutes.

#59) Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (decided June 19, 2008)

Justice David Souter authored the 7-1 opinion if favor of Clifford Meacham and the other petitioners. Under orders to reduce its workforce, the managers of the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory put into place a point system to determine which employees to let go. That system resulted in the dismissal of 31 workers -- all but one of whom was at least 40 years old. The fired workers filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act contending the point system was improperly skewed against them because of their age. The high court ruled that the employer bears the burden to prove the firings were based on "reasonable factors other than age." Justice Stephen Breyer did not take part in this case.

#58) Indiana v. Edwards (decided June 19, 2008)

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the 7-2 opinion in favor of Indiana. The high court affirmed the decision of an Indiana trial court judge who insisted that a man have legal counsel despite wanting to defend himself. The ruling means that the right to defend one's self in court is not absolute. In this case, Ahmad Edwards had been repeatedly been determined unfit for trial but after years of institutionalized care, he was declared mentally competent to stand trial. It was at this point that Edwards asked to defend himself. But the judge, mindful of Edwards prior mental shortcomings, ruled against him and insisted that he by represented by counsel. He was convicted and that conviction will stand.

#57) Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC (decided June 19, 2008)

Justice Stephen Breyer penned the 5-4 opinion in favor of Kentucky. This age discrimination case focused on Kentucky's awarding of pensions to certain disabled government workers. The alleged discrimination came in the form of credit given to workers who were disabled prior to the age of 55 when they would otherwise become pension eligible. The court's narrow majority ruled that Kentucky's awarding of "phantom years" in these instances "does not amount to discrimination."

Justice Anthony Kennedy was joined in his dissent by Justices Scalia, Ginsburg and Alito and wrote that the majority ignored established rules related to the interpretation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. "When an employer makes age a factor in an employee benefit plan in a formal, facial, deliberate, and explicit manner, to the detriment of older employees, this is a violation of the act," Kennedy wrote. "Disparate treatment on the basis of age is prohibited. ... The court today undercuts this basic framework. In doing so it puts the act and its enforcement on a wrong course."

#56) Met Life Insurance v. Glenn (decided June 19, 2008)

Justice Stephen Breyer authored the 6-3 opinion in favor of Wanda Glenn, who has a health insurance policy from her employer Sears and Roebuck. That plan is administered by MetLife which both evaluates and pays out claims. Glenn's claim for permanent disability benefits was denied. She sought legal relief under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the high court affirmed the lower court's ruling that MetLife's duel roles represent a "conflict of interest" and is therefore illegal.

#55) Dada v. Mukasey (decided June 16, 2008)

Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the 5-4 opinion in favor of Samson Taiwo Dada. Even for immigration cases, this one was particularly complicated. Dada is a Nigerian native who moved to the United States and after overstaying his visa married an American woman. Immigration officials moved to force Dada out of the country. He had several legal options at his disposal but one would require him to purposely remain in the country, thus incurring penalties for staying. Or he could voluntarily leave the country but then lose recourse to reopen the case. Justice Kennedy called these "poor choices" and ultimately wrote an opinion favorable to Dada in his efforts to remain in the country.

#54) Florida Department of Revenue v. Piccadilly Cafeterias, Inc. (decided June 16, 2008)

Justice Clarence Thomas authored the 7-2 opinion in favor of Florida. This case centered around a tax dispute involving the sale of Piccadilly assets. The conflict focused on Piccadilly's bankruptcy fillings and the high court's ruling based on the "most natural" reading of the law forces the company to pay taxes on the gains.

#53) Boumediene v. Bush (decided June 12, 2008)

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 opinion in favor of Lakhdar Boumediene and other Guantanamo Bay detainees. In the latest and perhaps most significant War on Terror case before the high court, the narrow majority ruled each of the alleged terrorists held by U.S. forces in Cuba is entitled to challenge their detention in a U.S. courtroom. Justice Kennedy wrote that the detainees "have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus. They are not barred from seeking the writ or invoking the Suspension Clause's protections because they have been designated as enemy combatants or because of their presence at Guantanamo."

Chief Justice Roberts penned the main dissent and was troubled by the justification of the majority's ruling. "One cannot help but think, after surveying the modest practical results of the majority's ambitious opinion, that this decision is not really about the detainees at all, but about control of federal policy regarding enemy combatants."

This is the third time the high court has ruled against the Bush administration and the congressionally-approved methods for adjudicating the now 270 detainees at Guantanamo. Responding from Rome, President Bush said, "We will abide by the court's decision. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it. It was a deeply divided court. And I strongly agree with those who dissented." Within hours of the opinion's release there were already indications that lawyers working on behalf of the detainees would seek hearings in U.S. courts. Late in the day, the Justice Department release a statement expressing disappointment in the court's ruling and that it remained under review. However, "Boumediene involved a challenge to the procedures that Congress and the Executive have established to permit enemy combatants at Guantanamo to challenge their detention during ongoing hostilities. Those enemy combatants who have been charged by a military commission with war crimes are afforded numerous additional protections in connection with those trials. Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward."

#52) Munaf v. Geren (decided June 12, 2008)

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the unanimous opinion of the court against two American citizens held in Iraqi prisons. The two, Shawqi Omar and Mohammad Munaf, are believed to have been part of insurgent efforts in Iraq against the coalition forces. Accordingly, they have been held in Iraq and processed through those courts. But to this point their detention has been in American-run prisons and each fears transfer into outright Iraqi custody. To pre-empt such a move, the two men appealed to United States courts for consideration. The high court ruled that while the habeas corpus protection does extend to American citizens held overseas by American troops, it does not apply under these circumstances to these two individuals.

#51) Philippines v. Pimentel (decided June 12, 2008)

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the fractured opinion of the court in favor of the Philippines government. Justices Stevens and Souter joined in part of the opinion but also dissented in part. Some 10,000 Philipino natives have been looking to recover funds supposedly stolen during the Ferdinand Marcos regime. But the high court's ruling effectively puts to an end those efforts.

#50) Irizarry v. United States (decided June 12, 2008)

Justice John Paul Stevens authored the 5-4 opinion of the court in favor of the government. This sentencing case before the High Court had a judge give a longer than normal sentence to a man convicted of sending threatening messages to his ex-wife. Richard Irizarry claimed he was entitled to advance notice that the judge was considering such a move so he could make arguments against the upward departure. Justice Stevens wrote, "We have confidence in the ability of district judges and counsel ... to make sure that all relevant matters relating to a sentencing decision have been considered before the final sentencing determination is made."

#49) Taylor v. Sturgell (decided June 12, 2008)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the unanimous opinion in favor of Brent Taylor. This case involved the attempt of some airplane buffs to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain documents related to a particular vintage aircraft. Taylor's attempts had been thwarted under an argument called "virtual representation" concluding that because another similar if not identical effort to seek the same material had been denied, Taylor should not be allowed to file suit. The court ruled that is not permissible and that Taylor be allowed to proceed with his FOIA efforts.

#48) Quanta Computer v. LG Electronics (decided June 9, 2008)

Justice Clarence Thomas penned the unanimous opinion in favor of Quanta Computer. This patent case was closely watched by high technology companies as LG Electronics argued its patented technology (sold to Intel) for various computer technologies were violated when Intel then sold the LG Electronics components combined with other technologies to computer manufacturers like Quanta Computers. The legal issue at stake is "patent exhaustion" and the court ruled that is has for 150 years applied that doctrine "to limit the patent rights that survive the initial authorized sale of a patented item. In this case, we decide whether patent exhaustion applies to the sale of components of a patented system that must be combined with additional components in order to practice the patented methods. ... Because the exhaustion doctrine applies to method patents, and because the license authorizes the sale of components that substantially embody the patents in suit, the sale [from LGE to Intel] exhausted the patents."

#47) Allison Engine v. United States (decided June 9, 2008)

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the unanimous opinion in favor of the government and a pair of workers for a subcontractor hired to do work on Navy destroyers. This case focused on a Civil War era law called the False Claims Act. The court ruled that claims under the law need not be directly tied to or from government agencies. Rather, claims could proceed by and against private parties (i.e. contractors and subcontractors) that involved government funds.

#46) Engquist v. Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (decided June 9, 2008)

Chief Justice Roberts authored the 6-3 opinion of the court in favor of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Anup Engquist alleged discrimination by her employer and sought legal relief under a "class of one" equal protection theory. That argument contends discrimination has taken place beyond any normal classification based on race, gender, religion, etc. But the court ruled the theory "has no place in the public employment context." The opinion from Chief Justice Roberts concludes with the assessment that "public employees typically have a variety of protections from just the sort of personnel actions about which Engquist complains, but the Equal Protections is not one of them."

#45) Bridge v. Phoenix Bond & Indemnity (decided June 9, 2008)

Justice Clarence Thomas authored the unanimous opinion of the court in favor of Phoenix Bond & Indemnity. This case comes from Illinois and a rather tedious process by which Cook County sells its uncollected tax liens. The process requires specific requirements that a number of businesses have become proficient in following. A dispute arose between a number of those businesses with some alleging mail fraud under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) often used to prosecutor members of organized crime.

#44) Richlin Security Service v. Chertoff (decided June 2, 2008)

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the unanimous opinion in favor of Richlin Security Service. The issue presented in this case is the recovery of paralegal fees when an action is brought against the government. The high court ruled that such costs when appropriate are to be paid.

#43) United States v. Santos (decided June 2, 2008)

Justice Antonin Scalia authored the 5-4 judgment of the court in favor of Efrain Santos and Benedicto Diaz. This case featured the confounding issue of defining the word "proceeds" as it related to the operation of an illegal lottery. Santos and Diaz were convicted of running the illegal enterprise but also money laundering. That statute specifically notes "proceeds" but the meaning of that word is ambiguous between profits and receipts. And because of this Justice Scalia wrote "under a long line of our decisions, the tie must go to the defendant. The rule of lenity requires ambiguous criminal laws to be interpreted in favor of the defendants subjected to them."

#42) Regalado Cuellar v. United States (decided June 2, 2008)

Justice Clarence Thomas authored the unanimous opinion in favor of Regalado Cuellar. Nearly four years ago, Cuellar was pulled over in southern Texas for driving erratically. It turns out Cuellar was planning on driving across the border with $81,000 in cash hidden inside the car. A jury found him guilty on a number of charges including money laundering. But the Supreme Court ruled this part of the conviction is invalid because "although [the money laundering law] does not require proof that the defendant attempted to create the appearance of legitimate wealth, neither can it be satisfied solely by evidence that the funds were concealed during transport. The statutory text makes clear that a conviction requires proof that the transportation's purpose -- not merely its effect -- was to conceal or disguise one of the listed attributes: the funds' nature, location, source, ownership or control."

#41) Riley v. Kennedy (decided May 27, 2008)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the 7-2 opinion of the court in favor of Alabama. This case focused on an odd sequence of events in the Yellowhammer State related to the proper seating of an open municipal office. The legal conflict centered on federal Department of Justice oversight as mandated in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The statute in question prohibits some states from changing its voting laws without first obtaining "pre-clearance" from DOJ. The requirement attempts to preclude states from imposing voting laws that could disfranchise its residents. This ruling affirms Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's decision to appoint a person to fill the municipal vacancy because his authority to do so was ruled not to be a change in state law.

#40) CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries (decided May 27, 2008)

Justice Stephen Breyer penned the 7-2 opinion of the court in favor of Hedrick Humphries. In the second of two discrimination cases decided this day (Gomez-Perez being the other) the court ruled that a Reconstruction civil rights law and the 1964 Civil Rights Act cover instances of retaliation. Humphries contended that the owner of the Cracker Barrel restaurant fired him because of his complaint that a fellow black co-worker was fired for race-based reasons. The court ruled that prior rulings in the area of retaliation claims made clear that Humphries charge could be pursued under civil rights laws. Justice Clarence Thomas (joined by Justice Antonin Scalia) in his dissent wondered how a discrimination claim could be made by someone who wasn't directly subject to the discriminatory act. He also took issue with the court's reliance on prior rulings (stare decisis) especially upon a case he considered inapplicable to this ruling.

"Stare decisis, designed to be a principle of stability and repose, would become a vehicle of change whereby an error in one area metastasizes into others, thereby distorting the law. Two wrongs do not make a right, and an aesthetic preference for symmetry should not prevent us from recognizing the true meaning of an act of Congress."

#39) Gomez-Perez v. Potter (decided May 27, 2008)

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the 6-3 opinion of the court in favor of Myrna Gomez-Perez. This decision in conjunction with the court's same day ruling in the CBOCS West case supports workers in discrimination claims. This case featured a 45 year old postal worker in Puerto Rico who claimed she had been discriminated against under the federal government's Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Gomez-Perez says she was subjected to retaliatory actions from her bosses after she filed her age discrimination claim. Justice Alito wrote, "The key question in this case is whether the statutory phrase 'discrimination based on age' includes retaliation based on the filing of an age discrimination complaint. We hold that it does."

#38) United States v. Ressam (decided May 19, 2008)

Justice John Paul Stevens authored the 8-1 opinion of the court in favor of the government. This is the case of the Millennium Bomber versus the U.S. attorney general, and the victory goes to AG Michael Mukasey, who was making his first and likely only appearance before the high court. Convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam sought a sentencing reduction for his conviction in plotting to blow up Los Angeles International Airport in December 1999. At issue was very technical language about one of the counts in conviction, language that Justice Stevens declared need not result in the consultation of "dictionary definitions" to reach a ruling in favor of the government.

#37) United States v. Williams (decided May 19, 2008)

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the 7-2 opinion of the court in favor of the government. This case challenged the nation's child pornography law. The high court ruled an earlier version of the law infringed on protected speech but this time determined that the PROTECT Act is constitutional. The challenge came from a Florida man who bragged to an undercover cop about having lurid pictures of his two year old daughter. He in fact had no children. Nonetheless, he was charged and convicted of peddling in child porn based on his assertion to the cop. Justice Scalia wrote, "The Act before us does not prohibit advocacy of child pornography, but only offers to provide or requests to obtain it. There is no doubt that this prohibition falls well within constitutional bounds."

Justice David Souter -- joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- wrote the dissent and contends the law affords the possibility of prosecuting someone for pandering material that is not in fact illegal. "No one can seriously assume that after today's decision the government will go prosecuting defendants for child pornography (requiring a showing that a real child is pictured); it will prosecute for merely proposing a pornography transaction manifesting or inducing the belief that a photo is real child pornography, free of any need to demonstrate that any extant underlying photo does show a real child."

#36) Department of Revenue of Kentucky v. Davis (decided May 19, 2008)

Justice David Souter announced the 7-2 judgment of the court in favor of Kentucky. The Bluegrass State, like many others, exempts from taxation profits made by holders of home state municipal bonds. These states, however, tax their residents on the proceeds they make on bonds issued by out-of-states municipalities. A Kentucky couple sued the state claiming this inequality is a violation of the Constitution's Commerce Clause. The high court in a fractured opinion disagreed. Justice Souter wrote, "For the better part of two centuries states and their political subdivisions have issued bonds for public purposes, and for nearly half that time some states have exempted interest on their own bonds from their state income taxes, which are imposed on bond interest from other states. The question here is whether Kentucky's version of this differential tax scheme offends the Commerce Clause. We hold that it does not."

In his dissent, Justice Anthony Kennedy -- joined by Justice Samuel Alito -- decried the "protectionist" bent of the court's ruling. "Protectionist interests always want the laws they pass, even if their fellow citizens bear the burden, for they are positioned to profit from the barrier," Kennedy wrote. He added that "today the court weakens the preventative force of the Commerce Clause and invites other protectionist laws, thus risking further dislocations and market inefficiencies based on the origin of products and commodities that should be traded nationwide and without local trade barriers."

#35) United States v. Rodriquez (decided May 19, 2008)

Justice Samuel Alito authored the 6-3 opinion in favor of the government. Gino Rodriquez was busted in Washington for having a firearm which as a convicted felon is a federal no-no. He was sentenced to a 15-year minimum term behind bars based on guidelines set forth in the Armed Career Criminal Act. ACCA says three time serious offenders get an added sentencing boost. But there was a dispute over the ACCA qualifications for some of Rodriquez's prior convictions. The government argued and the court agreed that sentencing enhancements made by the state court for his convictions can be used to assert a similar boost under ACCA. Justice David Souter in his dissent joined by Justices Stevens and Ginsburg contend the wording of the law is vague and because of that lenity should be afforded to Rodriquez.

#34) Gonzalez v. United States (decided May 12, 2008)

8-1. Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the opinion in favor of the Government. Homero Gonzales was charged (and convicted) with five felony drug counts. His jury selection was conducted by a magistrate judge not a trial judge. At the time of jury selection the magistrate judge asked Gonzalez's lawyer if it was ok to proceed--the lawyer said yes and jury selection took place without incident. After his conviction, Gonzalez argued that he personally should have been asked if it was ok for the magistrate judge to conduct jury selection. The Fifth Circuit ruled personal approval was not necessary and the High Court affirmed.

#33) Crawford v. Marion County (IN) Election Board (decided April 28, 2008)

Justice John Paul Stevens announced the 6-3 judgment of the court in favor of Indiana. In the most significant voting case before the court since Bush v. Gore, the court validated Indiana's law mandating voters show a valid government issued picture ID before casting their ballots. The law was ostensibly passed to protect against fraud at the polls. But opponents argue the Republican majority state Legislature passed the law (on a party-line vote) to keep older and poor residents from the polls. The court disagreed with Justice Stevens writing, "There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the state's interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters ... While the most effective method of preventing election fraud may well be debatable, the propriety of doing so is perfectly clear."

#32) Virginia v. Moore (decided April 23, 2008)

Justice Antonin Scalia authored the unanimous opinion in favor of Virginia. David Moore was pulled over by Portsmouth, Va., police for driving on a suspended license. He was also put into custody, contrary to state law for that misdemeanor violation, and searched. Upon the search, police found 16 grams of crack cocaine. Moore argued the search was unreasonable under Virginia law and therefore was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The court disagreed with Justice Scalia writing, "We reaffirm against a novel challenge what we have signaled for more than half a century. When officers have probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime in their presence, the Fourth Amendment permits them to make an arrest and to search the suspect in order to safeguard evidence and ensure their own safety."

#31) Baze v. Rees (decided April 16, 2008)

Chief Justice John Roberts authored the court's 7-2 opinion against Ralph Baze. Justices Alito, Stevens, Breyer, Scalia and Thomas authored concurring opinions. Justice Souter joined a dissent authored by Justice Ginsburg. The court ruled that the three chemical process Kentucky uses to execute the condemned is constitutional. The ruling ended the undeclared moratorium on executions and on the day of the announcement at least one governor (Tim Kaine of Virginia) said they would begin again. Roberts wrote, "We too agree that petitioners have not carried their burden of showing that the risk of pain from maladministration of a concededly humane lethal injection protocol, and the failure to adopt untried and untested alternatives, constitute cruel and unusual punishment."

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg countered that "the constitutionality of Kentucky's protocol therefore turns on whether inmates are adequately anesthetized by the first drug in the protocol, sodium thiopental. Kentucky's system is constitutional, the plurality states, because petitioners have not shown that the risk of an inadequate dose of the first drug is substantial. I would not dispose of the case so swiftly given the character of the risk at stake."

#30) Burgess v. United States (decided April 16, 2008)

The unanimous was authored by. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in favor of the government. "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time" is a familiar phrase to anyone who ever had a police officer speak in his or her grade school classroom. This case shows how the past crimes of Keith Burgess caught up with him into more time behind bars. The convicted drug dealer's past state convictions were used against him in federal court to double his minimum sentence. He argued that because South Carolina didn't classified his prior bad acts as felonies he shouldn't be subject to the federal sentencing bump for repeat offenders. The high court disagreed thus keeping in place the mandatory 20 year minimum sentence.

#29) Begay v. United States (decided April 16, 2008)

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the 6-3 opinion in favor of Larry Begay. This sentencing case looked at drunk driving and its application as a "violent felony" under an enhanced sentencing law. Begay had violated New Mexico's DUI law multiple times. Following his last offense, the judge concluded that at least three of those prior DUI crimes constituted "violent crimes" under the Armed Career Criminal Act. This made Begay eligible for an additional 15 year stretch behind bars. The court ruled that was a misapplication of the federal statute. "In our view, DUI differs from ... burglary, arson, extortion and crimes involving the use of explosives in at least one pertinent, and important, respect. The listed crimes all typically involve purposeful, 'violent,' and 'aggressive' conduct."

#28) United States v. Clintwood Elkhorn Mining Company (decided April 15, 2008)

Chief Justice John Roberts penned the unanimous opinion in favor of the government. The U.S. Tax Code provides for a statute of limitations on seeking refunds of taxes unlawfully assessed. Clintwood Elkhorn Mining sought to recover money that went beyond this timeframe under a different and more forgiving legal framework. The court ruled the mining company could not do that.

#27) Meadwestvaco v. Illinois Dept. of Revenue (decided April 15, 2008)

Justice Samuel Alito authored the unanimous opinion in favor of Meadwestvaco. This case focused on the taxation of capital gains by an out-of-state corporation. Specifically, Meadwestvaco (based in Ohio) sold off its interests in Lexis Nexis and argued that any tax burden was due only to Ohio. Conversely, Illinois argued the sale generated business income subject to taxation as Meadwestvaco, though based in Ohio, did business in Illinois. That view was shared by the lower courts. But the Supreme Court court disagreed saying the lower courts "misapprehended the principles" the High Court uses to determine the circumstances in which a state may tax an out-of-state firm's gains.

#26) New Jersey v. Delaware (decided Down March 31, 2008)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored the 6-2 opinion in favor of Delaware. The two states have squabbled since the 1800s over access to the Delaware River which marks the border between the states. This case focused on British Petroleum's efforts to build a liquified natural gas facility on the New Jersey shoreline. But a Delaware environmental assessment concluded the plant would adversely (and illegally under Delaware law) impact its shore. New Jersey argued it had exclusive regulatory control over any entity that is built on its shore and extends into the river. The court ruled that is not the case, rather the two states have "overlapping authority" over the river.

#25) Medellin v. Texas (decided March 25, 2008)

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 6-3 opinion in favor of Texas. This case put President Bush in the odd position of defending a man in his home state who sits on death row. Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican national, took part in the gang rape and murder of two teenagers. But the International Court of Justice ruled that because Medellin was not notified of his right to legal help from the Mexican government he (and 50 others in similar circumstances) should be given a new trial. President Bush, in defending the ICJ ruling, wrote a memo to the Justice Department that Texas had to comply with the international court's ruling.

But the court disagreed. "We conclude that neither {the ICJ's ruling} nor the president's memorandum constitutes directly enforceable federal law that pre-empts state limitations on the filing of successive habeas petitions. We therefore affirm the decision below." Roberts added that "the president has an array of political and diplomatic means available to enforce international obligations, but unilaterally converting a non-self-executing treaty into a self-executing treaty is not among them. The responsibility for transforming an international obligation arising from a non-self-executing treaty into domestic law falls to Congress."

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent and was joined by Justices David Souter and Ginsburg. "In a word, for present purposes, the absence or presence of language in a treaty about a provision's self-execution proves nothing at all. At best the court is hunting the snark. At worst it erects legalistic hurdles that can threaten the application of provisions in many existing commercial and other treaties and make it more difficult to negotiate new ones."

The ruling drew quick praise from Texas lawmakers. The president's press secretary Dana Perino responded, "[The Supreme Court] recognized that there is an international obligation to comply with treaties, but that the president of the United States does not have the legal authority to compel a state to take that action. While we urged a different result, we respect the court's decision and we'll abide by it."

#24) Hall Street Associates v. Mattel (decided March 25, 2008)

Justice Souter authored the 6-3 opinion in favor of Mattel. This case comes after a lengthy run through the legal system and may not yet be over. The dispute arises over the agreement toy maker Mattel made with Oregon property owner Hall Street Associates. That agreement called for the appeal of any arbitration ruling arising over their dispute about the costs of environmental clean-up at a property mattel leased from Hall Street. The arbitration ruling was in favor of Mattel and Hall Street made its appeal. The High Court's ruling in this case says only in certain cases can there be a court appeal — at least under the terms of the Federal Arbitration Act. The court left open the question of more exhaustive judicial review of arbitration cases under different laws.

#23) Snyder v. Louisiana (decided March 19, 2008)

Justice Samuel Alito penned the 7-2 opinion in favor of Allen Snyder. This was dubbed the "O.J. Case" because that's how the prosecutor described it to the media and strongly suggested it to the jury just months after the "trial of the century" had ended. But the court's opinion made no mention of this aspect of the case, rather it focused on the racial strikes of potential black jurors. It describes the three-part test necessary for the court to review if strikes were done properly. Justice Alito applies this test when going through the voir dire transcript and concludes that "the trial court committed clear error" when it allowed the prosecutor to strike one of the potential jurors. As such, the court reversed Snyder's sentence and conviction.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the dissent and was joined by Justice Antonin Scalia. They argued that in this case and those similar to it, significant deference must be afforded to the trial court judge. And in so doing, these justices determined the trial judge "did not clearly err" in dismissing the potential juror from further participation. "The [majority's] conclusion, however, reveals that it is only paying lipservice to the pivotal role of the trial court."

#22) Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party (decided March 18, 2008)

Justice Thomas authored the 7-2 opinion in favor of the Washington State Grange. Several years ago the voters in Washington passed a referendum calling for a blanket primary. It calls for all primary candidates to indicate their party preference. Then the top two voter-getters — regardless of party preference designation — move on to the general election. The state's major parties filed suit to block the process saying it violates their rights to association. They argued the system could confuse voters or force candidates on them that they didn't want to be associated with.

But Justice Thomas disagreed. While much of the court's opinion discusses the legal framework and difficulty of facial challenges, Justice Thomas did address the merits of the case. "There is simply no basis to presume that a well-informed electorate will interpret a candidate's party-preference designation to mean that the candidate is the party's chosen nominee or representative or that the party associates with or approves the candidate."

In a dissent joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Scalia offered this blunt assessment. "It is no mystery what is going on here. There is no state interest behind this law except the Washington Legislature's dislike for bright-colors partisanship, and its desire to blunt the ability of political parties with noncentrist views to endorse and advocate their own candidates."

#21) Warner-Lambert v. Kimberly Kent et al. (decided March 3, 2008)

The court issued a "Per Curiam" or "of the court" ruling in this case which split the justices 4-4. Per Curiam rulings give no explanation for the decision. The rules of the court provide that when there is an equal split the ruling of the lower court (in favor of Kimberly Kent, et. al.) is upheld but the decision has no precedential value. Chief Justice Roberts recused himself from the case.

Warner-Lambert and its parent company Pfizer appealed to the High Court the 2nd Circuit ruling that said it could be sued in Michigan state court for personal injury by people who used the diabetes drug called Rezulin. For various reasons the drug is no longer sold. The drug company says the FDA is the controlling agency to handle disputes like this but the Second Circuit disagreed and gave the green light for the lawsuit in the Michigan courts.

#20) Boulware v. United States (decided March 3, 2008)

Justice David Souter authored the unanimous opinion in favor of Michael Boulware. This tax evasion case out of Hawaii presented the trial court with some salacious details but the Supreme Court with a rather mundane question related to tax law. The trial court and the 9th Circuit denied Boulware's attempt to argue that his company was not profitable and that the funds he took from it were legal "returns of capital." Souter wrote for the court that "a defendant in a criminal tax case does not need to show a contemporaneous intent to treat diversions as returns of capital before relying on those sections to demonstrate no taxes are owed."

#19) Federal Express v. Holowecki et al. (decided Feb. 27, 2008)

7-2. Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the opinion in favor of Paul Holowecki. This age discrimination case centered on the ability of 14 current and former FedEx employees to file suit against their employer. Federal law says that such a suit can only be filed 60 days after a "charge" is filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The purpose of this delay mechanism is to give the company formal notice of the complaint and to provide both sides time to mediate the dispute.

In this case, the paperwork submitted by the workers was not considered by the EEOC to be a "charge" and therefore FedEx wasn't notified of the discrimination claim until the lawsuit. The Court's opinion concluded that the paperwork submitted was sufficient to be a charge and despite the lack of notification to FedEx, the 60 day period expired opening the window for litigation. Justice Kennedy's opinion noted the frustration the rest of Court expressed during oral arguments when he wrote that because the EEOC "failed to treat respondent's filing as a charge in the first instance, both sides lost the benefits of the ADEA's informal dispute resolution process."

#18) Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn (decided Feb. 26, 2008)

Justice Clarence Thomas authored the unanimous opinion in favor of Sprint/United Management Co. This discrimination case focused on a narrow legal matter rather than any facts of the particular age discrimination case brought by Ellen Mendelsohn against telecommunications giant Sprint. The High Court ruled that the 10th Circuit erred in its reversal of the trial court's exclusion of so called "me too" testimony. Adding the appeals court should have remanded the case back to the trial court for greater clarity on its ruling. "A remand directing the district court to clarify its order is generally permissible and would have been the better approach in this case," wrote Justice Thomas.

#17) Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Association (decided Feb. 20, 2008)

Justice Stephen Breyer authored the unanimous opinion in favor of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association. In 2003, Maine passed legislation it hoped would curb illicit tobacco use. The law was aimed at non-traditional retailers particularly those who sell tobacco via the internet. It mandated certain authenticity protocols for these non-traditional retailers and their suppliers. Those suppliers objected saying the law was onerous and too much of a burden on them and was contrary to federal law. The High Court agreed. Justice Breyer wrote that Maine's public health justification didn't validate the law and that the Maine law "produces the very effect that the federal law sought to avoid... the effect of the regulation is that carriers will have to offer tobacco delivery service that differ significantly from those that, in the absence of the regulation, the market might dictate."

#16) Preston v. Ferrer (decided Feb. 20, 2008)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored the 8-1 opinion in favor of Arnold Preston. Alex Ferrer is the host of the television program "Judge Alex." Preston is Ferrer's former agent and was seeking payment for setting up the meeting that eventually led Ferrer's television show. Ferrer refused to pay, contending Preston's work on his behalf did not in fact lead to the "Judge Alex" program. Ferrer further sought to have the matter settled by the California Labor Commissioner. The original contract stated that any disputes were to be presented before an arbitrator. The court ruled that such an agreement under the Federal Arbitration Act must remain in place. Justice Ginsburg wrote, "When parties agree to arbitrate all questions arising under a contract, state laws lodging primary jurisdiction in another forum, whether judicial or administrative are superseded by the FAA." Disclaimer: The respondent in this case, Alex Ferrer, is an employee of 20th Century Fox whose parent company is the same as FOX News Channel.

#15) Riegel v. Medtronic (decided Feb. 20, 2008)

Justice Antonin Scalia authored the 8-1 opinion in favor of Medtronic. The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for approving medical devices before they are put into use. In 1996, the Medtronic-made catheter that was used in Charles Riegel's angioplasty ruptured. A suit was filed in New York claiming that the catheter was improperly manufactured and violated that state's common law. Lower courts ruled against the Riegel family concluding the states could not impose rules different from the guidelines proscribed by the FDA. And the high court reached the same conclusion.

#14) Danforth v. Minnesota (decided Feb. 20, 2008)

Justice John Paul Stevens authored the 7-2 opinion in favor of Stephen Danforth. This case centered on the extent to which states may provide relief broader than federal standards in certain cases. In 1996, Danforth was convicted of sexually abusing a six-year old boy. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against Danforth in his attempt for a new trial because some of the evidence presented against him at trial was unconstitutional. The legal matter at issue was Danforth's argument that states (Minnesota in this case) could grant retroactive review based on a broader standard than what was proscribed by the Supreme Court in its 1989 Teague decision.

In this opinion, the court ruled in favor of Danforth writing that "the remedy a state court chooses to provide its citizens for violations of the Federal Constitution is primarily a question of state law. Federal law simply 'sets certain minimal requirements that states must meet but may exceed in providing appropriate relief.'" But Chief Justice Roberts disagreed writing "retroactivity of new federal rules is a question of federal law binding on states. The court's contrary holding is based on a misunderstanding of our precedent and a misunderstanding of the nature of retroactivity generally."

#13) LaRue v. DeWolff (decided Feb. 20, 2008)

Justice John Paul Stevens authored the unanimous opinion in favor of James LaRue. Chief Justice Roberts authored a concurring opinion joined by Justice Kennedy. And Justice Thomas authored another concurring opinion joined by Justice Scalia. LaRue sued his former employer to recover $150,000 in "lost" 401k benefits. It was alleged that the company's retirement plan administrator failed to process transactions LaRue was seeking. The court, overturning the lower court decision, ruled in favor of LaRue writing the retirement law "does authorize recovery for fiduciary breaches that impair the value of plan assets in a participant's individual account."

#12) Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons (decided Jan. 22, 2008)

Justice Clarence Thomas authored the 5-4 opinion in favor of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Abdus-Shahid Ali is an inmate in the federal prison system. In 2003, he was transferred from a facility in Georgia to one in Kentucky. During the course of that transfer he says some of his belongings — especially his religious possessions including a Koran and prayer rug — were missing. He estimated the total value of these items to be $177 and sued for reimbursement.

The Bureau of Prisons contended and the Court agreed that the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) doesn't allow for such a lawsuit. The case focused on language in the FTCA related to the exemption of "any other law enforcement officer" from litigation. Justice Thomas wrote, "[i]n the end, we are unpersuaded by petitioner's attempt to create ambiguity where the statute's text and structure suggest none." Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer.

11) Knight v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (decided Jan. 16, 2008)

The unanimous decision in favor of the Internal Revenue Commissioner was written by Chief Justice John Roberts. The trustee managing the Pepperidge Farm fortune filed a tax return deducting fees paid for investment advice. An IRS audit determined these fees were not fully deductible and ordered the trust to pay the appropriate tax. The court agreed, ruling the trust did not qualify for a full exemption and therefore could only deduct a fraction of the costs incurred for its investment advice.

10) New York State Board of Elections v. Torres (decided Jan. 16, 2008)

The unanimous decision in favor of New York state was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. This case challenged the peculiar way New York elects its trial court judges. Several times, Margarita Lopez Torres sought a seat on the bench through party nominating conventions and was denied a spot on the ballot. She and others sued the state Board of Elections claiming party control of the nominating process deprived their rights to ballot access. But the court disagreed.

"Selection by convention has been a traditional means of choosing party nominees. While a state may determine it is not desirable and replace it, it is not unconstitutional," wrote Justice Scalia.

9) Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta, et al. (decided Jan. 15, 2008)

The 5-3 decision in favor of Scientific-Atlanta was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justice Stephen Breyer did not take part. This case is similar to the multi-billion dollar lawsuit filed by swindled Enron investors. The court's decision will make it more difficult for those Enron investors to succeed.

The Stoneridge case centers around the 2001 stock price collapse of cable giant Charter Communications. Stoneridge Investment sued a couple of companies that did business with Charter saying they were engaged in a scheme that helped Charter cook its books, which eventually led to the accounting disaster that crippled the firm.

The court ruled against those investors with Justice Kennedy writing, "They sought to impose liability on entities who, acting both as customers and suppliers, agreed to arrangements that allowed the investors' company to mislead its auditor and issue a misleading financial statement affecting the stock price. We conclude the implied right of action does not reach the customer/supplier companies because the investors did not rely upon their statements or representations."

8) John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States (decided Jan. 8, 2008)

The 7-2 decision penned by Justice Breyer ruled in favor of the government. This was an obscure challenge to the court that questioned the timeliness of a lawsuit filed in the Federal Claims Court. The Michigan gravel company was fed up with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its access restrictions to contaminated parts of its property. The firm sued but its case was dismissed for being untimely. The Supreme Court upheld the dismissal. Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.

7) Klein & Co. Futures, Inc. v. Board of Trade of the City of New York, et al.

By agreement of both parties this case was dismissed.

6) Watson v. United States (decided Dec. 10, 2007)

The unanimous decision favored Michael Watson and was written by Justice David Souter. This case centered on the meaning of the word "use" during a drug deal that involves a firearm. Watson was convicted of "using" the gun in an effort to obtain the weapon for drugs. At no point in the transaction with the undercover cop did he intend to fire the gun. Nonetheless, Watson was sentenced for an additional five years behind bars (in addition to his drug sentence) because of his "use" of the gun. Justice Souter bluntly wrote, "The government's position that Watson 'used' the pistol ... by receiving it for narcotics lacks authority in either precedent or regular English."

5) Gall v. United States (decided Dec. 10, 2007)

A 7-2 decision in favor of Brian Gall was written by Justice Stevens. This identical decision to Kimbrough touched upon some of the same arguments presented in that case. Again, the issue of a federal judge imposing a sentence below proscribed guidelines was before the court, and again, the court ruled that trial judges do have such power with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissenting.

"[W]hile the extent of the difference between a particular sentence and the recommended guidelines range is surely relevant, courts of appeals must review all sentences — whether inside, just outside, or significantly outside the guidelines range — under a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. We also hold that the sentence imposed by the experience district judge in this case was reasonable," Justice Stevens wrote.

4) Kimbrough v. United States (decided Dec. 10, 2007)

Kimbrough was the victor in this 7-2 ruling. Justice Ginsburg authored the majority opinion. Opponents of the federal law mandating sentences of crack cocaine related offenses 100 times more severe than similar crimes involving powder cocaine cheered this ruling.

The court's ruling did not strike down the controversial law but rather empowers trial court judges to impose sentences below what the statutes proscribe. Justices Thomas and Alito dissented, with the former writing that the court's ruling had "no basis in law."

The day after this ruling, the United States Sentencing Commission, which has broad authority to set sentencing guidelines, made retroactive an earlier decision that effectively eliminates the 100:1 imbalance. The commission's decision also means that some 2,500 convicted drug felons will be eligible for early release in 2008.

3) CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Georgia State Board of Equalization (decided Dec. 4, 2007)

The court's unanimous decision favored CSX Transportation. Chief Justice Roberts authored the opinion. The rail giant appealed to the court over Georgia's tax policy as it applied to its properties in the Peach State, particularly its rail lines.

Issues involving tax assessments over railroads — often in the millions of dollars — have been contentious for decades. In this case, Georgia adjusted its tax formula in a way CSX argued was contrary to what the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 mandated. Roberts, writing for the court agreed.

"The 4-R Act prohibits four separate forms of discriminatory state taxation of railroads. ... The total lack of textual support for Georgia's position is not surprising. The dichotomy the state presses would eviscerate the statute by forcing courts to defer to the valuation estimate of the state, when discriminatory taxation by states was the very evil the act aimed to ban."

2) Logan v. United States (decided Dec. 4, 2007)

The unanimous ruling favored the government. Justice Ginsburg authored the court's decision, which denied sentencing relief to James Logan who was convicted of illegally possessing a gun. The Wisconsin man had appealed part of his sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act, the federal government's "three strikes" law. One of Logan's prior bad acts is only considered a misdemeanor in Wisconsin courts, and because of that, he claimed he shouldn't be subject to the federal government's enhanced sentencing law for repeat felony offenders. It mandates a minimum 15-year sentence. Logan's firearms offense by itself would have produced only a 10-year sentence. But the court disagreed with Logan's argument that his prior misdemeanor crime should not count against him at the federal level.

The technical language at issue is the federal law's determination of prior felonies based on a person's "civil rights restored" basis.

As Justice Ginsberg wrote in the court's opinion: "[The federal law] sets out post-conviction events — expungement, set aside, pardon or restoration of civil rights — that extend to an offender a measure of forgiveness, relieving him from some or all of the consequences of his conviction. Congress might have broadened [the law's] exemption provision to cover convictions attended by no loss of civil rights. The national lawmakers, however, did not do so. ... We are not equipped to say what statutory alteration, if any, Congress would have made had its attention trained on offenders who retained civil rights; nor can we recast [the law] in Congress' stead."

1) Board of Education of the City of New York v. Tom F. (decided Oct. 10, 2007)

The court issued a per curiam or "of the court" ruling in this case which split the justices 4-4. Per curiam rulings give no explanation for the decision. The rules of the court provide that when there is an equal split the ruling of the lower court — in this case, in favor of Tom F. — is upheld but the decision has no precedental value. Justice Kennedy recused himself from the case.

The New York Board of Education did not want to reimburse the father of a learning disabled child who never enrolled the youngster in the school system. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) allows for reimbursements to parents who place their kids in private schools when the public schools cannot sufficiently provide for an appropriate education. The school board contended that because the child was never actually enrolled in the public school system, his family shouldn't be entitled to the reimbursement.