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By Doug64
I’ve thought for awhile that we need a thread dedicated to the Supreme Court, so here it is! :D Ballotpedia has an excellent page dedicated to the October ‘20 term’s list of cases, and MSN has (IMHO) a rather odd list of which cases it considers most important. But starting off, here’s a look at the arguments over requiring colleges to pay damages for infringing on their students’ free speech rights:

Supreme Court skeptical of students' case for damages after college censorship
The Supreme Court seemed skeptical Tuesday of students who want a Georgia college to pay damages for infringing their free speech by blocking them from distributing religious pamphlets on campus.

Chike Uzuegbunam says Georgia Gwinnett College restricted his pamphlet distribution to a designated area and then stopped him altogether with claims he was “disturbing the peace.”

Another student, Joseph Bradford, decided not to proselytize on campus after witnessing Mr. Uzuegbunam’s ordeal with school officials.

They sued the college for violating their First Amendment rights, and the college settled the litigation, agreeing to change its policy.

Lawyers for the former students then brought the legal battle to the high court Tuesday, arguing they should be able to pursue nominal damages against the college — even in the amount of $1 — as a form of punishment and a declaration that the school acted unlawfully.

“There does need to be redress for the past injury,” said Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer from Alliance Defending Freedom representing the students.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett M. Kavanaugh expressed concern that holding colleges accountable for nominal damages could open the doorway to attorney fees. They suggested that the case was more focused on ensuring attorneys get paid.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer also showed skepticism about the students’ arguments. He said a ruling in their favor could open the floodgates of litigation, requiring courts time and resources.

Andrew Pinson, an attorney representing the school officials, said nominal damages were “trivial.”

“Nominal damages can’t serve as independent redress for past injuries,” he told the justices.

Free speech on college campuses has been a recurring fight in the courts.

A ruling for the plaintiffs would increase the potential of liability and legal costs for schools if they are found to have infringed students’ First Amendment rights.

An opinion in the case is expected by the end of June, when the high court usually wraps up its term.
By Doug64
And it looks like the Supreme Court is going to dodge ruling on any of the issues raised since Election Day:

Supreme Court refuses to expedite election challenges
The Supreme Court announced Monday it would not expedite a group of election challenges.

The move is yet another legal blow to President Trump who has pushed to overturn the 2020 results through the courts.

The president has cases pending before the justices against Wisconsin and Pennsylvania officials, and pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood also has litigation pending against the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The lawsuits have asked the justices to take up the challenges, and halt further certification of the November election.

But by not expediting the cases, it’s likely the issue will become moot and dismissed by the high court once President-elect Joseph R. Biden takes office next week.

Eight lawsuits, three of which were brought by the president while the others were launched by his allies from a number of swing states, were all denied expedited review.

Pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell led one of the legal battles against Georgia officials, stemming from her allegations of software manipulation of ballots during the 2020 contest.

The cases seek to overturn election results in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin.

State election officials from all five states have repeatedly denied claims of widespread election fraud.
Here's a bit more on the case mentioned in my opening post, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, argued last week before the Supreme Court (recording of oral argument available at link). Apparently, what the case is about is whether the 11th Circuit should be brought into line with the rest of the country when it comes to declaring cases moot--to wit, whether the claim for nominal damages alone is enough to keep a case moot. For the 11th Circuit alone the answer is "no," leaving organizations--both public and private--a way to dodge being publicly held to account for their violations of people's rights:

The Supreme Court, Taylor Swift and Religious Freedom

The question of whether people whose freedom has been illegally curtailed can be vindicated when they only seek nominal damages may seem nothing more than a legal technicality. Trust me: It isn’t.

Why did Taylor Swift insist on receiving nominal damages of a dollar against a radio host who groped her? And why is it so important to Chike Uzuegbunam, a Christian student outrageously harassed by his college authorities for sharing his faith with classmates on campus?

The Supreme Court on Jan. 12 heard Chike Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, and it will soon decide whether officials at Georgia Gwinnett College, a state-run college 30 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, can use legal tricks to avoid being held accountable in court for violating Uzuegbunam’s rights. It’s a crucial case for the future of civil rights — especially religious freedom.

In 2016, when Uzuegbunam was a junior at Gwinnett College, he began evangelizing in a plaza outside of the school’s library. Gwinnett officials stopped him and told him that he had to get advance permission to use one of the two, tiny “speech zones” on campus. On top of this, any individual or organization who obtained permission had to “wait at least 30 calendar days after the last date of use” before submitting another request to engage in expressive activity.

Uzuegbunam obliged with this dystopian request, hoping to share the message about his Christian faith with interested classmates.

Despite having reserved a speech zone, two campus police officers approached Uzuegbunam, saying that someone had complained. They ordered the student to stop speaking and threatened him with discipline if he continued. Exercising Uzuegbunam’s constitutional rights was “disturbing the peace.”

It’s worth noting that while Uzuegbunam wanted only to quietly talk and hand out fliers about Jesus to people on campus, other students talked about other matters and played music in public areas without having to ask for permission from the university to do so. Fearing disciplinary action, he stopped.

Uzuegbunam, along with another Gwinnett student who also wanted to evangelize on campus, decided to stand up for his rights and filed a lawsuit in federal court. At first, the college vigorously defended their unconstitutional speech zone policy and unfair treatment of its student. Eventually, however, officials relented and adjusted their unconstitutional policies. The school’s lawyers quickly filed papers in court to dismiss Uzuegbunam’s case.

A quick review of what federal courts can and cannot do is helpful here: Article III of the Constitution limits the authority of the federal courts to decide “cases and controversies.” Our courts don’t issue advisory opinions. When further legal proceedings will have no effect, courts must dismiss a case as being moot.

Uzuegbunam’s attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom — the Christian religious freedom law firm that represented Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips — rightly note that Uzuegbunam’s case hasn’t been fully resolved by Gwinnett’s change in policy. Still outstanding is his claim for nominal damages. But the 11th Circuit, the legal jurisdiction where Uzuegbunam’s case was filed, has a unique rule that a claim for nominal damages alone isn’t enough to keep a case like Uzuegbunam’s alive. And so his case was dismissed.

Where does Taylor Swift fit into this? After all, she wasn’t complaining about a violation of her First Amendment rights. Significantly, her name was brought up during the Supreme Court review of Uzuegbunam’s case, by Justice Elena Kagan.

During last week’s oral argument, Uzuegbunam’s lawyer Kristen Waggoner spoke of the symbolic importance of nominal damages.

“The amount of money pales in comparison to the harm. It’s not that the dollar means so little; it’s that the violation means so much,” Waggoner explained to the court. Kagan connected Waggoner’s explanation to Swift’s request for nominal damages. Kagan characterized Swift’s damage request as equivalent to the pop star saying to her assailant: “I’m not really interested in your money, I just want a dollar, and that dollar is going to represent something both to me and to the world of women who have experienced what I’ve experienced.”

Kagan, a former solicitor general and Harvard Law School dean, was spot on.

Another important moment during oral arguments occurred when Gwinnett College’s attorney argued that the symbolic value of a claim for nominal damages of one dollar was “trivial.”

Justice Samuel Alito pushed back. “Well, what if it’s $10? What if it’s not $1? What if it’s 10?” This may seem like a rather cryptic question but it reveals Alito’s appreciation of the intrinsic value of our rights under the Constitution.

Uzuegbunam’s case finds widespread support among advocacy groups that span the ideological spectrum. One amicus curiae brief in support of him with the Supreme Court was filed on behalf of the conservative Americans for Prosperity and Institute for Justice and the not-so-conservative American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“Civil-rights plaintiffs in myriad constitutional contexts, and of all political persuasions and beliefs, share one common thread: they have suffered real harms that transcend easy price tags. Nominal damages are often the only avenue available to remedy that wrong,” the groups explain.

And in a brief filed with the court in support of Uzuegbunam, the U.S. solicitor general adds that “Article III does not permit the defendant to avoid adjudication of the lawfulness of its past conduct if it is not willing to provide the plaintiff with the legally authorized redress for the injury caused by that conduct.” Translation: After violating the Constitution, Gwinnett College is now trying to manipulate it.

Why does the court’s consideration of Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski matter so much? It’s partly a matter of an unfair standard in one of the country’s legal circuits. This may seem like something that only concerns lawyers, but on such legal technicalities hang crucial constitutional rights — including the promise of religious freedom.
By Doug64
And it seems the Supreme Court has managed to avoid ruling on the Emoluments Clause:

Supreme Court dismisses emoluments cases against Trump
The Supreme Court dismissed lawsuits against former President Trump on Monday that claimed he violated the Constitution by accepting gifts from foreign officials.

The legal battles concerned the Emoluments Clause, which bans foreign officials from receiving gifts or profit while in office.

The lawsuits claimed Mr. Trump‘s commercial businesses received profits from foreign officials during his time as president in violation of the law.

One of the legal actions was brought by the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, while the other was brought by the state of Maryland and Washington.
By Doug64
Believe it or not, there are still election challenges before the Supreme Court. Most are likely to be dismissed as moot--like the emoluments case the SC kicked the cans down the road to the the point they can avoid ruling on them--but there's at least one that they might take up as a way to rule without being seen as political arbiters of the election outcome:

Election challenges still loom at Supreme Court
More than half a dozen challenges to the 2020 presidential election results are pending before the Supreme Court although President Biden took office two weeks ago.

Court watchers doubt the justices will hear most — if any — of the lingering lawsuits. And yet, the cases will hang in the balance for weeks to come as Mr. Biden settles in and former President Donald Trump weathers a Senate impeachment trial.

The justices are not expected to discuss any of the election challenges until their next conference, which is scheduled for Feb. 19. At least five of the election cases are scheduled for discussion that day, which will mark roughly a month since Inauguration Day.

“The court may have wanted to wait so as not to interfere with the peaceful transition of power or, now, the Senate trial of Trump,” said Rick Hasen, an election law scholar and professor at the University of California, Irvine.

The high court under Chief Justice G. John Roberts Jr. has a reputation for avoiding lawsuits that appear overtly political, so a delay in weighing in until after Inauguration Day was not all that unusual, especially given that the justices denied expediting review of the challenges.

That puts the cases on the normal scheduling timeline and accounts for several weeks for defendants to file a response. It also gives time for other interested parties to file briefs weighing in on the dispute, urging the justices to grant or deny the case.

Amy Howe, a writer for SCOTUSblog, said the justices don’t usually grant review in cases without first calling for a response from the other party.

“The closer we get to Feb. 19 without a call for a response, the more likely it is that the petitions are dead in the water, and the court will just deny review after the Feb. 19 conference,” she said.

Mr. Hasen noted the delay in denying the cases could be due to at least one justice taking time to write a statement about the court’s move declining the challenges, allowing him or her to weigh in on how such disputes could be resolved in future contests.

Others described the delay as a slow walk to the Supreme Court’s trash bin.

Ilya Shapiro, publisher of the Cato Institute’s Supreme Court Review, said the delay doesn’t matter because “all of these are meritless.”

“I imagine the justices want to issue denial orders on them all from one conference, together with the one significant election-related case, Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar, which they may yet take up,” he said.

That case challenges the move by the state’s executive branch to extend the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots and allowing non-postmarked ballots to be presumed received by the deadline.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly had set a deadline and requirements for mail-in ballots that the Republican Party in the state argues was violated by the secretary of state’s unilateral extension and changes.

“The outcome wouldn’t have changed the results in Pennsylvania — the ballots in dispute are fewer than the margin — but the issue of how far a state court can go in rewriting state election law before it becomes a federal issue will continue coming up and needs to be settled by the Supreme Court,” Mr. Shapiro said.

Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, said the justices almost have a “civic duty” to weigh in on the legality of a state executive altering election laws passed by state assemblies because the issue surely will come up again, and doing so this year won’t affect an election on the immediate horizon.

“This would be the perfect time,” he said. “No one can get too upset with what they would decide.”

The justices last scheduled the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s petition for a conference on Jan. 22, and the docket does not show whether they have decided to hear or reject the challenge.

The high court has two other cases objecting to Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballots. One was brought by Rep. Mike Kelly, Pennsylvania Republican, and the other was brought by the Trump campaign, which contests 2.6 million mail-in ballots.

The disputes are scheduled to be discussed when the justices meet on Feb. 19.

The Trump campaign also has a case challenging Wisconsin’s results to be discussed during that meeting, as well as challenges brought by Trump allies to the vote counts in Georgia and Arizona.
By Doug64
Another case the Supreme Court is taking up, on how much schools can punish students for those students statements when not at school or representing the school. In this case, I have to agree with the student and her family, at least insofar as public schools are concerned. So long as B.L. wasn't representing the school, attending, or participating in a school activity, I don't really see how what she posted on social media is any of their business and as public institutions the 1st Amendment applies. And it seems the ACLU has once again discovered a free speech case it is willing to support.

Supreme Court to review cheerleader's free-speech lawsuit against Mahanoy Area School District
The Supreme Court is wading into a cheerleader’s free-speech lawsuit against her high school over booting her off the squad because she posted “f—k cheer” on social media.

The raunchy message was written in a Snapchat photo of the girl flipping the bird.

“F—k school f—k softball f—k cheer f—k everything,” read the caption posted by a Pennsylvania teen, who was identified only as B.L. in court papers because she is a minor.

B.L.’s anger at the time may be understandable: She didn’t make the varsity cheer squad for her sophomore year. Still, Mahanoy Area School District said she violated school conduct standards and wouldn’t even be allowed on the JV cheering squad.

The teen’s parents sued in federal court and won. The school district appealed. Now the Supreme Court is reviewing the case, which tests the limits of the First Amendment and the authority of schools to police students’ off-campus conduct.

B.L. fired off the foul-mouthed Snapchat on a weekend while out shopping with a friend.

She did not have on a school uniform in the photo or mention the school’s name. But once Mahanoy Area School District officials became aware of the post, they decided she violated school policy that requires cheerleaders to avoid “foul language and inappropriate gestures.”

The parents argued their daughter’s First Amendment rights were violated.

“As a parent, I know that sometimes kids do foolish things. But when my daughter is on her own time and out of school, it’s my role as a parent to address her behavior. In this situation, I did that and felt that the school overstepped its bounds,” said Larry Levy, B.L.’s father. “We’re in this case because we don’t want to see schools have the power to discipline students for what they do on their own time. Leave that authority to parents.”

They filed the suit in 2017 and won in the lower courts, which got their daughter reinstated on the squad.

B.L. has since graduated from high school but the legal fight goes on.

The district pointed to five other federal appellate courts that have considered similar student-speech cases and ruled that a school may discipline off-campus speech if it has a nexus to the classroom.

“Teachers and administrators within the Third Circuit will henceforth be subject to money damages in civil rights suits for addressing off-campus speech that schools in other circuits routinely proscribe to avoid substantial disruptions to the school environment,” said the lawyers for the school district.

The technology and social media “acts as a megaphone for off-campus speech, ensuring that it reverberates throughout the classroom and commands the school’s attention,” they said, adding that B.L.’s social media post caused students to be “visibly upset.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing B.L., said the high court has ruled in cases dating back decades that school officials can only punish student speech when it is substantially disruptive or threatening.

“The notion that a school can discipline a student for that kind of spontaneous, non-threatening, non-harassing expression is contrary to our First Amendment tradition, and finds no support in this Court‘s student speech cases,” the ACLU said in court papers.

The leading student-speech precedent comes from the landmark 1969 case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which arose from a group of students wearing black armbands as a political statement opposing the Vietnam War.

They were suspended for breaking school rules. The Supreme Court famously ruled for the students, saying they do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said historically conservative and liberal justices have come down differently in various student-speech lawsuits, making an outcome difficult to predict.

“This isn’t the kind of thing where one can quickly say this is a libertarian justice or this is a more pro-government justice,” he said. “Different justices react to them differently.”

The court has not yet set a date for oral arguments in the cheerleader case.
User avatar
By Drlee
It appears there are at least two of these on which we can agree @Doug64

The college case clearly is anti-religious and in violation of the first amendment. Their establishment of what can only be called "free speech zones" is absurd on the face of it.

The second case is equally absurd. Schools need to be schools and stop trying to be enforcers off campus. We do not hire educators to deal with our children off campus and they should frankly stop fucking around and spend their time educating children. She should get her dollar and schools put on notice. The next time it may be many millions of dollars.

I hope both of these will be a good test of our new conservative SCOTUS. I hope they vigorously defend the first amendment. That is THE most important job they have.

The election cases are meritless anyway with the exception of perhaps the one you mentioned. It has already been decided in the state supreme court and that IMO should be the end of it. It is not a federal issue in the first place.
By Doug64
@Drlee, it appears we actually agree again, who'd'a thunk it? :D But naturally we disagree yet again, when it comes to the Pennsylvania election law case--seeing how it deals with the US Constitution (specifically, whether state courts and/or executive officials can unilaterally alter election laws passed by state legislatures), it clearly falls under the US Supreme Court's purview. Whether they'll actually take the case, we'll know Friday. I certainly hope so. I'm actually a little surprised that they haven't made a decision already--IIRC, it only takes four of the justices to take up a case--but that might be because of Chief Justice Roberts. He's proven to be a Minimalist with Originalist leanings rather than a true Originalist, and he may have convinced at least two of the Originalist wing of the Court to hold off until there's absolutely zero chance that they can be seen as determining the outcome of the election before taking up the case.
By Doug64
And another case the Supreme Court is taking up, and this time one where I'm coming down solidly against law enforcement. As with the issue of seizing property--or rather another variation of it--as constituted, this is giving way too much power to the police. I can understand where they are coming from, leaving guns in the hands of someone when you believe there is a high possibility that they'll be a danger to themselves and/or those around them certainly seems like a bad idea. The problem is the permanent nature of the seizure. Perhaps some variation of how the War Powers Act is supposed to work is in order, where they can seize the guns immediately, but then have, say, thirty days to make their case before a judge why the seizure is appropriate or the guns have to be returned.

Rhode Island police search-and-seizure case makes it to Supreme Court
Police entered the home of a Rhode Island man after a domestic dispute and took his two handguns without a warrant, citing mental health concerns though he had no criminal or violent history.

The incident didn’t result in charges but sparked a legal battle over police search-and-seizure authority that made it to the Supreme Court.

At issue is the “community caretaker” exception to the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The exception allows law enforcement to search vehicles during times of emergency without first getting a warrant.

The high court is now poised to decide if that exception can extend beyond cars and into homes.

“Extending it into the home — the most protected of all private spaces [] would create a loophole in the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement wide enough to drive a truck through,” wrote lawyers for Edward Caniglia, the man taking the fight to the Supreme Court.

“So long as an officer reasonably claims to be taking care of the community, he can disregard the Fourth Amendment’s protections,” the legal brief argued.

Mr. Caniglia’s dispute started in 2015 when he and his wife of 22 years got into an argument that lasted several hours. The 68-year-old man took an unloaded handgun, put it on the table and told her, “Why don’t you just shoot me and get me out of my misery?”

Fearing his instability, Ms. Caniglia spent the night at a motel. She called the police the next day to do a welfare check on her husband when she could not reach him on the phone.

The police interviewed Mr. Caniglia and took him to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. They called superiors, who instructed them to seize Mr. Caniglia’s guns from the house without first obtaining a warrant.

Mr. Caniglia was not admitted to the hospital and failed to have his firearms returned months later, even after hiring a lawyer.

A lawsuit followed claiming violations of Mr. Caniglia’s Fourth Amendment and due process rights, along with claims under state law.

The police returned the guns after the lawsuit was filed.

The 1st U.S. District Court of Appeals sided with law enforcement, ruling the community caretaker exception could extend into the home.

The community caretaker standard was first described in the 1973 case of Cady v. Dombrowski in which the Supreme Court ruled that police can legally search a vehicle in its possession following the arrest of an intoxicated driver. The exception has since been applied in cases when a search is not part of a criminal investigation.

City officials and the Cranston, Rhode Island, police department argued in court filings that law enforcement serves a community caretaking function and the exception should be considered along with other issues such as privacy.

“Demanding an absolute exclusion of officials from the home in community caretaking circumstances is not only directly contrary to the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness standard but will prevent those officials from meeting societal caretaking demands,” the brief said.

Cranston officials said that when evaluating the totality of the circumstance, “officers determined that [Mr. Caniglia] was imminently dangerous to himself and others.”

Federal appeals courts have split on the matter across the country. The high court will now have to settle the issue. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 24. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

Ilya Shapiro, the publisher of the libertarian Cato Institute’s Supreme Court Review, said it is the type of case to produce a close split among the justices.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see [Chief Justice John G.] Roberts, [Samuel A.] Alito and [Stephen] Breyer together for law enforcement, [Neil M.] Gorsuch, [Brett M.] Kavanaugh and [Clarence] Thomas for [Mr. Caniglia], and [Elena] Kagan and [Amy Coney] Barrett as the swing votes,” he said, not mentioning Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
User avatar
By Drlee
We agree again. The "Community Caretaker" nonsense is an assault against the Constitution and is clearly an illegal search and seizure. I wouldn't allow it in cars either. Something has to be done about property seizure in general. The very concept is absurd.

...but that might be because of Chief Justice Roberts. He's proven to be a Minimalist with Originalist leanings rather than a true Originalist, and he may have convinced at least two of the Originalist wing of the Court to hold off until there's absolutely zero chance that they can be seen as determining the outcome of the election before taking up the case.

I have an odd opinion about Roberts. He cast the deciding vote in Citizens United and I believe is shocked at what he did. The results have been catastrophic to the Republic. He put his toe in the extreme right water and came out regretting his decision. He was roundly criticized right and left for that one. Since then he has taken a more moderate tone.
By Doug64
@Drlee, “clearly an illegal search and seizure” might be a bit strong, I have no trouble coming up with scenarios where removing any guns from a home is perfectly reasonable and the descriptor “domestic disturbance” covers most of them. My problem is the permanence of the seizure without any due process or recompense.

As for Roberts, I don’t know if his Minimalist philosophy is a result of the outcry over Citizens United or whether he had that philosophy before and Citizens United was simply so clearly a case where Free Speech needed to be protected (after all, a natural right always implies the right to the tools needed to put it into practice). Either way, he clearly prefers not to rock the boat whenever he can, and sometimes goes to ludicrous extremes to do so. The grounds for upholding Obamacare with Congress’s taxing authority is an excellent example. He clearly didn’t want to overturn Obamacare, and equally clearly didn’t want to reverse the Court’s current recognition of a common sense application of the Commerce Clause, so instead he redefined Congress’s taxing authority—dangerously so, IMHO.

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