Tag Archive for Supreme Court Cases

Prayer in Town Meetings Upheld & Other Recent Supreme Court Decisions

The United States Supreme Court in Washington D.C. - Photo by John S. Treu

Interesting cases this last week from the Supreme Court involved prayer in town hall meetings, mandatory restitution in a mortgage fraud case, and reversing a summary judgment in an excessive force case.

In Town of Greece v. Galloway the high court reversed the Second Circuit’s ruling that prayers offered at the beginning of town hall meetings violated the establishment clause because, even though they were open to all creeds, the prayers were predominantly offered by individuals of christian faiths incident to the fact that nearly all of the Congregations local to the town were christian.[1] Justice Kennedy, delivered the 5-4 opinion of the court finding that the practice did not violate the establishment clause based on Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783, thereby upholding the long history of legislative prayer as a non-coercive practice that is deeply rooted in the tradition and heritage of the U.S. legislative process.

The Court rejected the respondent’s position that only a generic or non-sectarian prayer to an unspecified God could be offered as such a policy would “force legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech…” Justice Kagan delivered a dissent joined by Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor finding it persuasive that the prayers were all christian. Apparently ignorant of the fact that there are tens of thousands of different christian religions and several different denominations offered prayers for the Town of Greece, Kagan ironically writes about a lack of religious diversity by deftly painting all christian faiths with the same brush and even making several references to these many separate religions as the same single religion and faith.

In Robers v. United States the Court provided interpretation for the definition of property pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996.[2] The decision affected the proper calculation for restitution that Benjamin Robers was ordered to pay incident to his conviction for submitting fraudulent mortgage applications.

In Tolan v. Cotton, a suit against a police officer for excessive force in a shooting incident that was dismissed on summary judgement, the Court held that a reading of the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party precluded summary judgment based on the officer’s qualified immunity.[3]

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U. S. ____ (2014)
  2.  Robers v. United States, 572 U. S. ____ (2014); Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996, 18 U. S. C. §§3663A–3664
  3.  Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U. S. ____ (2014)

This Week’s Roundup of Supreme Court Decisions

The United States Supreme Court in Washington D.C. - Photo by John S. Treu

Washington D.C. – Heroin as a basis for penalty enhancements in a drug-related death, timekeeping for steel workers, and who bears the burden of proof in a declaratory judgment proceeding for a patent were a few of the topics addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court this last week.[1] The following is a summary of the holdings in each case:

January 23, 2014

In Medtronic, Inc. v. Mirowski Family Ventures, LLC,[2] the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the federal circuit court by ruling unanimously that a patent holder bears the burden of proving infringement, even in lawsuits brought by a licensee seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement against the patent holder.

January 27, 2014

In Burrage v. United States,[3] the U.S. Supreme Court Held that a defendant cannot be held liable for penalty enhancement under 21 U.S.C. Sec. 841(b)(1)(C) based on drug distribution unless such drug is the but-for cause of the victim’s death.  The evidence presented at trial indicated that the death may have occurred even without the use of heroin and the trial judge ruled that the Government only had to prove that the heroin was a contributing cause of death.  The judgment was unanimous and Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for the majority, subject to minor concurrences by Justices Alito, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor.

In Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp.,[4] the U.S. Supreme Court held that time spent by steel workers putting on protective gear was not compensable under 29 U.S.C. Sec. 203(o) absent a collective bargaining agreement providing for such compensation. Justice Scalia delivered a unanimous opinion of the court, except as to fn. 7 which was not joined by Justice Sotomayor.

In Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper,[5] the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Aviation and Transportation Security Act immunity pursuant to 49 U.S.C. Sec. 44941(a) for airline employees reporting suspicious activity may not be denied to materially true statements as the immunity is patterned after the actual malice standards of New York Times Co. V. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, which requires material falsity. Having found that ATSA immunity applies, the Court held against the Pilot’s defamation suit.