Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Very Busy Supreme Court...

The United States Supreme Court has been especially busy these last two last weeks, so much forewarned, perhaps, that when Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. made a rare appearance in the U.S. Supreme Court's ground-floor press room last Tuesday, welcoming back reporters after the court's long winter recess, he quipped the press corps that if anyone had scheduled a lunch, they might want to push it back.”

Law.com and the National Law Journal’s Tony Mauro and Marcia Coyle reported on that early proliferation of decisions and notifications last Tuesday. All having local import, we want to pass them on to our readers as well, and there was a lot of “catch up” to do.

Tuesday morning, Feb. 19th., Mauro reported that the Court had agreed to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a challenge to one of the pillars of the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, which has governed campaign regulation ever since. The Buckley ruling permitted government regulation of individual contributions to candidates, while giving candidates freer rein under the First Amendment to spend campaign money. The McCutcheon case targets contribution limits. Lyle Denniston over at ScotusBlog had more background on that case. The D.C. district court’s opinion is here.

Mauro’s article summarizes last Tuesday's four cases:
FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health Systems, No. 11–1160, in which the Federal Trade Commission “won a significant round in an antitrust suit filed against a Georgia-created hospital authority that had tried to invoke the immunity that states enjoy when they engage in anti-competitive actions. In the court’s unanimous ruling Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that states are immune only when a local government acts pursuant to a ‘clearly articulated and affirmatively expressed state policy to displace competition.’”

Florida v. Harris, No. 11–817, where “A unanimous court joined in striking down a Florida Supreme Court ruling that had undermined the utility of police searches using drug-sniffing dogs. In this decision Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the Florida ruling imposed an ‘inflexible checklist’ for determining the reliability of drug-detection dogs that made it difficult for police to meet the ‘probable cause’ test for arresting someone based on a canine search. Kagan substituted instead a ‘common-sense’ test for reliability, adding that ‘[a] sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test.’”

Bailey v. U.S., No. 11–770, in which “the court ruled against police, finding that a search warrant of a house does not allow police to search people who left the premises and were detained seven-tenths of a mile away. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for a 6-3 majority that the distant search poses ‘an additional level of intrusiveness’ and creates the ‘additional indignity of a compelled transfer back to the premises, giving all the appearances of an arrest.’”

In this case, Justice Breyer dissented, joined by justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr., saying they favored and would follow the Second Circuit Court of Appeals' approach in considering the case, which they found rested its holding upon well-supported District Court findings in “the police having stopped the [suspects] “at the earliest practicable location that was consistent with the safety and security of the officers and the public.”

Chafin v. Chafi, No. 11–1347, where the justices unanimously agreed that U.S. courts still have a role to play in overseas custody disputes, even if the child is abroad and chances are slim for him or her to be returned to the United States. Chief Justice Roberts announced the ruling which involved efforts by Jeffrey Chafin to force the return of his daughter, currently in Scotland with his ex-wife, Lynne Chafin, a Scottish citizen.

“Acting under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction,” Mauro related, “the mother obtained a federal district court order returning their daughter to her in Scotland. The father fought for custody of the child, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot because U.S. courts were powerless to grant relief. The high court reversed, finding that the possibility of the child being returned to the United States is not so remote that the case is rendered moot.”

In her first article, Marcia Coyle wrote that justices appeared skeptical of an Indiana farmer's claim that Monsanto Corporation lost its right to control the use of its herbicide-resistant soybean after the first sale of that self-replicating seed, Chief Justice Roberts asking in fact, "Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one, anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?"

The case, though, is Vernon Bowman v. Monsanto, and has potential implications for a wide range of industries, drawing amicus briefs from intellectual property lawyers, biotechnology companies, agricultural organizations, food-safety groups and others. Coyle's article relates that "Bowman purchased Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds for his winter planting, and then bought a second, cheaper, set of seeds from a grain elevator for a second planting, assuming that since Monsanto's seeds had deep market penetration, the second set from the grain elevator would be dominated by the herbicide-resistant seeds. He found that to be true after planting them and using the weed killer.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, affirming the district court, rejected Bowman's argument that the judicially created doctrine of patent exhaustion applies to cut off Monsanto's patent rights. The circuit court held that the progeny of Monsanto's soybean are new articles of manufacture, and patent law prohibits Bowman from making a copy of a patented article… Monsanto's theory is that once that seed is sold, even though title has passed to the farmer, and the farmer assumes all risks associated with farming, that they can still control the ownership of that seed, control how that seed is used."

Ms. Coyle's second article was posted on Feb. 20th., and reported on the Supreme Court's holding that its 2010 decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, No. 08–651, requiring criminal defense attorneys to inform noncitizen clients of the deportation risks of guilty pleas is not retroactive.

She related "Justice Elena Kagan, writing for a 7-2 majority in Chaidez v. U.S., said the court's 2010 decision in Padilla announced a 'new rule,' and under the court's retroactivity analysis, a person whose conviction was final before the 2010 decision cannot benefit from a new rule of criminal procedure on collateral review. The 'new rule' retroactivity analysis, she continued, "was announced by the court in its 1989 decision, Teague v. Lane, which held that a case announces a new rule if the result was not dictated by precedent existing at the time a defendant's conviction became final, and does not announce a new rule if it is simply an application of the principle that governed a prior decision to a different set of facts." Kevin Johnson at ScotusBlog had more on that case as well on February 21st.

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