2004 News Archive
This page is an archive of articles presented on the Current News page of the USConstitution.net site. On this page are articles that were posted in 2004.
12/13/04 Edwards gets one electoral vote - for President
Minnesota officials were not quite sure what to do when John Edwards's name appeared on an electoral ballot for President - but there was not much to be done except record the vote and continue through the process. Edwards got all ten of Minnesota's electoral votes for Vice President, leading one elector to say that it was probably just a mistake on the part of one of the other electors. No electoral came forward to claim responsibility for the vote, and since Minnesota electors vote in secret, no one will ever likely know the reason why Edwards got the single vote.
12/13/04 Electoral vote delay sought
Several groups, including one lead by Rev. Jesse Jackson, has asked Ohio courts to delay today's scheduled casting of electoral votes in Ohio, citing problems with voting machines and counts that if taken into consideration could, they argue, turn the election on its head and give the state's electoral votes to John Kerry. Today is the date set by law for the electors to cast their votes in their respective states. The Kerry campaign did not indicate support for the suits to delay the electoral vote, but last week it did issue a statement supporting a full count of all votes in general.
12/07/04 1000th combat death in Iraq
An unnamed soldier killed while on patrol in Baghdad today was officially listed as the 1000th combat death in Iraq since the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces. 1275 personnel have died of all causes in Iraq since the invasion.
12/06/04 Sex tape firing not a violation of Constitutional rights
John Roe, legal pseudonym for a San Diego police office, was fired from his job with the city of San Diego when it was revealed that he was selling video tapes of himself performing sexual acts on eBay. He also sold his personal items, such as underwear and police department paraphernalia. A sergeant on the force discovered the police-related items and a search lead him to the tapes. After an investigation, the city's force fired Roe for conduct unbecoming an officer and other charges. Roe sued, saying that the city violated his 1st Amendment right to free speech. A District Court had ruled in favor of the city, but an Appeals Court ruled for Roe, saying that the tapes were unrelated to his job and were created while off-duty. The Supreme Court today disagreed with the Appeals Court, noting that Roe himself took great pains to link his tapes with the police force. The Court ruled per curiam, meaning that the individual votes of the justices on the matter are not revealed.
11/15/04 Supreme Court overturns death sentence
Further refining the rules for the imposition of the death penalty, the Supreme Court today overturned a Texas death sentence. In the case of LaRoyce Lathair Smith, the Court ruled 7-2 that the judge in Smith's case should have allowed Smith to present additional evidence in the penalty phase of his trial. Building on an earlier ruling, the Court ruled that the jury might have looked at Smith's low IQ scores and his history of attendance in special education classes as mitigating circumstances. The judge did not allow Smith to present these facts to the jury. Justices Thomas and Scalia dissented in the ruling. Chief Justice Rehnquist, who had joined Thomas and Scalia in dissent in an earlier, similar case, joined the majority in the Smith case - no explanation was given.
11/15/04 Supreme Court refuses to get involved in custody dispute
The Supreme Court today refused to get involved in a custody dispute between a birth mother and adoptive parents, each of whom has had a court rule in their favor. The Court was asked to rule in the case of a 1-year-old identified as Alex. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the adoptive parents, identified only as GAL and KL, could keep custody of Alex, ruling that CMC, the birth mother was no entitled to custody even though she says she changed her mind. A Missouri court has ruled in favor of CMC.
11/09/04 Drunk driving is not grounds for deportation, Supreme Court says
The Supreme Court today ruled unanimously in favor of Josue Leocal, a Haitian man who is a permanent resident of the U.S. Leocal had been convicted of drunk driving in Florida in 2000. The 11th Circuit Court had ruled that the conviction qualified as a crime of violence under federal rules, and that Leocal could therefore by deported back to his country of origin. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that a felony offense must require intent to harm, not just negligence. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist said, "Drunk driving is a nationwide problem, as evidenced by the efforts of legislatures to prohibit such conduct and impose appropriate remedies. But this fact does not warrant our shoe-horning it into statutory sections where it does not fit."
11/03/04 Kerry concedes
News reports are stating that Democrat John Kerry called President George Bush to concede the election to Bush at around noontime today. Though the ballot counting in Ohio is unfinished, the margin of Bush's victory in that state seemed to be insurmountable even if Kerry got all of the as-yet uncounted provisional and absentee ballots.
11/03/04 Election too close to call; Republicans gain in Congress
While the presidential race is still too close to call this morning, Republicans can claim victory in the race for seats in the House and the Senate. With only Ohio, Iowa, and New Mexico officially not yet settled, President George Bush has a 254 to 252 electoral vote lead over rival John Kerry. Bush, however, maintains popular vote leads in all three states. A win in Ohio, with 20 electoral votes, would give either man the victory. In the Senate, Republicans are poised to take a larger lead, with at least 53 of the 100 seats. In the House, Republicans will also increase their majority, with at least 228 of 435 seats.
10/25/04 Rehnquist hospitalized for thyroid cancer
Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, it was reported today, was hospitalized for the treatment of thyroid cancer. The Court announced that the Chief Justice planned to be back to work in time to hear cases next week. Rehnquist, at 80, is the second oldest chief justice after Roger Taney who was Chief until his death at 87. Rehnquist's hospitalization raised the issue of Supreme Court appointments on the presidential campaign trail.
10/25/04 Breyer says he is unsure about Bush/Gore decision
Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton, said today that he is unsure how he would have voted in the 2000 Bush/Gore case had the names been reversed. He says he thinks that his dissenting vote in the case was the result of impartial deliberation, but he is unsure. "But," he said, "I'll never know for sure - because people are great self-kidders - if I reached the truthful answer."
10/13/04 Court hears juvenile death penalty cases
Nineteen states allow the execution of 16- and 17-year-old murderers, a fact the Supreme Court is grappling with as it hears cases calling the constitutionality of the juvenile death penalty into question. More than 70 juvenile murderers are on death row, and the Court is asking if the sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The Court has already barred the death penalty for those under 16 and the mentally retarded. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said that medical research has shown that juveniles have not fully developed the ability to reason or control impulse, and as such should not be subject to the death penalty. The outcome is thought to hinge on the decisions of Justices O'Connor and Kennedy, who have voted against the death penalty in prior cases.
10/12/04 Supreme Court to hear key cases in religion, immigration
The Supreme Court has announced that it has granted certiorari in several cases to be heard in the upcoming term. A grant means that the Court will hear and rule on the case. In a surprise move, the justices decided to step into a fray, to rule on the constitutionality of displays of the Ten Commandments on public property. In one Texas case, a man brought suit against a town that keeps a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capital. In another case, the Commandments were barred from being displayed in Kentucky courthouses. The Court also said that it would hear cases concerning immigration, including one that dates back to the 1980 Mariel Cuban boat lift.
10/04/04 Moore case dead in the water
Embattled Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore's suit brought to force his return to the bench was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court today. Moore, best known for his refusal to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments which he had installed in the Alabama judicial building in 2001, was seeking to have himself restored to his post. Moore was removed from the bench by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which found Moore in violation of a federal judge's order to remove the monument.
10/04/04 Court's refusal to hear case may help consumers
The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in a case that has ruled that Visa and Mastercard cannot refuse to service banks that offer credit cards from other issuing companies. Banks that issue cards from Visa and Mastercard are barred from issuing cards from companies like American Express and Discover; a Court of Appeals ruling found the restriction to be anti-competitive and illegal. The administration supported the ruling, saying that it would increase competition and could benefit consumers. Visa and Mastercard appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which rejected the appeal. MBNA immediately announced that it would begin issuing American Express cards.
09/30/04 Justices to be identified
In a reversal of a long-standing tradition, transcripts of oral arguments heard by the Supreme Court will have questioning justices identified by name. For decades, questions and comments from the bench have been identified with only the word "Question." The rule was seen as superfluous since oral arguments are open to the public and the justices were often identified by reporters or even in the replies to the questions.
09/23/04 House votes to restrict jurisdiction of Pledge cases
The House today voted 247-173 to remove the jurisdiction of federal courts from any case that disputed the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. The bill, denoted HR2028, was sent to the Senate for action by that body.
09/13/04 Assault weapons ban expires
Despite support from the Bush Administration and approval by the Senate, the 10-year-old assault weapons ban sunsetted today when the House leadership refused to bring renewal legislation to a vote. The law, passed in the wake of several shooting sprees including one in Atlanta where eight were killed and six wounded, was lauded by the gun control lobby and derided by the gun rights lobby. The law specifically banned the sale of 19 weapons and the sale of ammunition clips that held 10 rounds or more. Surveys by varying groups over the decade were inconclusive about whether the law was effective, and federal law banned further investigation by federal authorities. Grandfather provisions allowed existing copies of banned items to remain in circulation.
09/09/04 Presidential campaign heats up
The war of words between the Republican Bush campaign and the Democratic Kerry campaign has been heating up lately, with both campaigns trading accusations of past problems with the candidates' military service. Kerry has come under fire from groups that contest his qualifications for some of the medals he won in Vietnam - the groups contend the reports the medals were awarded for were exaggerated or fabricated; others are angry with Kerry for his post-rotational public opposition to the war. Bush has always had some mystery swirling around his Vietnam-era attachment to an Air National Guard unit, with some records of his reporting for duty being missing. A newly released document notes that he was taken off the active flight status list for failure to appear for required physical exams.
09/03/04 Bush accepts nomination
President George Bush officially accepted the Republican Party's nomination for the presidential campaign in a speech at the party's convention in New York City today.
08/23/04 Supreme Court will not reopen Pledge case
The Supreme Court today refused to reopen the Elk Grove v Newdow case, in which father Michael Newdow sued his daughter's school district over the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance because of its use of the phrase "under God." The Court, in June, had dismissed the case because Newdow did not have actual custody of his daughter, which meant he had a lack of standing to bring the suit. Newdow asked the Court to reconsider its ruling; the Court was unwavering, however, and refused to reopen the case.
07/30/04 Kerry accepts nomination
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry officially accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidential campaign in a speech at the party's convention in Boston today.
07/14/04 Amendment banning gay marriage dies in Senate
Republicans looking to embarrass presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry introduced a bill to create a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage nationwide. When it became clear that the bill would fail to get a simple majority in the Senate, let alone the required two-thirds majority, the Republican leadership tried to amend the bill to soften its language, making it more palatable to moderate Republicans. But Democrats used a procedural ploy to prevent the bill's amendment, virtually guaranteeing its legislative death. To end debate on the bill, 60 votes for cloture are required, and those 60 votes were not to be found. Key Republican moderate John McCain called the bill un-Republican and unnecessary.
07/06/04 Presumptive nominee picks running mate
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry tapped a Senate colleagues and former rival to fill out his ticket, picking John Edwards to be his Vice President. Kerry called Edwards "a man who understands and defends the values of America."
06/29/04 Supreme Court bars enforcement of Internet porn law
Ruling that the Child Online Protection Act may be unconstitutional, a divided Supreme Court today ruled that COPA cannot be enforced. Instead, it sent the case back to lower courts for consideration. This is the second time the Court has ruled on a law like COPA, and the second time it has failed to rule on it directly (the first being the Communications Decency Act). COPA allows the government to prosecute violators with fines and jail time. Arguments against the law noted that blocking and filtering software would be more effective than fines and jail terms, and allow free exchange of ideas between adults while still limiting access for children. Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsberg, Souter, and Stevens held the majority, with Kennedy writing the majority opinion in the case.
06/28/04 Control of Iraq handed over to Iraqis early
U.S. Administrator Paul Bremmer handed over official control of the nation of Iraq to a provisional authority two days early today. The move was designed to avoid any trouble with terrorists or insurgents who might have planned to disrupt the hand-over which had been scheduled for June 30. Bremmer, who has run the country for the United States for over a year, read an official statement which he then handed to Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. With the transfer of power, the Iraqi provisional authority ceased to exist and Iraq resumed its full sovereignty. However, U.S. troops will remain in the country for the foreseeable future, and elections will not be held until the beginning of 2005. After Bremmer's departure, the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, arrived in Baghdad to officially open the new U.S. embassy.
06/28/04 Mirana cases decided
The Supreme Court today ruled on two cases related to its landmark Miranda decision. In the first, decided 5-4, the Court said that a standard practice of holding two interrogations with an express purpose of sidestepping Miranda was unconstitutional. In the so-called two-step interrogation process, the police would question a suspect prior to providing the Miranda warning. If a confession was proffered, the suspect would be Mirandized and then was pressured to repeat his or her prior statements. The Court said while this procedure is unconstitutional, the police can Mirandize post-confession as long as the two-step interrogation is not a part of standard procedure. In a second case, the Court rejected an argument that because someone refuses to be Mirandized that any evidence then gathered is tainted. In the case of Samuel Putane, who refused to be Mirandized and then showed police where his gun was in his home, Putane tried to be freed from a possession charge because his Miranda warning had not been fully offered. The Court ruled in the police's favor, saying that the evidence was not purely the result of statements uttered without Miranda.
06/26/04 Supreme Court rules on war on terror detainees
The Supreme Court today ruled that the President cannot act with impunity when detaining suspects in the war on terror. In one case, the Court ruled that the detainees held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba must have access to federal courts in order to challenge their detention. In a 6-3 vote, the Court ruled that al Qaeda and Taliban suspects at the naval base in Cuba can have their habeas corpus cases heard in U.S. courts. In a second ruling, decided 5-4, the Court said that Yaser Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan, could be held by the government. However, in an 8-1 ruling, the Court said that Hamdi must be given a fair hearing in a court of law to rebut the government's charges against him. The case of terrorism suspect Jose Padilla was also decided by court, but it said that Padilla's case had been heard in the wrong court. Because he is detained in a naval prison in South Carolina, his case must be heard there, and should name the warden of the prison as a party to the case.
06/25/04 Judges cannot add time to sentences, Court says
Judges cannot add prison time to standard sentencing guidelines, the Supreme Court ruled today. If sentencing guidelines are in place, judges must follow them explicitly. The case concerned Ralph Howard Blakely, who kidnaped a woman and transported her over state lines in a coffin-like box in the back of his truck. Sentencing guidelines had only allowed a maximum four year sentence, but the judge in the case found that Blakely acted with deliberate cruelty and added three years to the maximum. The Court, split 5-4, said that such judicial decisions are not permissible. The concurring justices were an odd mix of traditional liberals and conservatives, with Justices Stevens, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsberg agreeing with Scalia's opinion.
06/24/04 Cheney's task force papers can remain secret - for now
The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, today said that the documents from Vice President Richard Cheney's energy task force do not have to be made public, based on the arguments in the case. The Court was not so sure, though, that the papers could remain secret under the terms of a federal open government law that had not been a part of the suit before it. The Court sent the case back to lower courts to consider the details under that law. The case had met some notoriety because of the personal relationship between Cheney and Justice Antonin Scalia. Calls for Scalia to recuse himself went ignored.
06/21/04 Court says that names cannot be withheld from police
You do not have a constitutional right to withhold your name from police, according to a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court. The today ruled in the case of Nevada's Larry Hiibel, who refused to identify himself to a police officer. Hiibel and his daughter had been engaged in a heated road-side argument when police were summoned by a passing motorist. When Hiibel refused to identify himself or to show ID, the officer arrested him.
06/14/04 Pledge case dismissed
The Supreme Court today, in an 8-0 vote, ruled that Michael Newdow, who sued to have "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, had no standing to originally bring suit, negating all lower court rulings in his favor. Newdow, who had used on the behalf of his elementary school-age daughter, does not have physical custody of her; her mother, who does have custody, has publicly stated she has no objection to the Pledge. With the dismissal of the case, the status quo returns - the 9th Circuit Court had ruled in favor of Newdow for the states in its jurisdiction, though the decision had been stayed.
06/07/04 Court upholds NAFTA trucking provision
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court today ruled that Mexican shipping trucks must be allowed onto U.S. roadways, and no environmental impact study is required. Under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, trucks from Mexico must be allowed to use U.S. roads unhindered. Labor and environmental groups opposed the provision, however, worried that the trucks would not be subject to the same emissions and labor standards as U.S. trucking. The groups were requesting an impact study be done, which would have delayed the expansion even further. The Court ruled that there is nothing in U.S. law that requires such a study, and said that the administration can allow access at any time.
06/07/04 Nazi-era art confiscation suit allowed to go forward
The Supreme Court today ruled that a civil suit brought in U.S. court by a U.S. citizen against a foreign country can precede. 88-year-old Maria Altmann sued Austria for the return of $150 million worth of paintings she alleges were stolen from her family by the Nazis. The Bush administration had wanted such disputes to be settled diplomatically, but the Court ruled, 6-3, that the suit could be filed in federal court in the U.S. The victory for war-time victims may be hollow, as forcing a foreign nation to abide by U.S. court rulings, assuming Altmann wins her suit, could be very difficult. Previous war-era suits have not ended with victory for individuals, such as a recent suit against Japan brought by "comfort women" who were used as sex slaves by the Japanese military.
06/05/04 Reagan dies at 93
President Ronald Reagan, President from 1981 to 1989, died today at his home in Los Angeles. He died of pneumonia, a complication of Alzheimer's disease, from which he had suffered for the past decade.
06/01/04 Supreme Court sides with police in Miranda case
In the second of several cases touching on the Miranda warning this session, the Supreme Court today narrowly sided with the police. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that because Michael Alvarado was not under arrest and was free to leave at any time, he did not have to be Mirandized, even though his interrogation took place inside a police station. Alvarado was being held under suspicion of a role in a murder. He was later convicted. Alvarado was 17 at the time. Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissent, wrote that a reasonable person would not have felt free to leave the questioning at any time. The Court decision noted that age was not a factor in its decision.
05/24/04 Parked cars are fair game for warrantless searches
The Supreme Court today ruled that a parked car can be searched without a warrant if the driver or a passenger is arrested near the car. The Court had already said that when arresting someone in a car, such a search was allowed - the new ruling allows the search even when the arrest is made to a passenger already outside of the car. The Court cited safety concerns as the primary reason for allowing the search. The Court ruled on the case of Thornton v United States 7-2, with Justices Stevens and Souter dissenting.
05/17/04 Major disabled rights ruling handed down
States are not exempt from federal rules set down in the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court said in a 5-4 ruling today. In the case, George Lane and several other disabled Tennessee residents were suing the state to make public buildings accessible to wheelchairs and other enabling equipment. Lane had a reckless driving case heard in front of a judge, but the courthouse had no handicapped access. On one court date, Lane had to drag himself up the courthouse steps to appear. On another, he informed the judge of his situation, but the judge would not make accommodations for him. The ADA requires the government and private companies to make accommodations, but Tennessee argued that under the 11th Amendment, such accommodations could not be required of the states. The majority opinion noted that past attempts to force accommodation have failed to relieve "a pattern of unequal treatment in the administration of a wide range of public services, programs, and activities."
05/14/04 Supreme Court refuses to interfere with gay marriage
The Supreme Court today refused to hear an emergency appeal of a federal case that sought to put the brakes on same-sex marriages, scheduled to start in Massachusetts on May 17. A stay of the ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had been sought by groups opposed to gay marriage, but a federal judge had earlier decided not to interfere. The Supreme Court also declined to issue a stay on appeal. The Massachusetts court decided in November that the state constitution did not permit restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples only, and ruled that on May 17, 2004, the state must start to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
05/03/04 Court dismisses jury case for lack of jurisdiction
In a case widely seen to give the Supreme Court a chance to clarify rules concerning racial bias in jury selection, the Court instead ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the case. Several issues in the case of Jay Shawn Johnson had not been resolved by lower courts, but in a short opinion, the Court ruled that since the other issues are still pending, the Court, in fact, did not have jurisdiction. The Court rebuked counsel for both the state and for Johnson, saying that the premature appeal had cost precious resources.
04/27/04 Energy Task Force case hits Supreme Court
The Supreme Court today released audio tapes of the oral arguments in a case that pits the White House against the unlikely team of Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club. At issue is documents from Vice President Cheney's energy task force, and whether the White House has to release lists of people consulted by the task force. The documents, which were requested as part of the discovery process, are being withheld by the White House. The case is unusual because of the stage at which the case is before the court - in the discovery phase, and not as a part of any appeal of a ruling. The Court has several options - it could find that the case is premature, forcing the White House to release the documents per lower court rulings; it could find that the lower court is right (which would have the same effect); or it could find that the lower court is wrong, denying the lists to the groups. The Justices seemed sympathetic to the White House's arguments, throwing pundits into some disarray in their predictions. A ruling on the case is expected before July.
04/20/04 Court hears first Guantanamo case
The Supreme Court heard the first in a series of three cases dealing with the War on Terror today, deeming the proceedings so important as to warrant audio copies of the arguments released the same day - only the third time such a release has ever happened. In the case of Rasul v Bush, and other related cases, the government argued that the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba is not a part of the United States and people interred there do not fall under U.S. courts. Lawyers for several detainees argued that the government was attempting to establish an enclave where no law existed, and that such a power, unchecked, was dangerous. Questioning from the justices appeared to fall on pre-determined liberal versus conservative lines, though the leanings of Justices Kennedy and O'Connor were unclear. A decision is expected in June.
04/13/04 Scalia "learns his lesson"
Justice Antonin Scalia apologized today for the actions of a U.S. Marshall last week - the marshal ordered a pair of reporters to erase their recordings of a speech about the Constitution Scalia was giving in an auditorium. Scalia had asked that an earlier speech not be recorded, but had not requested the same for the later speech. The marshal was apparently unaware of the change, however. In letters to the reporters whose recordings were erased, Scalia vowed that in the future, he will make it clear that the recordings of print journalists were permitted - Scalia normally bars video recording of his appearances.
04/12/04 No changes to Court foreseen
Despite speculation about the future membership of some of the justices of the Supreme Court, no vacancies are now being anticipated. All of the justices are over 60 years old, and John Paul Stevens is the eldest at 84. Justice O'Connor is frequently mentioned as a possible drop-out, as is Chief Justice Rehnquist. In election years, however, justices rarely leave the bench, the thinking being that the confirmation hearings for any replacement would become political free- for-alls.
03/29/04 Slave descendants sue Lloyds
Descendants of slaves are suing Lloyds of London, a leading insurer, because of the underwriting of slave ships. The claim is that by underwriting the ships, Lloyds helped slave descendants lose their cultural identity. Said one of the claimants, "Today I suffer from the injury of not knowing who I am — having no nationality or ethnic group as a result of acts committed by these parties." Spokesmen for Lloyds noted that previous law suits of this type had all been dismissed with prejudice.
03/25/04 "Under God" case heard by Court
Atheist Michael Newdow faced a skeptical Supreme Court today, while arguing against the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow argued that the use of the phrase amounts to an unconstitutional entanglement of religion with government, especially when the Pledge is said in schools by children, his daughter being one of those children. Some of the Justices were skeptical that the Pledge was used as a prayer, with Chief Justice Rehnquist noting that the Pledge "doesn't sound anything like a prayer." Justice Souter went so far as to say that the use of the phrase "is so tepid, so diluted, so far from a compulsory prayer that it should in effect be beneath the constitutional radar." Newdow was insistent, however: "To say this is not religious is somewhat bizarre," Newdow said. "When I see the flag and think of the Pledge of Allegiance, it's like I'm getting slapped in the face every time." A decision is expected in June.
03/22/04 Court hears arguments in identification case
Nevada's Larry Hiibel refused to identify himself to police on May 11, 2000, and he was arrested because of that, charged with resisting arrest. Hiibel was found on a roadside, talking with his daughter. A passing motorist had seen the pair arguing and called in a possible domestic dispute. When police arrived, Hiibel was not combative, but refused to produce ID despite repeated requests. Hiibel was arrested for failing to produce ID and fined $250. The Supreme Court has already ruled, in 1968, that so-called Terry stops are permissible. In a Terry stop, police may briefly detain someone to ascertain certain information. The question before the Court is whether during a Terry stop if a person can be required to answer questions. Nevada argued that identifying yourself to police is a neutral act; Hiibel argued that the right to remain silent should include the right to remain unidentified.
03/18/04 Scalia refuses to recuse himself
In an official 21-page statement, Justice Antonin Scalia officially refused to recuse himself from an upcoming case against Vice President Richard Cheney. "Since I do not believe my impartiality can reasonably be questioned, I do not think it would be proper for me to recuse," Scalia wrote. Scalia accompanied Cheney on a hunting trip to Louisiana in January 2004.
03/08/04 Judges don't need to give legal advice
The Supreme Court today ruled that while it is a right to have an attorney present during legal proceedings, it is not necessary for a judge to explain the disadvantages of not having one present. In Iowa v Tovar, Felipe Tovar argued that the judge in his drunken driving case should have told him that a lawyer could have gotten him a better deal with the prosecutor than he had negotiated on his own. A unanimous Court ruled that there is no such requirement, nor could one be construed from its prior rulings. The Iowa Supreme Court had ruled otherwise. The Supreme Court did say that individual states were free to adopt rules requiring such explanations from the judge.
02/29/04 Marines sent to Haiti
President Bush ordered a small contingent of Marines into Haiti in the wake of that nation's president's resignation and departure from the strife-stricken country. Jean Bertand Aristide departed Sunday for the Central African Republic. After the Marines landed, the UN Security Council voted to send a multi-national peace-keeping force to Haiti for up to three months. Several hundred U.S. troops are expected to take part in the UN force, with other troops from Canada and France already in country or arriving shortly. Aristide, who was Haiti's first democratically elected leader, had been deposed once before and had been returned to power in 1994. His term was set to end in 2006, but rebel forces rose up against what the White House called a "failure to adhere to democratic principles."
02/25/04 Scholarships for divinity training can be denied
Even when scholarship funds are available for any other field of study, a state is right in denying the funds to theology students, the Supreme Court said in a 7-2 ruling today. "Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor," Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote for the court. "Indeed, majoring in devotional theology is akin to a religious calling as well as an academic pursuit." The ruling is a departure from several recent rulings that had narrowed the church/state gap. The case is Locke v Davey. Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented.
02/24/04 Supreme Court limits immunity for law enforcement officers
The Supreme Court today held that if a law enforcement officer obtains a search warrant that is plainly invalid, he is not covered by the doctrine of qualified immunity, and can be sued. In the case of Groh v Ramirez, Jeff Groh, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, obtained a search warrant to search the home of Joseph Ramirez for illegal weapons. In the application for the warrant, specific items to be search for were listed. The warrant itself, however, was much less specific - with the application attached to the warrant, it was signed by a magistrate. Groh led a team to the Ramirez ranch, which found nothing of interest. A copy of the warrant, but not the application, was left with Ramirez. Ramirez sued under a 4th Amendment claim. Lower courts all held that the warrant was sufficient in light of the application, but the Supreme Court, in its 5-4 decision, ruled that the warrant itself must satisfy the requirements of the 4th Amendment. The Court also ruled that Groh, in his capacity as an agent, should have known that the warrant was defective, and as such, is not subject to qualified immunity.
02/24/04 Bush supports marriage amendment
President Bush announced today that he supports a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and he asked Congress to pass an amendment on to the states for ratification to that end. "The amendment should fully protect marriage while leaving state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage," Bush said. Vermont has instituted civil union for gay couples; the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that its state must allow gay marriage in May; and in California, the mayor of San Francisco, in an act of civil disobedience, has told his city to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in violation of state law.
02/23/04 Evidence destroyed in good faith not unconstitutional
In an unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court today ruled that evidence destroyed as part of normal police procedures does not constitute a denial of due process. In September 1988, Chicago police seized a bag of white powder from Gregory Fisher. Four tests revealed and confirmed that the bag contained cocaine, for which Fisher was then prosecuted. Fisher disappeared while released on bond, and remained a fugitive for 10 years. In the meantime, the cocaine had been destroyed as part of normal procedures. Fisher filed a motion to have the evidence presented, which could not be fulfilled. Fisher was convicted without the evidence and appealed his conviction. The Appellate Court reversed the conviction, and the Supreme Court heard the case. The Supreme Court ruled that no further testing of the evidence would have revealed anything other than was already established, and its destruction and subsequent inability to produce the evidence would not have changed the test results. In this narrow case, the inability of the state to produce the evidence was not an unconstitutional infringement.
02/23/04 Blanket primaries rejected by Supreme Court
Washington is the last hold-out to use a primary election system known as the blanket primary. In such a primary, voters can choose any candidate from any party, a system which the Supreme Court ruled, in 2000, violates the parties' right to choose their own candidates. The state, which argued that its application of the blanket primary was different from that rejected in 2000, appealed an appeals court ruling to the Supreme Court - the Court rejected the appeal, ending Washington's quest to hold onto its system. The state, which said is wanted to encourage voters by giving them a wider range of candidates, is now looking to other states' systems in selecting a new system. The case was Reed v. Democratic Party of Washington State.
02/22/04 Nader announces run
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader announced today his intention to run for President in the 2004 election as an independent. Democrats had been awaiting Nader's decision as they strategize for the 2004 contest. Nader ran as the Green candidate in 2000. Many Democrats blame Nader for taking votes away from the Gore campaign in key states, a charge Nader rejects as anti-democratic.
02/05/04 Cheney/Scalia link examined
Should a Supreme Court Justice recuse himself from a case involving the Vice President of the Unites States, if the Justice and the VP have a personal friendship? This is the question facing Justice Antonin Scalia after word leaked out in January that he accompanied VP Cheney on a hunting trip to Louisiana early in 2004. Scalia and several others were flown to Louisiana aboard Air Force 2 where they hunted and socialized for two to four days. Though few think the trip itself is a problem, many, Democrats in particular, are balking at Scalia sitting in on a case soon to come before the Supreme Court involving Cheney's energy policy group, which is embroiled in a fight over public release of minutes and notes. Scalia has refused to recuse himself from the case, which will be argued in April.
01/26/04 Supreme Court upholds Miranda-related case
A unanimous Supreme Court today ruled that incriminating statements provided to police before he was Mirandized were inadmissible even after the suspect reiterated the statements following a proper Miranda warning. John Fellers was confronted by police in his home after a grand jury indicted him on drug trafficking charges. Before he was Mirandized, Fellers made several incriminating statements and was arrested. He was Mirandized in the jailhouse and repeated his statements. He later claimed the statements should be stricken because he made them before he was Mirandized and before he'd had a chance to talk to his lawyer. The case further cements the need for police to Mirandize suspects prior to any questioning. The case is Fellers v United States.
01/20/04 Bush gives State of the Union address
Fulfilling one of his constitutional duties to "from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union," President George Bush today addressed a joint session of Congress, saying "the state of our union is confident and strong." Bush focused on the war on terror, the economy, and social issues. Bush honored American service men and women and vowed to keep working to keep America safe and free.
01/19/04 2004 election season kicks off
The Iowa caucuses kicked off the 2004 election season today, with Iowa Democrats choosing Massachusetts Senator John Kerry as their front-runner. North Carolina Senator John Edwards came in second with 32 percent of the vote against Kerry's 38 percent. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean garnered 18 percent, and Missouri Representative Richard Gephardt trailed with 11 percent. Iowa Republicans did not hold caucuses, as President George Bush is unopposed. The first primary, in New Hampshire, follows next week.
01/14/04 Supreme Court tells states to honor agreements
When a federal court rules that a state must live up to its part of a court-approved bargain, the court is not violating the 11th Amendment. That according to the Supreme Court as it ruled that states may not back out of so-called "consent decrees" at will. The case, Frew v Hawkins, was agreed to unanimously by the Court. It involved a consent decree entered into by Texas which promised to improve childhood health care services for poor children.
01/13/04 Informational roadblocks OK'ed
The Supreme Court ruled today that police roadblocks, when setup to ask for or distribute information, are permissible. The decision overturns an Illinois Supreme Court decision that ruled that a 1997 roadblock set up to distribute information about a hit and run had been an unconstitutional violation of the rights of the drivers. In Illinois v Lidster, one driver nearly hit an officer who had been asking about the hit and run. When officers approached the driver, they detected alcohol on his breath and he was taken into custody for drunk driving. Lidster challenged the arrest on the grounds that the roadblock was unconstitutional. The decision was unanimous in part, with three justices joining in an in-part dissent.
01/12/04 Court rejects terrorism secrecy case
In what seems like a rare win for the government in the Supreme Court, the justices refused to hear a case that asked whether information about people rounded up following 9/11 could be kept secret. The case, Center for National Security Studies v Department of Justice, was brought by the Center to force release of names and other information about those detained. Several news outlets had filed briefs in favor of the Center's case. Most of the people detained were subsequently released - the others were deported. The government argued that releasing the information would provide a window into their investigative techniques, in effect helping terrorists to hide better in the future. The case was brought following a report by the Department's inspector general that found "significant problems" with the detentions.
01/09/04 Supreme Court to hear Hamdi case
Over the objections of the Bush White House, the Supreme Court today agreed to hear another in a long line of War-on-Terror-related cases. This time, the Court agreed to hear the case of Yaser Hamdi. Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan, has been held incommunicado and without charges for two years. Hamdi, born in Louisiana, was categorized as an enemy combatant ineligible for normal protections. The White House had asked the Court to wait on its review of the case until after a similar case concerning Jose Padilla had been heard. A lower court had ruled that Padilla could not be held as an enemy combatant while another court had ruled that Hamdi could be. Hamdi, who has had no contact with a lawyer, had his case brought by his father. Another related case to be heard by the Court concerns the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.