Constitutional Law, Guns / Firearms, Intellectual Property, Patents, SCOTUS, Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s Last Day: A Round-Up

Today was the last day of the Supreme Court term (and also the last day on the Court for Justice John Paul Stevens). The SCOTUS handed down four blockbuster opinions — on the same day that the confirmation hearings of Elena Kagan are starting. Coincidence?

In alphabetical order, the four cases are (click on each case name to access the ScotusWiki page):

  • Bilski v. Kappos (patent law): “Whether a ‘process’ must be tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or transform a particular article into a different state or thing (‘machine-or-transformation’ test), to be eligible for patenting….”

  • Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (First Amendment right of association): “Whether a public university law school may deny school funding and other benefits to a religious student organization because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious viewpoints.”
  • Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (separation of powers): “Whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is consistent with separation-of-powers principles — as the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is in turn overseen by the President — or contrary to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, as the PCAOB members are appointed by the SEC.”
  • McDonald v. City of Chicago (guns / Second Amendment incorporation): the applicability of the Second Amendment to state and local governments.

How were these cases resolved? Find out, after the jump.

Before we get to the cases, here are some other observations (derived largely from the excellent, contemporaneous coverage by Erin Miller and Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog, who liveblogged this morning’s session):

  • Interesting info from Tom Goldstein about SCOTUSblog traffic: “When Heller was decided, we had our biggest day ever, by far — 300,000 hits. Americans care about gun rights.”
  • From Erin Miller: “The Chief Justice opened the public session with a tribute to Martin Ginsburg.” Ginsburg — the husband of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and a top lawyer in his own right — passed away yesterday. (Justice Ginsburg was on the bench this morning and present for the tribute to her husband.)
  • In addition to handing down opinions, the Court granted certiorari to six cases this morning (including a challenge to a controversial Arizona law aimed at cracking down on the hiring of illegal immigrants as workers, as noted by the WSJ Law Blog).

UPDATE (11:20 AM): The session concluded with tributes by Chief Justice Roberts to Justice Stevens, whose last day was today, and Frank Wagner, who retired as the reporter of decisions after 22 years. At around 11:15 AM, the Term ended. Enjoy your summer vacation, Your Honors!

And now, the four big cases (click on each case name to access the Court’s full opinion):

  • Bilski v. Kappos: The main opinion is by Justice Kennedy, but things are a bit fragmented — AMK’s opinion is joined in its entirety by only three other justices (JGR / CT / SAA), and there are a bunch of concurrences in the judgment. The Court rules that “the specific invention in this case, a method of predicting business or economic cycles, was ineligible for a patent.” In terms of analysis, “the Court says the ‘machine or transformation’ test may be a useful and important investigative tool, but it is not the sole test for determining whether a ‘process invention’ is patentable.”

  • Christian Legal Society v. Martinez: The Court — divided 5-4, Ginsburg writing — rules that “an ‘all comers’ policy, at least as it exists at the Hastings College of Law, is constitutionally reasonable, taking into account all of the surrounding circumstances.” This seems like a somewhat lame resolution resolution and a bit of a punt, but it’s not shocking in light of what happened at oral argument.
  • Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board: The Court — by a vote of 5 to 4, with Roberts writing for the majority — rules that “the limitations on the power to remove the members of the [PCAOB] is unconstitutional under the separation of powers doctrine.” As for remedy, Sarbanes-Oxley isn’t getting struck down in its entirety — the PCAOB removal provisions are severable — and the board isn’t even getting shut down. Rather, challengers of the appointment scheme are entitled to a declaratory order “sufficient to ensure that the reporting requirements and auditing standards to which they are subject will be enforced only by a constitutional agency accountable to the Executive.”
  • McDonald v. City of Chicago: In another 5-4 vote (surprise surprise), the Court vindicates gun rights. Per Erin Miller: “The opinion [by Alito] concludes that the 14th Amendment does incorporate the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller to keep and bear arms in self defense.” There’s a split among the five justices in the majority re: the path of incorporation, Due Process (Alito) vs. Privileges or Immunities (Thomas), but as Goldstein notes, “the difference between the majority and Justice Thomas doesn’t affect the fact that the Second Amendment now applies to state and local regulation.” As for the fate of the specific Chicago gun ordinance at issue in McDonald, that’s left to the Seventh Circuit on remand.

As always, you can read more over at SCOTUSblog. We will probably also link to additional articles about today’s opinions, later today and/or in tomorrow’s Morning Docket.

Also, tune in this afternoon for our liveblogging of the Kagan confirmation hearings!

Live Blog: Orders and opinions | 6.28.10 [SCOTUSblog]
Breaking: High Court Extends Second Amendment to States [WSJ Law Blog]
Supreme Court of the United States [official website]

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