Supreme Court

As we work on coverage of today’s opinions as I write this, let’s take a quick look back. In advance of this morning’s Supreme Court decisions, there were many thoughtful pieces on how the Court would rule. And most of those thoughtful pieces boasted equally serious and thoughtful headlines.

This was not one of them.

Indeed, this one was so bad, and yet so representative of the state of modern journalism, that it crossed the line into the dumbest headline ever….

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* “They aren’t required to hear it, but this is the major social issue of the day.” The Supreme Court will likely hear a gay marriage case soon, and it’ll obviously be a vehement 5-4 opinion. [NBC News]

* But is SCOTUS really so bitterly divided now? Here’s a fun fact: The justices agreed unanimously in 66 percent of this term’s cases, and the last time that happened was in 1940. [New York Times]

* A partner has left the luxuries of earning up to $4.8 million per year at Wachtell Lipton to start his own executive compensation boutique, which we understand is basically like seeing a unicorn. [Am Law Daily]

* The post-merger world at Squire Patton Boggs is similar to the pre-merger world in that partners are still being churned in and out of the firm every other day. Check out the latest ins and outs. [WSJ Law Blog]

* The Fourth of July is coming up, and you know you want to light up some fireworks. Sure, it’s illegal to sell them in your state, but here’s where you can travel to go to buy some to celebrate freedom. [Yahoo!]

– A screenshot of the answers to the New York Times crossword puzzle from earlier this week. Justice Elena Kagan is featured prominently in the puzzle’s 69 Across position. Per Professor Josh Blackman, Justice Kagan should consider this to be “one of the biggest nerd honors.”

We’re in the home stretch of October Term 2013 at the Supreme Court. After the final two opinions are handed down on Monday, the justices will scatter to the winds (and supplement their incomes with teaching, often in lovely European destinations).

During the month of July, the clerk classes will turn over. Each week, new clerks will arrive and outgoing clerks will depart — do pass go, do collect your $300,000. (Or more; we’re hearing rumors of possible upward movement this year; drop us a line if you have info to share.)

So now is a good time to look at the latest SCOTUS clerk hires. We have almost all the clerks for October Term 2014, plus a few new hires for October Term 2015….

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Exploding courthouse toilet = products liability attorney’s dream.

* Funny that SCOTUS just struck down a law imposing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, yet it heavily enforces its own buffer zone. Some call it “supreme irony.” [WSJ Law Blog]

* Despite the slacking demand for legal services — down by 8.8 percent in terms of billable hours — members of the Am Law 100 still managed to keep their heads above water. [Am Law Daily]

* Lorin Reisner, chief of the criminal division of S.D.N.Y.’s USAO and Preet Bharara’s right-hand man on Wall Street convictions, is leaving for greener pastures at Paul Weiss. Congrats! [Reuters]

* New York State’s highest court has rejected New York City’s ban on gigantic drinks that was previously proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Go on, have yourself a nice Quadruple Big Gulp. [Bloomberg]

* When the long arm of the law flushes the toilet, it sometimes explodes, raining down jagged shards of justice. But on a more serious note, we’re happy no one was hurt at this courthouse. [Billings Gazette]

The Supreme Court ruled today in McCullen v. Coakley that a Massachusetts law creating a buffer zone around abortion clinics violates the First Amendment. The law criminalized standing on a public sidewalk within 35 feet of an abortion facility, with narrow exceptions for employee and law enforcement access. Eleanor McCullen, the lead plaintiff, is a grandmother in her late seventies who stood on sidewalks near clinics in order to initiate quiet, one-on-one conversations with women seeking abortions. The Court held today that the buffer zones created by the law burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s interests.

The Court was unanimous in its judgment that the law violates the First Amendment rights of anti-abortion speakers such as Eleanor McCullen. So, why is McCullen so disappointing to conservatives?

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* Watchcat! [Legal Juice]

* On a similar note, New York banning “Tiger Selfies.” When do they give out the Darwin Awards again? [Lowering the Bar]

* Are there lessons to be learned from the lawyer who applied for — and got rejected from — a paralegal gig? [Law and More]

* Have you ever seen a standup comic playing music during a set? Well, they’re doing it to prevent others — clubs, networks, etc. — from lifting their work and selling it as their own. Welcome to the world of standups and copyright. [The Legal Geeks]

* You already heard our take. Now for someone who took some actual time to think about what Noel Canning means. [Federal Regulations Advisor]

* The sexiest law firm in the world? [The Careerist]

* The Supreme Court is less conservative than we think. Let’s have a poll! After reading this, do you think SCOTUS is less conservative than you expected? After the jump…. [Washington Post]

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Above the Law editors are just like you. We wake up in the morning and log into SCOTUSblog and start a group Gchat about important Supreme Court cases just like everybody else.

We figure that the world doesn’t need another “analysis” of today’s Noel Canning decision in the recess appointments case. There will be approximately five million of those coming to an internet near you.

Instead, take a look at our real-time reactions as the decision went live. If you think we sound kind of dumb on the site, wait until you see how we actually think in real time….

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It would be hard to overstate the importance of Riley v. California. Now data on cell phones (and, hopefully soon, other electronic media) requires a search warrant for law enforcement to get access to it during an arrest (generally — check your individual situation; exceptions may apply).

It’s so hard to overstate the importance of Riley that I don’t think a single media outlet has done it yet (which is really saying something in light of the current state of Supreme Court coverage).

As you may dimly remember from the criminal procedure class you took in law school, the “search incident to arrest” doctrine is a little screwy and subject to abuse. The general rule is that police can search things on your person or in the area of your arrest to make sure you don’t destroy evidence or hurt them, but nothing else. Later cases have held that the area you can reach while you’re being arrested (where you could destroy evidence or find something to hurt the police) includes the entire interior area of your car, regardless of how far you can reach or how wedged under the seat cushions that currency counterfeiting machine is.

This body of law is a lovely example of how pro-law enforcement results drive any reasonable understanding of how a test should be applied. Reading these cases in law school is a formatively disheartening experience (“really, that’s the kind of junk judges come up with? Why have laws at all?” etc.).

Riley, though, draws a line around your phone. Sure — the police can look into your pocket to see if that square box is a cell phone or a detonating device, and they can look in the back of your van to see if you could have reached a butterfly knife if you had a 20-foot arm span — but they can’t look inside the phone without first getting a warrant.

Of course, the Court could have decided this in a few ways. It could have written a very narrow doctrinal opinion. Or it could have issued a deeply divided set of opinions where there isn’t a clear statement about the development of the law as much as a resolution of one case. But, instead, the Court issued a 9-0 decision, authored by the Chief Justice, which was a celebration of the importance of electronic privacy and recognizes that we’re in a new world — and need new rules to handle it….

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Warrant or GTFO.

Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.

– Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court in Riley v. California, holding that the police generally need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest.

(Additional highlights from Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion, after the jump.)

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