The Supreme Court had a busy year in 2013, issuing key rulings on same-sex marriage, the Voting Rights Act, the use of police dogs in searches, and affirmative action.
Florida v. Jardines and Florida v. Harris – decided on 3/26/2013,and 2/19/2013
Subject: Use of police dogs to sniff out drugs per the Fourth Amendment
Description: In Florida v. Harris, the Court considers if police officers can search a motor vehicle for drugs once a properly trained police dog has “alerted” to a smell on a vehicle. The car was on a public road. In Florida v. Jardines, the Court examines the case of a police dog at the front door of a house used to sniff for drugs inside a private residence.
Outcome: Justice Elana Kagan wrote the opinion in a unanimous case in the Harris decision, which found that police could use the police dog in a vehicle search. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion in a 5-4 decision in the Jardines case, which ruled against the use of a police dog at a residence as a Fourth Amendment violation.
Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, — decided 2/26/2013
Subject: The Court decides a challenge to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008
Description: In Clapper, the court considered if the respondents had standing under Article III of the Constitution to challenge the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The respondents included journalists who feared their conversations with overseas sources were being monitored.
Outcome: The court, in a 5-4 decision, agreed with the federal government’s claims that the respondents’ fears were based on speculation. The court didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Since then, FISA and its secret court have been at the center of a firestorm about privacy, the Fourth Amendment and the First Amendment.
Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., Inc., — decided 4/17/2013
Subject: The Alien Tort Statute and the ability for foreign nationals to seek a legal remedy in the U.S. court system when alleged crimes happen outside the U.S.
Description: The Supreme Court considered a lawsuit from 12 Nigerians (who had left their country for the U.S.), and claimed three Dutch or British oil companies asked the Nigerian government to violently suppress resistance to oil exploration in that country.
Outcome: The Court decided that the Alien Tort Statute (law dating back to 1789), can’t be used in the Kiobel case to mount a lawsuit where all the events occurred in a foreign country. The Alien Tort Statute has been used in recent years to allow human-rights cases to come to court, brought by foreign nationals for acts committed outside the territory of the United States.
The Court left open the possibility of future lawsuits when a matter “touches and concerns” the United States with “sufficient force.”
Windsor v. U.S. – decided 6/26/2013
Subject: Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex marriage
Description: Does the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for people of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their state? Decision announced at the same time as the decision on California’s law that bars same-sex marriage.
Outcome: Justice Anthony Kennedy says in a 5-4 decision that the federal law known as DOMA deprives the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Constitution.
Hollingsworth v. Perry – decided 6/26/2013
Subject: Proposition 8, same-sex marriage
Description: The justices decide if the state of California can define marriage as the union of only a man and a woman using a resolution called Proposition 8, without violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Outcome: Chief Justice John Roberts says in a 5-4 decision that the petitioners who sought the reaffirm California’s Proposition 8 didn’t have the legal ability to appeal a lower court decision.
Shelby County v. Holder – decided 6/25/2013
Subjects: Voting rights, voter ID laws
Description: The Supreme Court decides if parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are still needed, which require states and local governments with a history of discrimination to get pre-clearance from the federal government before making any changes to voting laws.
Outcome: The Supreme Court struck down a key part of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, sending the section that determines which states need extra attention about discrimination back to Congress to be re-written.
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin – decided 6/24/2013
Subject: Affirmative action
Description: The Supreme Court decides if a public university violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by considering race in its admissions process. Decision could update or overturn parts of the historic 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision.
Outcome: The Court rules in a 7-1 vote against how University of Texas’ affirmative action policy was considered by a lower court, and sends the case back to the lower court, avoiding a sweeping decision on affirmative action.
Arizona v. ITCA – decided 6/17/2013
Subject: Proof of citizenship, voter ID laws
Description: The court considers Arizona’s decision to require voters to furnish proof of citizenship as it relates to the federal National Voter Registration Act, in a question of state versus federal jurisdiction over voting qualifications.
Outcome: In Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council, the Court sided with the federal government, saying that Arizona’s evidence-of-citizenship requirement is pre-empted by the federal National Voter Registration Act.
Federal Trade Commission v. Actavis – decided 6/17/2013
Subject: Generic drug payments
Description: The Court considers if brand-name drug companies can legally make payments to keep generic competitors’ products off the market for a limited time.
Outcome: The court ruled in a 5-3 decision that financial deals between drug makers that hold patents and potential generic competitors could be challenged in court—but one case at a time.
Association for Molecular Pathology v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office – decided 6/13/2013
Subject: Gene patents
Description: Can a company hold a patent on human genes? This potential landmark decision involves BRCA genes, the ones used in the tests that diagnosed actress Angelina Jolie’s propensity to develop breast cancer.
Outcome: The Court says a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but synthetic cDNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.
Maryland v. King – decided 6/3/2013
Subject: DNA evidence
Description: Can states collect and analyze DNA from people arrested for, but not convicted of, crimes? The Court decides the ability to collect DNA versus a person’s right against unreasonable searches as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.
Outcome: A divided court allows warrantless DNA swabbing for people arrested under probable cause in felony crimes.