Supreme Court

The Bladensburg Peace Cross may stay the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision in American Legion v. American Humanist Association.  According to Justice Alito, writing for the majority of the Court: “It has become a prominent community landmark, and its removal or radical alteration at this date would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of ‘a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions.’” The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting the local government.

In late 1918, residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, decided to erect a memorial to honor soldiers from the county who died in World War I. The monument, completed in 1925, is a 32-foot tall Latin cross that sits on a large pedestal. Among other things, it contains a plaque listing the names of 49 local men who died in the war. Over the years, memorials honoring the veterans of other conflicts have been added to the surrounding area. In 1961, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission acquired the Cross and the land it is on in order to preserve it and address traffic-safety concerns.

May a private entity running a public access channel ban speakers based on the content of their speech—something a government entity running the same channels could not do? Yes, the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 opinion in Manhattan Community Access Corporation v. Halleck. Why? Because the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private entities in this instance.

The Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 authorizes states and local governments to require cable operators to set aside channels on their cable systems for public access. Under New York law the cable operator operates the public access channels unless the local government chooses to do so or designates a private entity to do so.

New York City designated a private nonprofit, Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN), to operate the public access channels in Manhattan. MNN suspended two producers from its facilities and services after MNN ran a film they produced about MNN’s alleged neglect of the East Harlem community. The producers claimed MNN violated their First Amendment free speech rights when it “restricted their access to the public access channels because of the content of their film.”

Does one branch of a state legislature have “standing” to litigate a redistricting case? Not unless state law says so the Supreme Court ruled.    

More technically, in Virginia House of Delegates v. Golden Bethune-Hill, the Supreme Court held 5-4 that the Virginia House of Delegates lacks standing to appeal a ruling striking down Virginia’s redistricting plan because Virginia law does not allow it to displace the Attorney General and it is only a single chamber of a bicameral legislature.

After oral argument Court commentators predicated the Supreme Court wouldn’t overrule the “dual-sovereignty” doctrine. In a 7-2 decision in Gamble v. United States it didn’t. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing for the result in this case.  

The Double Jeopardy Clause provides that no person may be “twice put in jeopardy” “for the same offence.” Per the “dual-sovereignty” doctrine the Supreme Court has long held that a “crime under one sovereign’s laws is not ‘the same offence’ as a crime under the laws of another sovereign.”

In McKinney v. Arizona James Erin McKinney wants the Arizona Supreme Court out of his death penalty case. More specifically, the Supreme Court will decide whether a jury rather than a judge must weigh the factors mitigating against imposing a death sentence when the law at the time he was convicted allowed a judge to weigh mitigating factors. The Court also has agreed to decide whether a trial court rather than an appellate court must correct the failure to weigh relevant mitigating factors.

A jury found McKinney guilty of first-degree murder related to two separate burglaries and murders committed in 1991. McKinney had PTSD from his “horrific” childhood but the Arizona Supreme Court disallowed the sentancer to consider non-statutory mitigating evidence (including family background and mental condition) unconnected to the crime. In 1996 the trial court found the evidence of PTSD to be unconnected to the crime and sentenced McKinney to death.

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