2004 News Archive – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05/14/04 Supreme Court refuses to interfere with gay

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

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

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-

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

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

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

02/23/04 Evidence destroyed in good faith not

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

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.

Last Modified: 24 Jan 2010

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