The Supreme Court has decided cases addressing several issues, including two of the big ones: gerrymandering and retaliatory arrests. One of them will be back again next year.
Gerrymandering was, along with compulsory baking, a massive issue for the court this term. The cases came in like a lion, but they’re out like a lamb. The Supreme Court essentially declined the opportunity to publish what so many Court watchers were looking for: a single articulable rule to describe when partisan gerrymandering gets so bad it becomes unconstitutional.
Wisconsin Democrats sued to advance the claim that their various rights were violated when Republicans there drew district maps in 2000. They claimed the districts were so biased in favor of the GOP that it amounted to an illegal violation of Wisconsin Democrats’ guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The Supreme Court did not rule on this issue. Instead, they ruled unanimously that the plaintiff did not sufficiently demonstrate that they had standing to sue. In this case, that meant the Democrats needed to show a sufficient injury to the court but did not. This decision keeps some third party who has no connection to a controversy from being a party to a suit regarding it. Such a case would ordinarily be dismissed. Not here, however. The court sent the case back to Wisconsin so that more evidence can be gathered as to how Democrats were injured by the redistricting. Mark your calendars – we will be hearing about this case next year.
Fane Lozman is a man who challenges authority. He frustrated the city officials in Riviera Beach, FL, taking them to court and winning. They didn’t like him and had him arrested at a council meeting for disorderly conduct. Lozman claimed the arrest was illegal because it was made due solely to the words he spoke, not that he was talking out of turn. The law previously held that so long as probable cause for an arrest exists, true motivations need not be considered.
While they didn’t kick the can down the road on this case, they didn’t take the opportunity to provide a bright line rule for the rest of us either. Lozman won, but the 8-1 ruling by Justice Kennedy was purposefully and explicitly crafted to apply only to this case. Justice Thomas dissented. No summary I can provide would do a better job at articulating Thomas’ position on the case and his colleagues’ opinion on it as his own:
No one briefed, argued, or even hinted at the rule that the Court announces today. Instead of dreaming up our own rule, I would have answered the question presented and held that plaintiffs must plead and prove a lack of probable cause as an element of a First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim. I respectfully dissent.
Stay tuned because there are some big cases still in the pipeline with just a short time before they must be released. All cases will be decided and announced by June 26th. We are still waiting to hear about cell phone privacy, compulsory union membership, and whether online sales taxes will be legal.