Supremes Save Best for Last

They are both brilliant and dramatic, your Supreme Court justices, because year after year, like television network executives, they leave the biggest and most contentious and most interesting cases for the very end of their term, the "sweeps" period of the judicial year. For as long as anyone can remember, the last week of June generates from the courthouse the water-cooler rulings that fuel the big law review articles as well as the gastro-rumblings of federal and state legislators.

This year is no different. Amid much hype and speculation, the Justices issued five rulings today but did not yet tip their hands on the two cases-- the legitimacy of Tom Delay's redistricting plans in Texas and the constitutionality of the procedures the government wants to use in military tribunals for Guantanamo Bay detainees-- that most everyone cares about. I know. I know. Each time the Court resolves a case it's a big deal and has national implications, etc. But there are cases that people remember 10 years later and there are cases-- like the ones issued today-- that people will have forgotten about by the Fourth of July.

In one case, the Justices made it easier for employees to get money from employers who retalitate against them after they allege discrimination. In another case, the Court shifted to criminal defendants the burden of proof and persuasion when they claim they were coerced into doing an illegal act. Before the ruling, the government had to prove a negative-- that defendants were not coerced. The Justices also issued an immigration ruling that may or may not figure into the political debate over that topic in the run-up to the elections this fall. There was also a prisoners' rights ruling and a ruling about patents. Niche cases, you might say.

So now we are down to the final week. Guantanamo and redistricing; one case that has the eyes of the world upon it and the other that has the eyes of Congress on it. All that's missing from these season enders is the incessant television promotion and the 1-800 number so you can cast your vote.

By Andrew Cohen |  June 22, 2006; 2:30 PM ET
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The statement about today's decisions being forgotten is quite overblown. I can assure you that at least the ruling in Burlington Northern v. White, which adopted a broad standard of coverage for claims of retaliation for filing an EEOC charge or otherwise complaining of discrimination, will affect a large number of people for as long as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 continues to exist.

Posted by: Steve Rappoport | June 22, 2006 04:28 PM

yes, it will affect many,as he said and you said, but will it be remembered? No.

Posted by: yes | June 22, 2006 05:49 PM

Another big case awaiting decision is Randall v Sorrell, on the constitutionality of a Vermont campaign finance statute. This case was argued in February and is the oldest case on the Supreme Court docket yet to be decided. The Court is likely to strike down the spending cap in the Vermont law, and possibly strike down the contribution limits (the lowest in the country) as well, on grounds that they are too low. It will be interesting to see whether the Justices simply apply the framework of Buckley v. Valeo to this statute, or whether they use the case to set out a new framework for the analysis of spending and contribution limitations, even if that produces the same result as simply applying Buckley. Justice Breyer has not written any opinions for the Court from the February sitting when this case was argued, so he might be working on the majority opinion in this case. If so, it will be interesting to see whether he uses the opinion to further develop some of the ideas about campaign finance laws that he set out in his concurrence in a Missouri campaign finance case from a few years ago. Although this is a state law case, it could have major implications for the future of campaign finance reform at the federal level as well.

Posted by: eldinvt | June 22, 2006 08:46 PM

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