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The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a 1991 law that bars robocalls to cellphones.

The case, argued by telephone in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, only arose after Congress in 2015 created an exception in the law that allowed the automated calls for collection of government debt.

Political consultants and pollsters were among those who asked the Supreme Court to strike down the entire 1991 law that bars them from making robocalls to cellphones as a violation of their free speech rights under the Constitution. The issue was whether, by allowing one kind of speech but not others, the exception made the whole law unconstitutional.

Six justices agreed that by allowing debt collection calls to cellphones Congress “impermissibly favored debt-collection speech over political and other speech, in violation of the First Amendment,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote. And seven justices agreed that the 2015 exception should be stricken from the law.

“Americans passionately disagree about many things. But they are largely united in their disdain for robocalls,” Kavanaugh noted at the outset of his opinion.

During arguments in the case in May, Justice Stephen Breyer got cut off when someone tried calling him. Breyer said after he rejoined the court’s arguments: “The telephone started to ring, and it cut me off the call and I don’t think it was a robocall.”



The Supreme Court on Thursday turned away pleas from anti-abortion activists to make it easier for them to protest outside clinics, declining to wade back into the abortion debate just days after striking down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics.

The justices said in a written order that they would not hear cases from Chicago and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where anti-abortion activists had challenged ordinances that restrict their behavior outside clinics.

As is usual, the justices did not comment in turning away the cases. The order from the court noted Justice Clarence Thomas would have heard the Chicago case.

The Supreme Court has since the late 1990s heard several cases involving demonstration-free zones, called buffer zones, outside abortion clinics. Most recently, in 2014, the justices unanimously struck down a law that created a 35-foot protest-free zone outside Massachusetts abortion clinics. The court said Massachusetts’ law, which made it a crime to stand in the protest-free zone for most people not entering or exiting the clinic or passing by, was an unconstitutional restraint on the free-speech rights of protesters.

On Thursday, one of the two cases the court declined to take up involved an ordinance passed by the city counsel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital, in 2012 that made it illegal to “congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate” in a zone 20 feet from a health care facility. Anti-abortion activists sued, arguing that the ordinance violates their free speech rights. Lower courts have upheld the ordinance, however, ruling it doesn't apply to “sidewalk counseling,” where individuals who oppose abortion offer assistance and information about alternatives to abortion to those entering a clinic.

Roberts a pivotal vote in the Supreme Court's big opinions

The biggest cases of the Supreme Court term so far have a surprising common thread. On a court with five Republican appointees, the liberal justices have been in the majority in rulings that make workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people illegal, protect young immigrants from deportation and, as of Monday, struck down a Louisiana law that restricted abortion providers.

As surprising, Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative nominated by President George W. Bush who has led the court for nearly 15 years, has joined his liberal colleagues in all three. Since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, Roberts has played a pivotal role in determining how far the court will go in cases where the court's four liberals and four conservatives are closely divided.

Here's a look at where Roberts stood in the abortion, immigration and LGBT cases, his history on the court and what's at stake in coming decisions in which Roberts could play a key role:

On Monday, Roberts joined liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in striking down Louisiana's Act 620. The justices ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates the abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

But Roberts' reason for siding with the liberals had less to do with his feelings on abortion than with his feelings on whether the court should do an abrupt about-face. Four years ago the court's four liberal members and Justice Kennedy struck down a Texas law nearly identical to Louisiana's. At the time, Roberts was a vote in dissent. But with Kennedy's retirement and replacement by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many conservatives had hoped the result in the Louisiana case would be different. Not so, Roberts wrote: “The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago."




A divided federal appeals court on Wednesday ordered the dismissal of the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, turning back efforts by a judge to scrutinize the Justice Department’s extraordinary decision to drop the prosecution.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said in a 2-1 ruling that the Justice Department’s move to abandon the case against Flynn settles the matter, even though Flynn pleaded guilty as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to lying to the FBI.

The ruling, a significant win for both Flynn and the Justice Department, appears to cut short what could have been a protracted legal fight over the basis for the government’s dismissal of the case. It came as Democrats question whether the Justice Department has become too politicized and Attorney General William Barr too quick to side with the president, particularly as he vocally criticizes, and even undoes, some of the results of the Russia investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday centered on another unusual move by Barr to overrule his own prosecutors and ask for less prison time for another Trump associate, Roger Stone. Barr has accepted an invitation to testify before the panel on July 28, a spokeswoman said Wednesday, and he will almost certainly be pressed about the Flynn case.

Trump tweeted just moments after the ruling became public: “Great! Appeals Court Upholds Justice Departments Request to Drop Criminal Case Against General Michael Flynn.”

Later, at the White House, Trump told reporters he was happy for Flynn.

“He was treated horribly by a group of very bad people,” Trump said. “What happened to Gen. Flynn should never happen in our country.”

Flynn called into conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and said the ruling was a good development for him and his family. But he also called it “great boost of confidence for the American people in our justice system because that’s what this really comes down to ? is whether or not our justice system is going to have the confidence of the American people.”

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan had declined to immediately dismiss the case, seeking instead to evaluate on his own the department’s request. He appointed a retired federal judge to argue against the Justice Department’s position and to consider whether Flynn could be held in criminal contempt for perjury. He had set a July 16 hearing to formally hear the request to dismiss the case.



The Supreme Court on Monday preserved an important tool used by securities regulators to recoup ill-gotten gains in fraud cases.

By an 8-1 vote, the justices ruled that the Securities and Exchange Commission can seek to recover the money through a process called disgorgement. Last year, the SEC obtained $3.2 billion in repayment of profits from people who have been found to violate securities law.

“The Court holds today that a disgorgement award that does not exceed a wrongdoer’s net profits and is awarded for victims is equitable relief permissible" under federal law, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented. The Supreme Court in 2017 unanimously limited the SEC’s ability to go after profits where alleged fraud has been going on for years before authorities file charges. That case left open the question the high court answered Monday, that courts have the authority to order disgorgement of profits. The SEC has continued to aggressively pursue defendants’ profits in fraud cases.



Prosecutors can obtain a person’s banking records using a warrantless grand jury subpoena without violating the individual’s right to privacy under New Mexico’s Constitution, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the justices concluded that a district court properly allowed the use of five years of personal financial records as evidence in a pending criminal case against a Taos couple facing charges of tax evasion and other finance-related offenses.

The high court rejected the married couple’s argument that the state’s Constitution provided greater privacy protections for their financial records than offered under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The couple contended that a court-authorized warrant should have been required to obtain bank records.

The justices adhered to a decadesold legal doctrine established by the U.S. Supreme Court that people have no constitutionally protected privacy interest in the financial account records they voluntarily share with third parties.


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