Entries in U.S. Supreme Court (5)


Supreme Court Upholds 'Minor Intrusion' of Arrestee DNA Swabs

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court Monday upheld a Maryland law that allows officials to take DNA without a warrant from those who have been arrested, but not convicted of a serious crime.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, for a 5-4 majority, wrote, “the Court concludes that DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure.”

He called the buccal swab to the mouth to obtain DNA a “minor intrusion.”

“When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito.

Justice Antonin Scalia dissented from the opinion and was joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Scalia said Monday’s decision represents an “incursion” upon the Fourth Amendment’s ban against unreasonable search and seizure.

“Make no mistake about it,” Scalia writes. “As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA data base if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

He said that “solving unsolved crimes” is a noble objective but it “occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicion-less law-enforcement searches.”

While all states require DNA from individuals convicted of a felony, the federal government and 26 states also take DNA samples from at least some arrestees.

The case concerns Alonzo Jay King Jr., who claims his constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested in 2009 for assault. At the time of his arrest, pursuant to Maryland’s DNA Collection Act, officials swabbed his cheek and collected his DNA without a warrant.

His 2009 sample was later matched in a state database to DNA from a 2003 rape case. It was a cold case involving a 53-year-old female victim in Maryland. Based on the new evidence, King was eventually charged with the 2003 rape and robbery. He is serving a life sentence.

Lawyers for King appealed the decision, arguing that taking the warrantless DNA from someone who has been arrested but not convicted of a serious crime violates the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure. The Court of Appeals of Maryland ruled in King’s favor.

During arguments in February, Justice Alito said of the case, “I think this is perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this Court has heard in decades.”

Kannon K. Shanmugam, a lawyer for King, argued that the government has no right to forego ordinary rules requiring a warrant and probable cause before forcing an arrestee to submit to a search involving a physical intrusion into the body for investigatory purposes.

“Our DNA is our blueprint: an individual’s DNA contains not only deeply personal information about the subject’s medical history and genetic conditions, but also information that can be used to make predictions about a host of physical an behavioral characteristics, ranging from a subject’s age, ethnicity, and intelligence to the subject’s propensity for violence and addiction,” Shanmugam wrote in court papers.

But lawyers for the state of Maryland defend the law. In court, Katherine Winfree, chief deputy attorney general in Baltimore, pointed out that since 2009, when Maryland began to collect DNA samples from arrestees charged with violent crimes and burglary, there had been “225 matches, 75 prosecutions and 42 convictions.”

The purpose of the law was to identify people “and to use the information to make bail determinations for people who are validly in their custody,” she said.

The U.S. government argued in favor of the law, saying officials are forbidden to look at the DNA for anything except identification information.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Pelosi Attends Supreme Court Arguments, Predicts DOMA Will Be Struck Down

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- After attending oral arguments at the Supreme Court Wednesday to debate the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, one of the most outspoken advocates in Congress for marriage equality, said she believes that when the justices announce their ruling in a couple of months, they will strike down the controversial law commonly known as DOMA.

“On the basis of what I heard, the questions of the justices, the response of the participants, I’m very optimistic that DOMA will be struck down,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. “Just being in the room … this [issue] is as big as our country, as big as our Constitution, as big as our being a beacon of equal protection to the world.”

While Pelosi and many of her Democratic colleagues have openly embraced gay marriage over the years, House Republicans have resisted the Obama administration’s unwillingness to enforce DOMA, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has persistently insisted that as long as the Obama administration refuses to enforce DOMA, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which is comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats, will defend the law.

“A law’s constitutionality is determined by the courts – not by the Department of Justice,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel wrote in a statement Wednesday. “As long as the Obama administration refuses to exercise its responsibility, we will.”

On Wednesday, Pelosi said she believes Congress and the nation have evolved since DOMA was first signed into law and she predicted that opposition to gay marriage is “not a model for the future.”

“We’re at a different place, and it’s a generational change as well,” Pelosi said. “Times can blind, and whatever the public mood was on this subject at the time, it also created some ignorance on the subject. And that ignorance is fading now.”

“Make America more American by ending discrimination by overturning the ill-conceived DOMA,” she added.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Arizona Voter ID Law

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Lawyers for Arizona, a state that has clashed repeatedly with the federal government on the issue of immigration, will be back at the Supreme Court on Monday defending a state law that requires proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in elections.

Critics of the law say that it conflicts with federal law — the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) — which is sometimes referred to as the Motor Voter law. It was enacted in 1993 to establish uniform procedures to vote in federal elections.

The NVRA provides a federal form for registration in which the registrant is required to check a box indicating U.S. citizenship and to sign the form under penalty of perjury.

But the state law, Proposition 200, which was passed into law in 2004, requires any registrant who does not have a driver’s license issued after 1996 or a non-operating license to provide documents such as a copy of a birth certificate or a passport.

“The case is intrinsically important,” says election law expert Edward B. Foley of the Moritz School of Law at Ohio State University, “because it asks whether a state can add a requirement to prove U.S. citizenship at the time of voter registration, beyond what the federal government requires under the NVRA”.

“This is an important case that is under the radar screen, because it involves not only the issue of immigration but also the regulation of voting rights,” Foley says. “More broadly, how do we make the rules of elections and who gets to write the rules — the federal government or the states?”

Groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) say the law puts an additional burden on voters. They argue that a voter registrant who submits the federal form but does not provide additional documentation required by the state law is rejected for voter registration.

In court briefs, lawyers for MALDEF say: “Although states are authorized to design and use their own mail voter registration form, nothing in the statute permits states to use their forms to the exclusion of the federal form.”

Nina Perales, MALDEF’s Vice President of Litigation says that Arizona is trying to portray the dispute as a “David and Goliath battle between a state and an overbearing federal government,” but she says the “bottom line, is that Arizona’s law excludes U.S. citizens from registering to vote and it conflicts with federal law. Federal law says an individual can register to vote using a federal voter registration form. Arizona rejects the federal voter registration form unless they meet additional documentation requirements.”

She says that following the enactment of Proposition 200, more than 31,000 individuals were rejected for voter registration and less than one-third of the rejected registrants were subsequently successfully registered to vote.

A federal appeals court ruled against Proposition 200 and blocked the provision at issue.

Arizona Attorney General Thomas C. Horne argues in court briefs that Proposition 200 is necessary to preserve the integrity of elections. He says the state law does not conflict with the NVRA.

“The requirement that applicants provide additional evidence to support their application does not constitute a ‘rejection’ of the federal form any more than an identification check at an airport gate entrance constitutes a ‘rejection’ of a passenger’s ticket,” Horne says in the court briefs.

“Arizona, like other states, has experienced fraud in voting with regard to both registration and casting ballots,” Horne argues.

Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas have filed a brief in support of Arizona saying that the state law “works hand in glove” with the federal law at issue and that Proposition 200 “is itself designed to protect the electoral process for the benefit of eligible citizens.”

But the federal government has filed a brief in support of the challengers, arguing that the NVRA “prohibits a state from imposing additional requirements on applicants who seek to register for federal elections through the federal form.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Poses Tough Questions in Affirmative Action Case

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- At the Supreme Court Wednesday, the conservative justices had questions for a lawyer defending the University of Texas’ plan that takes race into consideration in the admissions process.

One of their main concerns goes to the heart of the case: at what point does the court stop deferring to a university’s judgment that the consideration of race is still necessary?

“I understand my job under our precedents is to determine if your use of race is narrowly tailored to a compelling interest," Chief Justice John Roberts said to Gregory Garre, a lawyer representing the University of Texas. “The compelling interest you identify is attaining a critical mass of minority students at the University of Texas, but you won’t tell what the critical mass is. How am I supposed to do the job that our precedents say I should do?”

It was only recently, in 2003, that the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the limited use of race in public universities in a decision called Grutter v. Bollinger. The 5-4 opinion was authored by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who said that diversity was a compelling government interest.

In the Grutter decision, O’Connor said that the University of Michigan Law School could use race in a “flexible non-mechanic way” as one factor among many in an effort to assemble a student body that is diverse in ways broader than race. “We expect,” O’Connor wrote, “that 25 years from now, the use or racial preferences will no longer be necessary.”

Garre said that Texas had closely followed Grutter when it implemented its own program with a goal of assembling “a broadly diverse student body.”

Chief Justice John Roberts broke in: “Should someone who is one-quarter Hispanic check the Hispanic box or some different box? ”

As Garre tried to explain the various boxes that students check on their own determination, Roberts pressed on.

“What about one eighth?” Roberts was getting to the issue of race and building toward his central question and his frustration with a definition for “critical mass.”

“What is the critical mass of African Americans and Hispanics at the university that you are working toward?” Roberts asked.

Garre responded that there was no hard number.

None of this was a good sign for the University of Texas plan, which is being challenged by Abigail Fisher, a white Texan who was denied admission to the school in 2008. She argues that she was subject to unequal treatment in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The liberal justices seemed more accepting of UT’s plan. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “This program is certainly no more aggressive than the one in Grutter; it’s more — in fact, more modest.”

Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out how recently the court upheld Grutter. “Grutter said it would be good law for at least 25 years, and I know that time flies, but I think only nine of those years have passed. ”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


George Bush Executed Texans at Faster Rate than Rick Perry

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry has overseen the most executions of any governor in the history of this country, but the rate at which the state of Texas has executed people was actually higher under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Under Perry, Texas has executed 235 people over nearly 11 years -- amounting to more than 21 people per year. During Bush’s five-year tenure as governor, 152 people were executed in Texas -- more than 30 per year.

Perry has never been shy about his support of the death penalty. At a Republican debate in California earlier this month, he drew cheers from the audience when he said he loses no sleep over the executions conducted in Texas and that the death penalty serves as the “ultimate justice.”

“In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is you will be executed,” Perry said in a debate.

In his book, Fed Up! Perry opined about the need to leave the decisions on the death penalty to the states and not to the Supreme Court.

“In the end, the states know best how they wish to punish criminals and for what crimes. Are we perfect? No,” Perry wrote. “For Washington, and in particular the Supreme Court, to step in and tell us, our friends in Louisiana, or any other state, whether it is right to execute a heinous criminal -- or tell us how to carry out justice -- is the height of arrogance and disregards federalism at its most basic level.”

In the past 10 days, four executions were scheduled to take place in Texas. One occurred early last week, and the most recent execution was carried out Wednesday evening. However, the Supreme Court also halted two Texas executions that were scheduled to take place in the past 10 days.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio