Supreme Court Special
Fall is the season to start anew! Now that the almost non-existent summer is over, MC&A is back with a
season of legal news. This summer was full of law-related theatrics,
including the legal issues surrounding the death of Michael Jackson, the antics
of yet another Governor Gone Wild
- Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina --
to the confirmation hearings of Judge Sonya Sotomayor. As students go back to school so must the courts! The United States Supreme Court will start
its 2009/2010 term on Monday, October 5, 2009.
As an attorney admitted to practice before the Supreme Court, I can
assure that it is quite an interesting court.
In light of Judge Sotomayor's meteoric and historic rise to the highest
court in the land, MC&A has prepared a special newsletter complete with
information on the Supreme Court for your reading pleasure!
What is the Supreme Court?
Chief Justice of the United States: John G. Roberts, Jr.
A. Alito, Jr.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States
and it is the last stop
of the judicial process. Decisions made
by the Court are binding and cannot be appealed. The court is made up of nine justices - the
Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. The justices are nominated by the President
and confirmed with the majority vote of the Senate. Justices are appointed for life. Their terms end only upon death, resignation,
retirement, or conviction on impeachment.
The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C. in the United States Supreme
An appellate court, the Supreme Court is
not obligated to hear a case and in fact, only hear a small number of
cases. The Supreme Court hears cases to resolve a split in opinion among
the lower federal courts to settle the division, which ensures consistency in
the application of law.
Key Supreme Court Cases
and Their Impact
Supreme Court decisions shape the legal landscape in America
because they interpret the United States Constitution. While one may think that Supreme Court
decisions have no bearing on their daily life, think again. Here are some important Supreme Court
- Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 -- the Court held that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.
- Mapp v. Ohio, 1961 -- the Court
held that evidence
obtained in violation of the Fourth
Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable
searches and seizures," could not be used in criminal prosecutions.
- Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963 - the
Court held that the Constitution grants the right of retaining a
court-appointed attorney for those unable to pay for one.
- Miranda v. Arizona, 1966 -- the
Court held that
statements made by a defendant in police
custody will be admissible at trial only if
can show that the defendant was informed of the right to an attorney
before and during questioning and of the right against self-incrimination
before questioning by police, and that the defendant not only understood
these rights, but voluntarily waived them.
- Furman v. Georgia, 1972 -- the
Court held that the methods used by several states to implement the death
penalty were unconstitutional.
- Roe v. Wade, 1973 -- the Court held
that the Constitution protects a woman's right to privacy and control over
her own body which guaranteed women the right to legally obtain an abortion.
- Gregg v. Georgia, 1976 -- the Court
held that the death penalty is not unconstitutional.
- Regents of the University of California
v. Bakke, 1978 -- the Court barred quota systems in college admissions
but affirmed the constitutionality of affirmative action programs.
- Bush v. Gore, 2000 - the Court held that the
Supreme Court's method for recounting ballots was a violation
of the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment, effectively resolving the 2000 election in
favor of George W. Bush.
- Grutter v. Bollinger; Gratz v.
Bollinger, 2003 --the
Court held that
race can be a factor for universities shaping their admissions programs.
In the Spotlight:
|Sonya Sotomayer is the most recent addition to the Supreme
Court. Appointed by President Barack
Obama on May 26, 2009 and confirmed by the Senate on August 6, 2009, Judge
Sotomayor will be the first Latino to serve on the high court. She will also be the third woman named to the
Supreme Court, and the second on the current court.
Judge Sotomayor's parents are from Puerto Rico. She was born and raised in the Bronx, New
York and grew up in a public housing project.
Judge Sotomayor later graduated summa cum laude from Princeton
University and attended Yale Law School, where she was editor of the Yale Law
Journal. After law school, Judge
Sotomayor became an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan in 1979, where she
tried criminal cases for five years. She
then entered private practice in 1984 and became partner at the law firm Pavia
and Harcourt in 1988. There, she was a
general civil litigator in the area of intellectual property law. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush appointed
her to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New
York. President Clinton appointed her to
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1998.
first Latina to serve on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor authored around
400 published opinions. She tackled
tough issues involving constitutional law, complex procedural matters, and
lawsuits involving complex business organizations.
Recent Supreme Court Opinions
The Supreme Court has concluded its 2008-2009 term but it
was not without some interesting decisions.
Two that took center stage were Ricci
v. Destafano and Safford
United School District No. 1 v. Redding.
In Ricci, the
Court ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut were unfairly
discriminated against because of their race when the city tossed the results of
a promotional exam. The case was based
upon tests given in 2003 for promotion to lieutenant and captain. The exams yielded no black firefighters
eligible for advancement, and as a result, threw out the results and promoted
no one. That move triggered a lawsuit by
18 white firefighters, one of them Hispanic, who claimed reverse
The ruling reversed a federal district court and the United
States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which had found for the city,
and sends the case back to the lower courts for further action. This case has big implications for the
workplace (i.e., how far employers can go in considering race in hiring and
promotion) and also drew attention because Judge Sotomayor was one of the three
Second Circuit judges who ruled in favor of the city.
In Safford, the
Court ruled that the strip search of a 13-year-old Arizona girl by school
officials who were looking for prescription strength drugs violated her
The Court ruled that the officials would have been justified
in 2003 had they limited their search to the backpack and outer clothing of
Savana Redding, who was in the eighth grade at the time. But in searching her undergarments, they went
too far and violated her Fourth Amendment privacy rights.
For more information on the United States Supreme Court,
go to www.supremecourtus.gov.
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