25 June 2013

Supreme Court final week summary (June 25 update)

Here are summaries from today's three opinions. The Supreme Court will be back tomorrow morning for  the last opinion announcements (stay tuned for my preview later today). Click on the name of the case for a link to my "Plain English" page for that case.

Shelby County v. Holder: Did Congress’ decision to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) of the VRA exceed its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violate the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution?

Prediction: Chief Justice Roberts will write for a 5-4 majority that the VRA is unconstitutional.

Result: In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act t is unconstitutional; its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance. As a result, Congress cannot use the VRA's existing preclearance formula to single out jurisdictions--they must use data about current conditions.

Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District: (1) Is it a "taking" to deny a development permit for failing to satisfy government-imposed conditions? and (2) Does the taking violate the essential nexus (a sufficient link between the demand on the property owner and the public policy at issue) and rough proportionality (any attempt by a local government to require dedication of a part of private property to a public use has to be proportional to the public impact of the project) tests set out in the Court's prior takings decisions?

Prediction: A narrow majority of the Court will rule that denial of the development permit was not a taking.

Result: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s demand for property from a land-use permit applicant must satisfy the Nollan / Dolan requirements even when it denies the permit (those cases held that the government may not condition the approval of a land use permit on the owner’s relinquishment of a portion of his property unless there is a nexus and rough proportionality between the government’s demand and the effects of the proposed land use.As a result, the Court reversed and remanded the case.The practical impact of this decision bolsters the rights of property owners to fight unreasonable demands held hostage by building permits.

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl: Can a non-custodial parent could invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-63, to block an adoption voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent under state law? and (2) Does the ICWA define “parent” in 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9) to include an unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent?

Prediction: Personally, I've love to see the Court reverse the South Carolina Supreme Court's ruling, but I am pessimistic that this will happen. It seems more likely they will affirm and let the biological father keep the child.

Result: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the South Carolina Supreme Court and remanded for further proceedings. The Court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act does not bar termination of the biological father's paternal rights because it applied to a child who was removed--the ICWA’s primary goal is not implicated when an Indian child’s adoption is voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights. In other words, the provisions were not designed to apply to the circumstances presented by this case. As a result, the order returning the baby to the biological father was thrown out.
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