While Congress is still in recess, the Supreme Court is certainly keeping busy. After hearing arguments last week in the highly publicized gun case, District of Columbia v. Heller and overturning a Louisiana death penalty conviction, the Court today released two major decisions and granted cert in several new cases.
The two decisions handed down today were in Hall Street Associates v. Mattel and Medellin v. Texas. Hall addresses arbitration issues (for more, see here). And in Medellin, the majority wrote that international treaties do not supersede a state’s judicial authority. The decision concludes that Texas can ignore U.S. treaty obligations, a decision by the International Court of Justice, and a directive by President Bush in its pursuit of the death penalty for Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican national.
The irony of the conservative majority's opinion in this case lies in its uncharacteristically narrow view of executive power. In language that may come back to haunt them in future cases, the conservative justices rejected the idea that the president’s memo instructing states to abide by international law could “establish binding rules of decision that preempt contrary state law.”
Not all of the Court’s decisions however, come in the form of written opinions. On Monday, the Court refused to accept a case concerning the ability of employers to decrease health-care benefits for former employees once they turn 65. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) brought the challenge in response to a recent federal regulation which stated that “the ‘coordination of retiree health benefits with Medicare’ is exempt from the anti-age-bias law.” By refusing to hear AARP’s challenge of this regulation, the Supreme Court, in practical terms at least, upheld its practice.
The Court also announced on Monday that it would not accept a challenge to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) by a group hoping to release a film criticizing Hillary Clinton. The group, Citizens United, wanted to promote its film called “Hillary: The Movie” despite BCRA’s rules that prohibit corporations and unions from financing ads critical of candidates prior to an election. The refusal by the justices to hear this case was seen as a bit of a surprise to court-watchers who perceive recent Bush appointees – particularly, Chief Justice Roberts – as hostile to campaign finance reform.
The justices also announced this week that they will hear cases to determine whether police need a warrant before entering a house following an informant, whether the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required Alabama’s governor to seek approval from the Justice Department before appointing a Republican county commissioner to represent a largely African-American district and whether states can ban convicted criminals from possessing firearms. All this, while also hearing arguments concerning whether US citizens detained abroad can challenge their detention in US Courts.
With less than three months left in the 2007-2008 term, it seems that our third branch of government is getting its second wind…