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The Best and Worst Supreme Court Cases of 2012

2012 is coming to a close, which means another year of Supreme Court cases has come and gone. There were ups, there were downs, and there were some head-scratchers. And, since the editorial overlords here at Most Strongly Supported think my law degree qualifies me to write on this topic*, here I am.

Without a doubt, the two biggest SCOTUS cases of 2012 involved the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and Arizona’s crazy immigration laws (seriously, if the United States was the cast of It’s Always Sunny, Arizona would be Charlie Kelly).

National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius

I think a few of the lawsuits were actually filed before Obama even signed the PPACA into law. Every red state (and a few blue ones) quickly filed, charging (in part) that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. In a shocking turn of events, Chief Justice Roberts delivered the decisive opinion, stating that, while listed as a penalty, the individual mandate could be considered a tax and, as such, fell squarely within Congress’ ability to levy taxes.

The other side quickly lamented that Congress was now free to tax people for refusing to eat broccoli. But, in the immortal words of Elena Kagan (my favorite justice), “That sounds like a stupid law. Doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional.”

Arizona v. United States

Arizona passed some crazy immigration laws, despite knowing full well that federal law preempted them. They were sued. And the SCOTUS held that federal law preempted the crazier provisions of the law. Shocking.

While these cases dominated the headlines, there were many other tragic, hilarious, interesting, or confusing SCOTUS cases throughout the year. Let’s look at some of my favorites.

Maples v. Thomas

So you got drunk and murdered two friends. It happens. But when your high-priced (pro bono) lawyers leave the prestigious firm that was representing you, and they fail to inform you, the Court, or anyone involved in the case, do you get a free pass?

Not really. While SCOTUS ruled that the mix-up in the mailroom allowed Maples to continue his appeal, they didn’t overturn his conviction. Because, after all, he murdered two people after a night of drinking.

Golan v. Holder

The only thing more confusing than U.S. intellectual property law is international intellectual property law.

The U.S. continually enters into copyright treaties with anyone and everyone, and no one ever abides by them (except for the United States).

This case upheld a few provisions of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, thus restoring copyright protection to a number of international works that had fallen into the public domain. So next time you want to get your local elementary school to play Peter and the Wolf, you better be sure to pay licensing fees. And run it by the school first; they tend to dislike strangers telling their students to play the flute.

US v. Jones

The police decided that they were too lazy to actually follow an alleged criminal, so instead they just taped a GPS to the bottom of his car. Seriously.

SCOTUS ruled that this clearly constituted a “search” in its constitutional definition. However, they neglected to rule whether it was an “unreasonable” search under the Fourth Amendment, so this one’s still up in the air.

Contrast this with…

Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders

You’re riding along in an SUV in New Jersey. A cop pulls you over, sees an outstanding warrant for your arrest (because a computer failed to register that you actually paid that minor fine from your last traffic stop), and brings you into custody. While in custody, you’re subjected to several strip searches. Instead of cheekily winking at the inspecting officer, you file a lawsuit.

Can the police perform a strip search when you’re being held for a minor offense?

According to SCOTUS, yes.

So, just to recap, the cops can’t track your car while it’s on a public road using a GPS system they attach to your car, but they can make you turn your head and cough for rolling through that stop sign.

Astrue v. Capato

Karen Capato wanted a baby. Only problem was, her husband died of esophageal cancer. Using sperm donated before his death, though, Capato was able to conceive twins. Science, folks, is a terrifying thing.

Also, why isn’t this a show on TLC?

The case was brought when the children were denied Social Security survivor’s benefits. The holding was pretty boring (state law controls their ability to collect these benefits). But the details are not.

FCC v. Fox TV

Fox was sued for putting Nicole Richie and Cher on TV. Which is a cause of action I can get behind.

Really, they got in hot water when the two dropped the F-bomb during the Billboard Music Awards. The FCC changed its rules after these incidents to include “single uses of vulgar words”. Fox challenged the fine, and SCOTUS overturned them since “single uses of vulgar words” is unconstitutionally vague. They still should have been fined for putting Nicole Richie on the air in the first place, though.

US v. Alvarez

Never one to worry about the constitutionality of anything he ever did, George W. Bush passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 to prevent people from claiming military honors they didn’t earn.

Xavier Alvarez claimed he was a life-long Marine who earned the Medal of Honor in order to win election to the Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board (local politics are cutthroat; you need any advantage you can get). None of this was true. So he was charged under the Stolen Valor Act.

SCOTUS ruled that the Act violated the First Amendment, and thus Alvarez was free to make these (false) statements. A holding which, as a veteran of the Second World War and holder of the Congressional Medal of Awesome, I find deplorable**.

*It doesn’t.
**These are obviously false statements. We here at Blueprint LSAT prep have the utmost respect for the member of our Armed Services.