First Week of the New SCOTUS Term

“First Monday” — October 6

Warrantless Stops & Searches

The first case of the 2014-15 term involves an illegal stop of a car, which ultimately resulted in the discovery of more than 50 grams of cocaine.  The officer pulled the car over, which is a form of seizure governed by the 4th Amendment and requiring “reasonable suspicion.”  The officer asserted suspicion that a law was being violated because the car had a broken taillight — but North Carolina law required only one working taillight, so there was no basis for believing a law was being violated. The Court must decide if a police officer’s ignorance of the law is an excuse for what would otherwise be an unconstitutional search.  Heien v. North Carolina,

The second case on this opening day is more obscure, involving filing deadlines and civil procedure in class actions.  Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi v. IndyMac MBS, Inc.


Tuesday, October 7 

Religious Freedom & Prisoners

Grooming requirements come up frequently in discrimination cases, and this morning the issue is considered in the prison context, in Holt v. Hobbs.  A prisoner asserts that maintaining a beard is essential to his religious beliefs, which are protected by both the Constitution and federal statute, which requires the Court to determine whether the regulation places a substantial burden on religious practices and, if so, whether the regulation is the least restrictive means available to achieving a compelling goal — the same standard applied in last term’s highly controversial Hobby Lobby ruling, as this interesting NY Times article notes.

The second case, again, is a more obscure question of civil procedure.  Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Company, LLC v. Owens


Wednesday, October 8

Working Hours

This group of warehouse workers were required to pass through a screening before they could leave for the day (to prevent theft), but the stations were under-staffed, resulting in waits of up to 25 minutes when a large shift ended.  The employer said this was after their shift ended, so did not pay them for this time.  The resulting lawsuit is brought under the Portal-to-Portal Act, which has seen a lot of cases involving protective gear and jobs that involve travel between sites.  An interesting discussion of this case (Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk) and various precedents is available here.

Juror Misconduct

A Federal Rule of Evidence is designed to protect juror statements and keep them out of future litigation, unless they are used to demonstrate “improper outside influence” against the decision-making of a juror.  Here, the court determined that they fact that a juror raised personal experience was not improper influence, but the plaintiff also asserted that the trial is tainted because the juror lied during jury selection; had the juror disclosed this life experience, she probably would have been dismissed from the jury).  The Rule does not explicitly provide an exception to the general rule that jury statements are inadmissable where the statement is meant to prove lying; the Court will have to decide if an exception should be read into the Rule.  Warger v. Shauers.

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