Scalia may have opened path for Quakers to abstain from taxes


The controversial Hobby Lobby decision elevated religious belief over legal compliance -- this may be good news for Quakers, Amish, Mennonites and others who've historically faced punishing reprisals for withholding some of their tax to avoid funding the military.

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JC Penney wins Supreme Court victory, may sacrifice employees to Cthulhu.

You knew this was coming, right?

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How anti-slavery law created American corporate personhood


Jeff Reifman sez, "In light of this week's ruling that for-profit corporations should have protection for their religious beliefs, I thought I'd summarize the timeline of Supreme Court decisions that established corporate constitutional rights US law." tl;dr: most of it comes from the anti-slavery 14th Amendment.

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3/4 of Hobby Lobby's investment funds include contraception, abortion services


Hobby Lobby is so offended by the idea of contributing to its employees' birth control expenses that it fought all the way to the Supreme Court over the issue. But its retirement plan has over $73M sunk into funds that include companies that make contraception.

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Bust card: Constitutionally protected smartphone edition

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that warrantless smartphone searches are unconstitutional, here's a bust-card for you to print, carry, and commit to memory so that you'll have it to hand when John Law wants to muscle his way into your mobile life.

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Supreme Court ruling creates urgent need for abortion clinic escorts


The Supreme Court has struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a "buffer zone" around abortion clinics, defining an area in which anti-choice protesters may not harass women who visit clinics. An important Metafilter post by Anotherpanacea points up the urgent need for more clinic escorts to help women through the gauntlet (I used to do clinic defense in Toronto's Morgantaler Clinic, which was later bombed by anti-choice terrorists).

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Supreme Court invalidates software patent because it's a software patent

Supreme-Court

In a stunning verdict, the Supreme Court has tossed out a patent because it is a software patent, ruling that "merely requiring generic computer implementation fails to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention" -- that is, adding "with a computer" doesn't make a new patentable invention. This is seismic, and not just because of what it says about whether software is patentable in America, but because of how it escalates the turf war between the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit, which is the nation's "patent court."

The Supremes have spent more than a year pumping out decisions that fly in the face of the Federal Circuit's longstanding precedents, but the Federal Circuit judges have refused to consider Supreme Court decisions when hearing new cases -- meaning that every time the Federal Circuit goes against a Supreme Court judgment, you have to apply to have the case retried in front of the Supremes to get justice. Normal practice is for Federal judges to treat the Supremes as having the last word on US legal interpretation, so when the Supremes rule, all the lower courts follow.

There have been rumors about the Federal Circuit being abolished -- or having jurisdiction over patents yanked -- as the turf war has heated up. Federal Circuit judges have a reputation for being ideologically biased towards patents as a matter of course, wanting to use patents to solve every problem. It's classic regulatory capture -- patent judges tend to start life as patent lawyers, and are improperly chummy with the white-shoe lawyers who appear before them.

There's precious little expert analysis of the new judgment online yet. The Slashdot post recommends checking in with the Software Freedom Law Center for updates as everyone digests this decision.

Bot alerts you every time the Supreme Court silently alters its rulings


As the New York Times recently reported, the Supreme Court has a habit of silently altering its rulings on its websites. Now, the @SCOTUS_servo feed will alert you when this happens, with links to the diffs and interpretation by David Zvenyach, general counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia.

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Hobby Lobby, IUDs, and the facts

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide later this year whether a corporation can have religious beliefs. Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at the science of birth control, and how it might inform the debate.

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Supreme Court to rule on warrantless smartphone searches

The Supreme Court will hear a pair of cases that will set precedents on the expectation of privacy in your mobile devices. American police forces have treated smartphones are equivalent to a notebook -- something that can be thumbed through during a search without a special warrant. But your smartphone potentially holds thousands of photos, access to a lifetime of email, intimate conversations with family, friends (and attorneys!), passwords for dozens of services, and more. Warrantless smartphone searches might give police access to all the most intimate parts of your life -- if that isn't the sort of thing that courts should be overseeing, then what is?

Incidentally, this is a good argument for encrypted mobile device storage and strong mobile passwords.

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Patent mess goes to the Supreme Court

Two more high-profile patent cases are headed to the US Supreme Court, which has already agreed to hear a patent case this year. The patent system is in chaos, with ever-more-trivial patents being granted, and ever-broader theories of patent infringement being created by the Federal Circuit, the court that oversees the patent system.

A Supreme Court ruling that restored some sanity to patents would be very welcome indeed -- but if they went the other way, it would be dreadful. The only solution at that point would be for Congress -- whose campaigns depend on revenue from patent abusers -- to pass a new law (don't hold your breath).

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EPIC wants to sue NSA at the Supreme Court

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has asked the Supreme Court to allow it to sue the US government over NSA spying; EPIC argues that only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and so they should be able to start with the Supremes and skip the lower courts. Cory 7

Secret rulings from America's shadow Supreme Court legalizes spying in one-sided hearings

America's 11-judge Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has made more than a dozen classified rulings that vastly expanded the powers of America's spy agencies, operating under an obscure legal doctrine called "special needs." Under this doctrine, established in 1989 in a Supreme Court case over drug testing railway workers, a "minimal intrusion on privacy" is allowed in order to help the state mitigate "overriding public danger." FISC's rulings have widened this ruling to allow for wholesale spying in the name of preventing "nuclear proliferation," as well as terrorism. The NYT calls this a "shadow Supreme Court" but notes that FISC proceedings only hear from the government -- no one presents alternatives to the government's arguments. Much of the expansion of surveillance turns on whether metadata collection is intrusive (I think it is):

The officials said one central concept connects a number of the court’s opinions. The judges have concluded that the mere collection of enormous volumes of “metadata” — facts like the time of phone calls and the numbers dialed, but not the content of conversations — does not violate the Fourth Amendment, as long as the government establishes a valid reason under national security regulations before taking the next step of actually examining the contents of an American’s communications.

This concept is rooted partly in the “special needs” provision the court has embraced. “The basic idea is that it’s O.K. to create this huge pond of data,” a third official said, “but you have to establish a reason to stick your pole in the water and start fishing.”

Under the new procedures passed by Congress in 2008 in the FISA Amendments Act, even the collection of metadata must be considered “relevant” to a terrorism investigation or other intelligence activities.

The court has indicated that while individual pieces of data may not appear “relevant” to a terrorism investigation, the total picture that the bits of data create may in fact be relevant, according to the officials with knowledge of the decisions.

In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A. [Eric Lichtblau/NYT]

(via Hacker News)

Supreme Court says states can limit freedom-of-information requests from out-of-state, Muckrock hacks around it with your help

Michael from MuckRock sez,

The Supreme Court ruled this morning that states have the right to restrict public records access to locals, meaning one more hurdle to would-be muckrakers everywhere. Even in-state requesters are harmed: It means one more bureaucratic hurdle and another excuse for agencies to respond in paper rather than electronically.

MuckRock has helped file requests in all 50 states -- important for projects like the Drone Census -- and we're looking for more volunteers to help ensure transparency from sea to shining sea.

States impacted:

* Alabama
* Arkansas
* Delaware
* Georgia
* New Hampshire
* New Jersey
* Tennessee
* Virginia

If you live in one of the above, fill out a simple form and we can help ensure that sunshine isn't restricted depending on where you live:

To keep filing in all 50 states, MuckRock needs your help (Thanks, Michael!)

Heinlein on Kirtsaeng

This really deserves its own post. In the comments on the post on Kirtsaeng -- where the Supreme Court just upheld the right to sell used goods, even if they were made abroad -- Shrikant quotes from Heinlein's classic short story Life-Line:

"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back."