No Rehnquist announcement; Commandments split
The Supreme Court recessed for the summer Monday morning, with no announcement from Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of his plans to retire or to remain on the Court. The day’s session ended after the announcement of six final rulings. Final orders of the Term, to be prepared after a final Conference today, will be issued at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Splitting 5-4 in the first of two rulings on government displays of the Ten Commandments, the Supreme Court upheld a federal court order against a display of the religious document on the wall of courthouses in two Kentucky counties.
The Court, in an opinion by Justice David H. Souter, said the ruling does not mean that a sacred text can never be integrated into a governmental display on law and history. It found, however, that the displays in Kentucky were motivated by a religious purpose, which did not change as the display was modified twice during court challenges.
Justice Antonin Scalia announced portions of his dissenting opinion. The case was McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (03-1693).
Chief Justice Rehnquist announced the second decision on a religious display, finding no constitutional violation in the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol building in Austin, Texas. That decision was widely splintered. Announcing the votes of the various Justices, Rehnquist quipped — to widespread laughter in the courtroom — that he did not know there were so many Justices on the Court. The case was Van Orden v. Perry (03-1500).
In a 6-3 ruling, the Court decided that cable operators offering high-speed Internet access have no legal duty to open their service to customers of all Internet service providers.
In two consolidated cases, the Court upheld the decision of the Federal Communications Commission that broadband cable modem companies are exempt from mandatory common-carrier regulation. That, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, is a lawful interpretation of the Communications Act, and thus is due the Court’s deference. The decisions came in National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X (04-277) and FCC v. Bfand X (04-281).
In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that local governments have no constitutional duty to protect from private violence an individual who is shielded by a court’s restraining order. Such individuals do not gain an enforceable interest in that protection, the Court declared in an opinion by Justice Scalia. The case was Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales (04-278).
The Court ruled 5-4 that the Sixth Circuit abused its discretion in withdrawing an opinion in a habeas case months after the ruling should have been made final by issuance of a mandate. The Court said it was resolving only the particular case, and was not deciding the scope of an appeals court’s authority to withold a mandate in order to resolve a case. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy spoke for the majority.
The decision came in the highly controversial case of a Tennessee death row inmate who is mentally impaired, Gregory Thompson (Bell v. Thompson, 04-514).