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Some limits on political donations upheld

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Constitution allows a state government to ban payroll deductions for labor union political activities, when the ban applies to the paychecks of local government workers.  The decision in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association (07-869) was written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., with the result supported by a 6-3 vote. Justice Stephen G. Breyer filed a partial dissent, but it focused on the main point. Justices David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens each wrote a dissenting opinion.

This was one of three rulings the Court issued.

In another, the Court limited the federal government’s authority to take parcels of land and put them into trust for the benefit of Indian tribes, concluding that the power only applies to tribes that were officially recognized by the government in 1934. The Court thus vetoed action by the Interior Department to provide a 31-acre parcel of land in Rhode Island to the Narragansett Indians.  The case was Carcieri v. Salazar (Interior Secretary), 07-526.  Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that turned out to be 6-3 on key points. Justice Souter filed only a partial dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Justice Stevens dissented in full.

In the third ruling, the Court expanded the reach of a 1996 federal law that bars possession of guns by a person convicted of a domestic violence crime that was a misdemeanor.  The law applies, the Court said in U.S. v. Hayes (07-608), whenever the battered victim was in fact the wife or other family relative of the offender.  Thus, while such a domestic relationship must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, it is not a necessary element of the crime, the decision found.  “It suffices for the government to charge and prove a prior conviction that was, in fact, an offense committed… against a spouse or other domestic victim,” the Court explained in the 7-2 decision. Justice Ginsburg wrote for the majority.  The Chief Justice and Justice Antonin Scalia dissented.