There was a little something for everyone this morning in the Court’s release of seven opinions (four in criminal law cases) and five cert. grants.

However, the Court"™s decision in American Needle v. NFL "“ holding that the National Football League is not a single entity exempt from antitrust laws "“ drew most of the attention.  Bloomberg, CNN, the New York Times, the Wall Street JournalUSA Today, and the Christian Science Monitor all have coverage of Justice Stevens"™ opinion for a unanimous Court.  As Michelle Olson at Appellate Daily observes, the decision broke the eight-case winning streak of defendants in antitrust cases.  Tony Mauro at the Blog of the Legal Times describes the streak in different terms, characterizing the ruling as the "first private plaintiff victory since 1992 in an antitrust case in front of the Supreme Court."  At the Los Angeles Times, David Savage recounts the history of the case.

Commentators are already questioning the impact of the ruling.  Zach Lowe at the American Lawyer expresses doubts that the Court will apply the ruling beyond the “narrow subject” of the NFL’s apparel licensing.  At this blog, Lyle Denniston concludes that although “the American Needle case always had the potential to produce a significant new statement from the Court on the Sherman Act"™s application . . . in the end it did not." Kristi Dosh at Forbes’ Sports Money blog strikes a similar note, observing that although the ruling is “technically a loss” for the NFL, the opinion “leaves [it] operating under the same antitrust provisions as always.”  Meanwhile, Jane McManus reports at ESPN that, although the ruling deprives the NFL of legal leverage in ongoing contract negotiations with professional football players, the players are still bracing for expected cuts.

The Court issued another unanimous ruling in Lewis v. City of Chicago, holding in favor of a group of African Americans who claimed that a discriminatory use of an application test kept them from being hired as firefighters by the city.  [Disclosure: Howe & Russell filed an amicus brief in support of the petitioners in the case.]  Again, David Savage of the Los Angeles Times has extensive background on the case.  Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times reports on the actions that the Chicago Fire Department must now take.  Robert Barnes at the Washington Post and ACSblog also have coverage.

Coverage of three other, criminal law opinions:

  • Courthouse News reports on the decision in United States v. O’Brien, in which the Court held that the fact that a firearm involved in a crime was a machine gun is an element to be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, rather than a sentencing factor to be proved to the judge at the time of sentencing: Douglas Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy describes the offense/offender distinction articulated by Justice Kennedy’s opinion as “especially crisp and clean.”
  • Bill Mears of CNN reports on the decision in United States v. Marcus, in which the Court tightened the standards for an appeals court to review “plain error” in a criminal trial.  Kent Scheidegger has commentary on the decision at Crime and Consequences.
  • Coverage of today"™s decision in Robertson v. United States ex rel. Watson, which the Court dismissed as improvidently granted comes from Douglas Berman, again at Sentencing Law and Policy, who highlights some of the issues that the Court did not decide as a result of the DIG; Steven Schwinn at the Constitutional Law Prof Blog briefly discusses some of the complexities of the case.

In addition to releasing opinions, the Court also granted cert. in Skinner v. Switzer, a habeas petition from a death row inmate seeking DNA test results that supposedly could clear him of murder.  CNN describes Skinner’s trial, while Associated Press writer Michael Graczyk (via the Houston Chronicle) quotes lawyers on both sides discussing the next steps in the case.  Greg Stohr of Bloomberg also has a report on the cert. grant.  (At Reason, Radley Balko links to a detailed discussion of the case that he posted back in February.)

As Stohr notes in another story at Bloomberg, the Court also agreed, in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, to review an Arizona tax credit for donations to organizations that provide scholarships at private schools — a program that disproportionately benefits donors to religious schools.   At the Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh argues that such tax credits should “almost always be constitutional.”

Brent Kendall at the Wall Street Journal reported on the cert. grant in Williamson v. Mazda, in which the Court agreed to decide whether federal vehicle-safety standards prohibit lawsuits against car makers for installing lap-only seat belts.

Two cases the Court refused to hear also made it into the headlines.  Ashby Jones at the WSJ Law Blog and Tony Mauro at the Blog of the Legal Times cover the cert. denial in Textron, Inc. v. United States, a case challenging the privacy of legal work papers.  As the ABA Journal mentions, the American Bar Association had filed an amicus brief in which it urged the Court to take the case.

As reported at the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Reuters, and IP Watchdog, the Court declined to hear Lucent Technologies, Inc.  v. Gateway (in which Microsoft is one of the respondents), a petition alleging that certain calendar features of Microsoft Outlook infringe a patent held by another company.

Posted in Round-up