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Wednesday round-up

The Court yesterday issued its final orders of October Term 2009. The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes characterizes the Term as an “assertive” one for the Court, with Chief Justice Roberts playing a dominant role. The Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin characterizes Justice Kennedy as the “[C]ourt’s true compass.” He acknowledges that Justice Roberts was in the majority more often than Justice Kennedy, but stresses that “on the most contentious cases, it was Justice Kennedy who cast the deciding vote.”

The conclusion of the Term also marks the end of Justice Stevens’ service as an active Justice. Bravin describes Stevens’ evolution into the leader of the Court’s liberal wing, noting that last month Stevens concluded, “there was no way to apply the death penalty in accord with constitutional guarantees.” (Thanks to How Appealing’s Howard Bashman for a link to the full text of the article.) Stevens’ tenure concluded with a capital case, Sears v. Upton, in which the Court granted certiorari and vacated the death sentence of a convicted kidnapper. Capital Defense Weekly and Courthouse News Service both have coverage of the case, which is headed back to Georgia’s Supreme Court.

Some of the Court’s other actions are also attracting attention. The Court granted certiorari in Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Candelaria, which concerns a statute sanctioning employers who hire undocumented immigrants. Ruthann Robson highlights the Ninth Circuit’s opinion at Constitutional Law Prof’s Blog. The Court declined to grant certiorari in Pfizer, Inc. v. Abdullahi, effectively allowing families to sue Pfizer for allegedly testing a drug on Nigerian children without consent. The Christian Science Monitor’s Warren Richey has coverage, as does Law360’s Erin Marie Daly. At Courthouse News Service, Maria Dinzeo describes another case that the Court declined to hear, effectively upholding a San Francisco health-care plan that requires employer expenditures towards the goal of covering low-income residents of the city. Law360’s Shannon Henson also highlights the Court’s vacating of two honest-services based convictions, in light of its recent decision in Skilling v. United States.

In addition, some of the Court’s recent opinions are still being evaluated.

The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times opines that the Court’s decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez could lead to “bizarre results, such as a Jewish group having to admit Christians or a pro-life group being required to let abortion-rights activists seek leadership positions.” At PrawfsBlawg, Rick Garnett laments the Court’s opinion, which he believes embraces the idea that the government has an interest in imposing “dissent” or “dissonance” on a religious organization, in order to teach its members “respect for difference.”

At the Washington Post, Peter Whoriskey discusses the Court’s decision in Bilski v. Kappos, which “relaxes limits on innovations that can be patented.” The Wall Street Journal’s Brent Kendall and Don Clark report that the Court left “inventors and lawyers without clear guidance on what types of business methods could qualify for protection under patent laws.”

The editorial board of the Washington Post praises the Court’s result in the petition-signatory anonymity case, Doe v. Reed. But it fears that the Court “left open a worrisome possibility: Petition signers could block disclosure on a case-by-case basis if they convince a judge that they will be subject to harm if their names become public.”

Finally, speculation continues about the effect of the Court’s decision in the Second Amendment incorporation case,  McDonald v. Chicago. Sentencing Law and Policy’s Douglas Berman highlights an AP piece, “which reviews the state gun restrictions that might soon be subject to post-McDonald litigation”