Breaking News

Court to rule on child interviews

UPDATED TO 11:58 a.m. The Supreme Court, stepping into a new controversy over child sex abuse,  agreed on Tuesday to decide whether the Constitution puts limits on the authority to interview children at school about claims of sexual assault.  The specific issue is whether police and social workers must obtain a warrant before conducting such interviews.  The Court granted that issue among six new cases it accepted for review.  It also sought the federal government’s views on states’ immunity to court orders requiring them to raise revenue to pay for prior official actions that turned out to be illegal.

A deputy sheriff and a state social caseworker took the issue of child interviews to the Court in a pair of cases, Camreta v. Greene, et al. (09-1454) and Alford v. Greene, et al. (09-1478); the Court consolidated the cases for one hour of oral argument, probably in January or February.  The appeals argue that, because the details of child sex abuse are known only to the victim and the perpetrator, police may not have sufficient evidence to support a warrant, so they need the authority to interview an alleged victim without the parents’ presence — often, at school.  The Ninth Circuit Court required a warrant, if parents’ consent is not obtained or there are no other “exigent circumstances.”  Supreme Court review of the warrant issue was supported by 27 states.

In a significant new case on the rights of government employees, the Court said it would decide whether public workers have more protection against retaliation on the job when their grievance is expressed through a formal petition to officials than when they speak out in public.  The local government council in the small northeast Pennsylvania borough of Duryea urged the Court to rule that public employees who rely on the First Amendment’s Petition Clause are not protected from retaliation when their complaint is only about their personal grievance, not a matter of public concern.  The Third Circuit Court rejected that argument in a case growing out of a running feud between Duryea’s Borough Council and the local chief of police (Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri, 09-1476).

The Justices took on a significant new dispute about who may sue to enforce the Tenth Amendment’s protection of state sovereignty.  At issue in the case of Bond v. U.S. (09-1227) is whether a private individual may sue to challenge the constitutionality of a federal law, on the theory that it intrudes on the powers of state government in violation of that Amendment.  The issue arises in a criminal case in which federal prosecutors relied upon a federal law passed by Congress to enforce a global treaty seeking to prevent nations from spreading the use of chemical weapons.  A Landsdale, Pa., woman was charged with violating that law for attempting to poison her close friend after that woman became pregnant, allegedly after an affair with the Landsdale woman’s husband.   The appeal by Carol Anne Bond contended that the crime was at most a local one, growing out of a domestic dispute, having nothing to do with the spread of chemical weapons among nations.

Taking on a new sentencing case, the Court said it will seek to clarify the kind of federal crimes involving cocaine that require a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison.  At issue in the case of DePierre v. U.S. (09-1533) is whether the term “cocaine base” in mandatory sentencing law was intended to refer only to trafficking in crack cocaine, not any other forms of the illegal substance.  The case grows out of a federal investigation of drug crimes in a Haitian community in and around Boston.

In a case of potentially momentous significance for Indian law, the Court agreed to hear a case by two upstate New York counties, arguing that they should be able to foreclose on land owned by the Oneida Indian Nation for failure to pay local property taxes.  The Oneida Nation bought the lands in question after they had been in private hands for more than 200 years, and has refused to pay taxes to the counties of Madison and Oneida.  In their joint appeal (docket 10-72), the counties urged the Supreme Court to sharply limit the immunity of Indians to lawsuits for alleged violation of state and local laws, and to settle whether the Oneida Nation no longer has legal claim involving lands as if it still had a reservation.

In the final cases among those granted on Tuesday, Global-Tech Appliances, et al., v. SEB S.A. (10-6), the Court will be deciding the legal standard to guide decisions on when infringement of a patent has been illegally induced.  In this case, the Federal Circuit Court ruled that a company that borrows the design of a competitor’s consumer product — here, deep fryers for home kitchen use — can be found to have intended to infringe the other’s patent if it was deliberately indifferent to the possibility that such a patent existed.  Global-Tech, a Hong Kong-based company, argued that the Supreme Court had set a standard of a specific intent to induce another to violate a patent.  A Global-Tech subsidiary lost a $2.7 million infringement award to a French company, SEB S.A.

The new case in which the Justices invited the federal government’s views about state sovereignty grows out of a dispute in Puerto Rico (considered a state for the purposes of the case) over the price of milk.  After a federal District Court ruled that Puerto Rican agricultural authorities had violated the rights of milk processors in the Commonwealth, that Court ordered officials to assure a higher rate of return for those dairy processors, and to raise revenue to compensate them for the lower revenues they had received back to the year 2003.  In the petition for Supreme Court review, Rivera-Aquino, et al., v. Suiza Dairy, et al. (10-74), Commonwealth officials argued that the order to raise revenue violates state sovereignty even though the funds would not come out of the Commonwealth government’s treasury.   There is no deadline for the U.S. Solicitor General to respond to the Court’s request for its views on what to do with the case.

Among the cases that the Justices refused on Tuesday to hear was a claim of a constitutional right not to be barred for attending a government official’s public speaking event, based on opposition to that speaker’s official policy or views.  The case involved the exclusion of two individuals from a March 2005 speech by then-President George W. Bush in Denver.  Secret Service agents and event staff members ordered those two to leave the event, after discovering that one of them had arrived in a car that bore an anti-war bumper sticker reading “No More Blood for Oil.”  The two Coloradans sent out of the event contended that the actions violated their free speech rights.   Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissented in a two-page opinion as the Court denied review in Weise, et al., v. Casper, et al. (10-67).

Issues that the Court refused on Tuesday to hear included these:

** A test of the constitutionality of the policy of California’s public college systems to deny admission to some students after refusing to accredit courses they had taken while attending parochial schools, allegedly because the courses were taught from a religious point of view — a claim that the universities denied.  The case was Association of Christian Schools, Inc., v. Stearns, et al. (09-1461).

** A plea by 11 major drug-making companies for the Court to clear up when a lawsuit, first filed in state court but transferred to federal court, should remain in federal court because lawyers involved had made efforts to try to defeat the shift of the case to federal court.  It was a test of the complex question of the effect on federal jurisdiction of “fraudulent misjoinder” of parties who shared the same state of residence as some of the parties sued.  The case grew out of scores of lawsuits filed by women against drug companies over the incidence of breast cancer among women who had taken drugs for hormone replacement therapy to relieve symptoms of menopause. The petition to the Supreme Court was Wyeth LLC, et al., v. Kirkland, et al. (10-222).

** A challenge to the constitutionality of a state law imposing a business revenue tax on nightclubs that offer nude dancing entertainment. (Denali LLC, et al., v. Utah State Tax Commission, et al.,09-1442).

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Court to rule on child interviews, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 12, 2010, 10:37 AM),