The last week and a half has been very, very good for those in favor of limited government and a robust Bill of Rights. We have no "Gloating" category so this diary will have to go under "Politics".
June 16 - Susan B. Anthony List vs Driehaus. A (now former) congressmen attempted to have critics imprisoned for up to six months merely for pointing out that he'd voted, indirectly, in favor of "taxpayer funded abortions". This was under an Ohio law prohibiting making false statements about politicians. The unanimous decision stated that SBA can sue Driehaus for what he tried to do, and the speech-suppressing effects of his threats, even though the threats evaporated after the voters kicked him out of office.
It's also notable that none of the liberal justices held out on the grounds that the Susan B. Anthony List was an organization rather than a person, and only persons have First Amendment rights. Maybe that will put to rest that particularly idiotic bit of reasoning that arose after Citizens United.
June 19 - US vs Clarke. "A taxpayer has a right to conduct an examination of IRS officials regarding their reasons for issuing a summons when he points to specific facts or circumstances plausibly raising an inference of bad faith." This will help end the practice of using summonses for purposes of harassment. The decision by Kagan was unanimous, indicating that there really weren't any reasonable people on the other side of this argument.
June 25 - Riley vs California. "The police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested." This decision is remarkable - rather than deciding some borderline issue on the specific facts, it is laying down a very definite and quite general bright line. The reasoning makes it clear that digital data has the same protection as "persons, houses, papers, and effects". The court considered, and rejected, the "just in case" arguments made by the government, and reaffirmed the following:
We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime. Cell phones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals. Privacy comes at a cost.
In other words, our rights are not limited to things that are completely innocuous with no possibility of abuse. Free people have rights that are dangerous and one just has to accept that. Again, the decision was 9-0 against the government, so there is little chance of overturning it or creating exceptions through small changes in the circumstances of the search. Furthermore, because it is a bright line, police officers who violate this rule will have little chance of pulling the qualified immunity dodge.
June 26 - McCullen vs Coakley. A Massachusetts law limiting speech near abortion clinics "violates the First Amendment" because it is not "narrowly tailored" and "burden[s] substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.” Again - I hope there is a pattern here - the decision was unanimous against the government, and the minority concurring opinions wanted to go even further.
JFTR, I think McCullen et all are behaving poorly. None of the customers of the clinic want to hear their message, and the message itself probably puts a lot of emotional stress on women trying to exercise their own rights. But the First Amendment was not put in to protect only speech that doesn't bother anyone.
June 26 - NLRB vs Noel Canning. "The Recess Appointments Clause empowers the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess—intra-session or intersession—of sufficient length" but "For purposes of the Recess Appointments Clause, the Senate is in session when it says that it is".
This decision - did I mention it is unanimous - is a useful brake on the efforts by Bush, continued aggressively by Obama, to marginalize the popularly elected branch of government in favor of executive authority.
The justices didn't even bother to dismiss the argument made by some here at The Forvm that a large, active, continuing executive is some kind of default that kicks in when Congress declines to agree with the President. In actuality, the default is a President and a Vice President (who doesn't report to the President) with no funds, subordinates, or even an office to sit in. Everything has to be built up from zero with the approval of Congress.
The unanimity here should also help defuse accusations that the SC is engaging in political, results-oriented jurisprudence. The decisions cut against both conservative and liberal authoritarians and centralizers. Furthermore, it should also help defuse the notion that the fate of the nation hangs on one or two Supreme Court appointments. No President, in one term, is likely to get the five vacancies necessary to change any of the above.