stephen g. breyer

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that barred protests, counseling and other speech near abortion clinics.

“A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a majority opinion that was joined by the court’s four-member liberal wing.

The law, enacted in 2007, created 35-foot buffer zones around entrances to abortion clinics. State officials said the law was a response to a history of harassment and violence at abortion clinics in Massachusetts, including a shooting rampage at two facilities in 1994.

The Massachusetts law was challenged on First Amendment grounds by opponents of abortion who said they sought to have quiet conversations with women entering clinics to tell them about alternatives. “Petitioners are not protesters,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

The court was unanimous about the bottom line but divided on the reasoning, with Chief Justice Roberts writing a narrow opinion. The law blocked too much speech, he said, “sweeping in innocent individuals.”

But Chief Justice Roberts said the state’s concerns could be addressed in other ways, including through laws concerning harassment, intimidation and obstruction. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion.

In a conference call sponsored by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, officials pledged to protect patients and workers.

“Our patients will be safe,” said Martha M. Walz, the chief executive of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and a former state legislator.

“One tool has now been taken away,” said Ms. Walz, who was a lead sponsor of An Act Relative to Public Safety, the law struck down by the court. “We will now use the other tools at our disposal,” including laws prohibiting entrances of clinics from being blocked and injunctions against protesters who go too far.

“By striking down the buffer zone today, the Supreme Court has taken away an essential measure to protect public safety and health care access in our state,” she said. “The opinion raises the question of whether the buffer zone at the Supreme Court is in fact constitutional.”

Ms. Walz said that when she was doing research for the legislation in 2007, wearing a guide’s bib and standing at the center’s door, she was confronted by a large protester, “up in my face screaming at me.” She recalled, “It was, to say the least, frightening.”

Supreme Court ruling expands police authority in home searches

The Supreme Court decision, based on a Los Angeles case, says officers may search a residence without a warrant as long as one occupant consents.

Feb. 25 2014

Police officers may enter and search a home without a warrant as long as one occupant consents, even if another resident has previously objected, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a Los Angeles case.

The 6-3 ruling, triggered by a Los Angeles Police Department arrest in 2009, gives authorities more leeway to search homes without obtaining a warrant, even when there is no emergency.

The majority, led by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said police need not take the time to get a magistrate’s approval before entering a home in such cases. But dissenters, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, warned that the decision would erode protections against warrantless home searches. The court had previously held that such protections were at the “very core” of the 4th Amendment and its ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The case began when LAPD officers responded to reports of a street robbery near Venice Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue. They pursued a suspect to an apartment building, heard shouting inside a unit and knocked on the door. Roxanne Rojas opened the door, but her boyfriend, Walter Fernandez, told officers they could not enter without a warrant.

“You don’t have any right to come in here. I know my rights,” Fernandez shouted from inside the apartment, according to court records.

Fernandez was arrested in connection with the street robbery and taken away. An hour later, police returned and searched his apartment, this time with Rojas’ consent. They found a shotgun and gang-related material.

In Tuesday’s decision, the high court said Fernandez did not have the right to prevent the search of his apartment once he was gone and Rojas had consented.

In the past, the court has frowned upon most searches of residences except in the case of an emergency or if the police had a warrant from a judge.

But Alito said police were free to search when they get the consent of the only occupant on site.

“A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the 4th Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant,” he said in Fernandez vs. California. “Even with modern technological advances, the warrant procedure imposes burdens on the officers who wish to search [and] the magistrate who must review the warrant application.”

He also said Rojas, who appeared to have been beaten when police first arrived, should have her own right to consent to a search. “Denying someone in Rojas’ position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence,” Alito wrote for the court.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Ginsburg in dissent and faulted the court for retreating from the warrant rule.

“Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement, today’s decision tells the police they may dodge it,” Ginsburg said.

She noted that in 2006, the court had ruled in a Georgia case that a husband standing in the doorway could block police from searching his home, even if his estranged wife consented. In Tuesday’s opinion, the majority said that rule applied only when the co-owner was “physically present” to object.

The voting lineup seemed to track the court’s ideological divide and its gender split, with male and female justices taking opposite sides. The six men — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Anthony M. Kennedy and Alito — voted to uphold Rojas’ consent to the search. The court’s three women would have honored Fernandez’s objection.

Fernandez was later convicted for his role in the street robbery and sentenced to 14 years in prison. After the California Supreme Court upheld his conviction, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the search of his apartment.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed bitterly divided during heated arguments over the fate of President Obama’s health care law.

The court’s four liberal members voiced strong support for the administration’s position. But the administration must almost certainly capture the vote of either Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. or Justice Anthony M. Kennedy to prevail.

The chief justice said almost nothing.

Justice Kennedy asked questions suggesting that he was uncomfortable with the administration’s reading of the statute. But he added that the challengers’ reading posed problems, too.

“Your argument raises a serious constitutional question,” he told their lawyer.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued for the Obama administration, facing Michael A. Carvin, who represented the plaintiffs in another challenge to the law that reached the Supreme Court in 2012.

The argument, which lasted 80 minutes rather than the usual hour, started with a presentation from Mr. Carvin that was tied closely to the text of the law.

“This is a straightforward question of statutory interpretation,” he said, referring to a provision in the law that seems to say that subsidies are available only to people living where the insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, had been “established by the state.”

Mr. Carvin faced a barrage of questions from the court’s liberal wing focusing on the health care law as a whole.

“We don’t look at four words,” Justice Elena Kagan said. “We look at the whole text.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer echoed the point.

“If you want to go into the context” of the law, he told Mr. Carvin, “at that point your argument really is weaker.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Mr. Carvin’s reading of the law would have devastating consequences. “We’re going to have the death spiral that this system was enacted to avoid,” she said.

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The New York Times, “Supreme Court Appears Sharply Split In Case on Health Law.”

And to think more than seven million Americans might lose healthcare coverage based on a God damned technicality and half of the country is okay with that.

Fuck.