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Review of the U.S. Supreme Court term

Written by Dick Pryor on Sunday July 25, 2010

1993-592-3By most accounts, the recently-completed U.S. Supreme Court term was one of the most interesting in recent memory.  It concluded with the final day on the bench of Justice John Paul Stevens, after 35 years on the high court.  Stevens was an appointee of President Gerald Ford, but he was far from conservative.  In fact, long before he retired his black robe, Stevens had become known as one of the most "liberal" members of the court.  Perhaps he had changed, as many justices do, or perhaps the court just became more conservative over the past three and a half decades.  Regardless, the erudite, bow tie-wearing justice could always could be counted on for reasoned legal rationale, and some biting dissents.

One of Stevens' longest and most critical dissents was in the ground-breaking decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  That opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, allowed corporations (foreign and domestic) and unions to contribute to American political campaigns from their general treasury accounts.  I won't go into the details here, but the decision and Justice Stevens lengthy dissent, can be found on the U.S. Supreme Court web site.  Citizens United was probably the most-talked about case of the term, and was followed late in the session by McDonald v. City of Chicago, a decision that struck down the city of Chicago's ban on the sale of handguns.  McDonald was a critical Second Amendment case, and coming just two years after the Court's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller (striking down the Washington, D.C. gun ban), it gave additional definition to the extent of gun rights.  However, while McDonald established a new fundamental right to self-defense, it left unanswered many questions about the degree to which state and local governments can regulate gun sales and use. 

Our guests, University of Tulsa law professor Tamara Piety and Oklahoma City University Associate Professor Michael O'Shea have done extensive research on those cases, respectively, and were able to parse through the language of the decisions to give us their best guess as to what the cases stand for and will truly mean to American citizens.  It is interesting to note that the McDonald decision, in particular, while expanding the "rights" of each American in the area of gun ownership, may also serve to limit the power of states.  Michael O'Shea told me that the Roberts court does not seem especially interested in federalism issues, so the settled law that the laws of the federal government trump the laws of the states (the "Supremacy Clause" found in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution) may not be challenged in the foreseeable future.  Regardless of how people feel about the reach of the Commerce Clause, O'Shea indicated this area does not appear to be one in which the Supreme Court will become active.  Certainly not as active as the O'Shea and Piety believe they were in Citizens United and McDonald. 

For more information about the U.S. Supreme Court I recommend the SCOTUS BLOG.  It's good source for information and thoughtful discussion of thorny legal issues confronting the court.  Like most of our programs, this one was one that just enabled us to scratch the surface of the Big Topic.  There was so much more I would have like to have addressed, including cases construing Miranda v. Arizona, recent FCC rulings, and an important free speech case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.  But, we can do just so much in 24 minutes.  Expect us to revisit the U.S. Supreme Court again in a few months.  The decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court affect each of us, and we think it is important to hear what Oklahoma legal experts think about the evolving law of the land.  Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor 

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