Over the past year, no U.S. legal issue has generated more news coverage and commentary than the legal status of same-sex relationships, particularly the questions whether the Constitution requires states to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize such licenses grated in other states.
In June 2013, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down as unconstitutional a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined “marriage” under federal law to exclude same-sex couples. After Windsor, numerous federal and state courts ruled that the Constitution requires states to recognize same-sex marriages. In November 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reached a different result, upholding bans on same-sex marriage under the laws of several states.
By granting certiorari in cases from the four states comprising the Sixth Circuit–Bourke v. Beshear (KY), DeBoer v. Snyder (MI), Obergefell v. Hodges (OH) and Tanco v. Haslam (TN)–the Supreme Court decided to address two questions left unresolved by Windsor. (Click below to expand image.)
The Court has scheduled oral argument for April 28. In the past two weeks, dozens of briefs have been filed. Many of them are amicus curiae (or “friend of the court”) briefs, filed by persons or entities that are not parties to the case but wish to provide their perspectives to the Court. Most of them–including those of The American Psychological Association, The Cato Institute and the United States government–support the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Court’s decision is expected by the end of June, with these cases among the last to be decided in the Court’s October 2014 Term.
For those monitoring the topic, some of the best information sources are organizations that have been involved in the legal battle–e.g., Freedom to Marry and Lambda Legal. Other good sources include The New York Times and SCOTUSblog.
For worldwide information, the Jones Day law firm provides a database of jurisdictions, detailing the degree to which each country recognizes the status of same-sex relationships.
Like most law school libraries, the Fineman & Pappas Law Libraries collect books about Supreme Court Justices, including biographies and analyses of their jurisprudence. New titles about the members of the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts continue to arrive, such as Bruce Allen Murphy’s Scalia: A Court of One and Ralph Rossum’s Understanding Clarence Thomas.
It’s easy to discover other titles using the BU Libraries search engine. One approach is to start with a known title and use the record for that book to locate others. For example, starting with the record for the Murphy book on Scalia, the “More Information” tab provides the Library of Congress subject headings assigned to that book. By clicking on one of those headings (e.g., “United States. Supreme Court — Biography”), the user can retrieve a list of items that have been assigned the same subject heading. That is well over 100 books.
For a more refined list, the Advanced Search feature allows the user, for example, to retrieve just records for books published in the last 10 years. The resulting search retrieves 33 titles. (Click image below to enlarge.)
Another approach is to use a basic keyword search. Limited to books from the last 10 years, the keywords “supreme court biography” retrieved 101 titles.
See the Help menu here for guidance on searching for books, for articles, or for “everything” within the scope of a BU Libraries search. For other tips on research strategy, ask a reference librarian.
Many tools are available to you to locate dockets, briefs and other documents generated while a case is pending before a court–at any level. This session will focus on how to use some of these tools, including court web sites, Westlaw Next and Bloomberg Law, among others.
Sessions of this class are offered in Room 335 on:
Tuesday, Feb. 24, 9 a.m. (LLM preferred) and 1 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 27, 12 p.m.
To register: http://lawlibraryguides.bu.edu/certification/register
Class page: http://lawlibraryguides.bu.edu/cert2015_Court-documents
Readers of this blog have seen frequent references to SCOTUSblog, one of the gems in the legal blogosphere.
There are many reasons to follow SCOTUSblog. To start, it is an indispensable research tool for those monitoring cases before the Supreme Court–a free source for news about filings, rulings on certiorari petitions, oral arguments, new opinions and more. Coverage and analysis by veteran Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston provides a level of coverage of the Court that is available nowhere else (see, e.g., Denniston’s coverage of the array of cases addressing the law related to same-sex marriage). And the Merits Cases section of the site provides detailed coverage on each case the Court has decided to hear on the merits, including docket information, news stories and links to all the briefs filed in the case.
Other features include commentary and debates on various topics (such as Originalism and the Supreme Court); statistical analysis of Court business; and SCOTUSBlog on Camera, featuring interviews with Justices, scholars and journalists (e.g., Justice Scalia, Dahlia Lithwick, Randy Barnett).
There are various ways to track SCOTUSBlog, including use of a RSS Reader to receive new posts, or following the Twitter feed and using links to retrieve stories. If you haven’t already done so, check it out.
A previous post addressed resources for cases pending before the Supreme Court. Most of those are useful for cases decided in the recent past; for example, SCOTUSblog’s Merits Cases section provides news coverage, briefs, transcripts and other information for cases dating back to the Court’s 2007 Term.
When looking for information about older cases, there is a range of resources you can consult.
Suppose you were researching the landmark case concerning a criminal defendant’s right to counsel, Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). The case is available in PDF (United States Reports) through the U.S. Supreme Court Library in Hein Online. Free Internet versions include the case law component of Google Scholar.
Briefs from the case are available through U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs, 1832-1978. Search and browse features are available to locate the seven documents provided for Gideon, including a Transcript of Record, briefs by the petitioner and respondent, and several amicus curiae briefs. Another good source for briefs is Westlaw Next: when viewing the case, select the Filings tab from the Keycite information for that case and select among available documents.
There is a large body of secondary literature that discusses the case, including legal journal articles, books (notably Gideon’s Trumpet, by Anthony Lewis), historical accounts, even a television production. Useful discovery tools include Google Scholar (especially for interdisciplinary research); combined law review databases on Westlaw Next and Lexis Advance; and after retrieving the case, using the “Citing References” tab on Keycite (Westlaw Next) or the “Other Citing Sources” link in Shepard’s Citations (Lexis Advance).
The BU Libraries Advanced Search engine can be used to find materials that focus on the case: searching by the name of the case, or using keywords such as “gideon” and “right to counsel,” retrieves many articles and books. Also, using “gideon” as a keyword while searching for titles related to criminal procedure allows one to locate discussions of the case in topical books, such as this one.
For information on the Supreme Court and cases pending before the SCOTUS, the law library offers a wide range of commercial databases, along with free Internet resources.
These resources can provide almost anything you may want to know about a case at the Court. For an example, consider Zivotofsky v. Kerry, a case involving the constitutionality of a statute that directs the Secretary of State, on request, to record the birthplace of an American citizen born in Jerusalem as “Israel” on a United States passport. The Court’s web site provides docket information about the case, and much else: after the case was argued last week before the Justices, the transcript was posted later that day; and the audio recording of the argument was posted on Friday afternoon, following the Justices’ conference.
Among sources that compile information about the case, see SCOTUSblog for links to the briefs on the case; news coverage and links to commentary on the case; and a link to the lower court decision, which held the statute in question unconstitutional.
Among subscription services, Bloomberg BNA’s U.S. Law Week provides several useful tools for tracking the case, including the case summary from the Supreme Court Today Navigator, and news coverage at all stages of the case–e.g., the story on last week’s argument. Major general newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, are also excellent sources.
For news once the Court issues its opinion in the case, try also The Supreme Court Bulletin (syllabi of new opinions from Cornell’s LII) or Justia’s Opinion Summaries. For up-to-the-minute coverage, nothing beats the Twitter feeds of SCOTUSblog, other news sources or legal correspondents who cover the Court (Adam Liptak, Nina Totenberg).
Supreme Court watchers are eagerly anticipating word whether the Court will decide to take up the issue whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married. In recent weeks, SCOTUSblog and other news sources reported on the Court’s “long conference” on September 29, where petitions for writs of certiorari in several marriage cases were scheduled for consideration.
If the court declines to address the issue in this Term, the chief consequence would be freedom to marry in 11 states. Federal District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals rulings have struck down marriage bans, but those rulings have been stayed (see here, here and here) pending action by the Supreme Court. Once the stays are lifted, the rulings take effect.
Reports of the oral argument in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in August suggested the panel in that case appeared more inclined to uphold the state marriage bans than judges in other Circuit Courts. In an appearance at the University of Minnesota Law School, Justice Ginsburg commented that unless the 6th Circuit upheld a same-sex marriage ban, thus creating a split among the circuits, there would be “no urgency” for the Court to take up the issue in the short term.
To date, there is no word whether the Court will grant certiorari on any of the cases discussed at Monday’s conference. When those decisions have been made, they will be announced in the Court’s Order lists. And there will be extensive coverage in the news outlets that cover the Court. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: On October 2, NPR’s Nina Totenberg noted that the Court had declined, in releasing an Order list in pending cases, to take up any of the pending marriage cases on the merits. She concluded, “sometime in the next few weeks, the high court very likely — though not certainly — will announce which gay-marriage cases it has chosen as test cases for review.”
In each annual Term, the first oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court take place on the first Monday in October.
There are very many sources of information to track cases pending before the Court. Some that you may find helpful:
- The Supreme Court Bulletin, a publication of Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, is regular e-newsletter that provides previews of pending cases and reports the syllabus of each new decision on the day it is released
- United States Law Week includes an extensive array of Supreme Court information, including detailed news coverage at all stages of cases, such as the filing of writs of certiorari, oral arguments and analyses of new opinions
- SCOTUSblog provides extensive news about Court developments, including a Merits Briefs section that provides access to briefs filed in pending and recent cases
- Justia’s Opinion Summaries include summaries of new opinions from many courts, including SCOTUS, and weekly topical newsletters with summaries from various courts
You may also find legal blogs, such as Constitutional Law Prof blog, The Volokh Conspiracy and Balkinization, to be excellent sources for commentary and analysis on cases before SCOTUS and recent decisions.
Since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, no legal issue in the U.S. has been followed more closely than the question whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married.
There are many current awareness tools to monitor the topic. among them, consider these:
The same range of tools can be used to monitor or locate information on other subjects. Whatever you topic, give these tools a try!
The SCOTUS this week began its Summer ritual of announcing its decisions in rapid progression. Among the big decisions include, remarkably, the Court’s first EVER ruling on the limits of the Presidential Recess power. That decision came in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning. As explained on Scotusblog.com, “The Court began with the first question presented in the case: whether the Constitution allows the president to make recess appointments during “intra-session” recesses (breaks that occur within the two one-year sessions between congressional elections) or only during “inter-session” recess (the break between the two one-year sessions). Its answer on this question is a victory for the Obama administration and future presidents who want to be able to make recess appointments.” Justice Breyer wote, “We have not previously interpreted the [Recess Appointments] Clause, and, when doing so for the first time in more than 200 years, we must hesitate to upset the compromise and working arrangements that the elected branches of Government themselves have reached.”
All did not end well for the Obama Administration however as the Court went on to invalidate the appointments that made up the subject of this case–and thereby invalidating a multitude of decisions already made by the NLRB.:
“The Court then turned to the third and final question presented in the case: whether the Senate can prevent the president from making recess appointments even during its longer recesses by holding “pro forma” sessions – that is, sessions at which no work actually gets done – every three days. The Court answered that question in the affirmative, rejecting the federal government’s argument that the “pro forma” sessions are, in essence, just a sham to thwart the president’s recess appointments powers. In the Court’s view, all that matters is whether the Senate says it is in session and could at least in theory conduct business, which is possible (even if unlikely) at the pro forma sessions.
Here it is important to note that, although all nine Justices agreed that these particular recess appointments were invalid, there was not a lot of harmony on the Court in this question.”
Never a dull moment at SCOTUS. Who says the Law cannot be exciting?
Here’s a link to the decision.
For full details and to see the other remarkable rulings of the week, visit scotusblog.com.