Alliance for Justice analyzes key cases before the United States Supreme Court – using audio excerpts from oral arguments.
Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum
Twelve Nigerian nationals sued Royal Dutch Petroleum (parent company of Shell Oil) and two other oil companies under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) for aiding and abetting human rights abuses committed in the Ogoni Region of Nigeria in the early 1990s. The victims were protesting Shell's oil activities in the region. One of the 12 is Esther Kiobel, whose husband was tortured and executed after a sham military trial.
The Supreme Court originally heard arguments in Kiobel on February 28, 2012, to decide whether to shield corporations from liability under the ATS.
In an example of the overreach typical of the Roberts Court, the case was rescheduled to decide whether any defendant can be held liable for human rights abuses which occur outside of the United States, when neither party is an American citizen.
The Supreme Court long ago held that American federal courts were open to remedy human rights abuses around the globe.
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin
For decades, conservatives have been working to eliminate programs designed to ensure racial and ethnic diversity in higher education, and the latest challenge has been brought regarding the admissions practices at the University of Texas at Austin.
The majority of the student body of the university is admitted pursuant to the state's Top Eight Percent Plan, which automatically admits the top eight percent of students graduating from every Texas high school. About 85 percent of places at the university are filled this way.
However, following the Supreme Court's 2003 decisions in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, the university designed its admissions program to allow race to be taken into account as a factor in deciding admission for the remaining 15 percent of the open slots.
» AFJ Audio Analysis coming soon
United States v. Windsor (DOMA)
Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies more than a thousand different different federal rights to legally-married same-sex couples. Those benefits range from Social Security death benefits to the right to take family medical leave. DOMA even can separate spouses of different nationalities.
DOMA also has an impact on estate taxes. DOMA prohibited the federal government from recognizing the marriage of Edith Windsor to her lifelong partner, Dr. Thea Spyer. As a result, Ms. Windsor was hit with a huge bill for inheritance taxes. Ms. Windsor sued, arguing that Section 3 of DOMA violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Now age 83, Ms. Windsor has taken the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in Windsor has the ability to finally recognize that discrimination against LGBT Americans violates the Constitution. Alternatively, the Court could hold that DOMA violates the power of states to define the rights and benefits of their LGBT citizens.
Hollingsworth v. Perry (Proposition 8)
After the California Legislature legalized same-sex marriage in that state, voters passed Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to ban such marriages. Proponents of same-sex marriage sued to overturn the ban.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a narrow ruling, deciding that once a fundamental right like the right to marry is granted, “the people may not employ the initiative power to single out a disfavored group for unequal treatment and strip them, without a legitimate justification, of a right as important as the right to marry.” This holding draws directly from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Romer v. Evans, in which the court ruled that laws motivated by animus toward a particular group violate the Constitution.
Opponents of same-sex marriage appealed to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the 9th Circuit “stayed” its ruling. That means the marriages of same sex couples who married before Proposition 8 became law remain legally valid, but no new same-sex marriages can be performed until and unless the Supreme Court overturns Proposition 8.
State of Arizona et. al. v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., et. al.:
National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) was passed by Congress 20 years ago to provide a standardized, simple way for Americans to register to vote in federal elections. The law provides for a form prospective voters can fill out and mail to state boards of elections. States are required to “accept and use” the form. The law also requires the form be made easily available in many offices, including Departments of Motor Vehicles. That’s how the law became known as the “motor voter” law.
The law also requires prospective voters to attest, under penalty of perjury, that they are United States citizens.
Arizona passed a law, Proposition 200, by referendum adding a requirement that Arizonans provide proof of citizenship.The law specified certain documents, documents that can difficult for poor people, the elderly and new citizens to obtain. Several groups sued, challenging the right of Arizona to impose these new requirements. Lower courts agreed that the law should be struck down.
In Supreme Court oral arguments, the justices’ questioning largely revolved around two issues: the balance of federal and state authority to regulate federal elections, and whether the Arizona law’s requirements directly conflicted with the text of the NVRA.