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It's been a busy week at the Supreme Court. Let's start with the decision to uphold cell phone privacy during police searches. John Cassidy at The New Yorker :
It’s not so often these days that I write anything favorable about the Supreme Court. But here’s a quick shout-out to Wednesday’s ruling from the Justices, a unanimous one, that the police need a warrant to search the cell phone, or other digital device, of a person they arrest. For once, John Roberts, who wrote the decision, and all of his colleagues appear to be on the right side of history. [...]

Depending on how this ruling is interpreted in other cases, it could represent a historic step toward establishing a generalized right to electronic privacy, which can’t be overridden without the approval of a judge.

The Courier-Journal:
They contain personal diaries, calendars, extensive listings of friends and family, photos, e-mails and a host of other private information most people wouldn't want outsiders, including police, browsing through.

Nearly 90 percent of Americans have a mobile phone and they contain "a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives—from the mundane to the intimate," Justice Roberts wrote, according to The New York Times. Technology is advancing far faster than anyone could imagine.

But some constitutional principles haven't changed and one is the basic right to privacy and freedom from "unreasonable searches and seizures" guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme Court called this one right.

Head below the fold for more analysis.

The Miami Herald also praised the Court's decision:

In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, the Court said our smartphones are as private as the very homes in which we live — and police officers will now need a warrant to snoop into them. [...] It’s a heartening affirmation for digital privacy in this age of NSA snooping, collected data and drones. It’s disappointing that the Justice Department fought against it, arguing that cell phones can be searched just like anything else carried by someone who’s arrested.

But the Court sided with reality: Cell phones today are as intimate as a family’s living room; we even sleep with them nearby. And when someone is suspected of running afoul of the law, cell phones should not be treated like purses, wallets or vehicles, which police have traditionally been allowed to search without a warrant.

Next, the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Massachusett's 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. From The Boston Globe's Joanna Weiss:
IF PEOPLE are nice, sweet, and gentle in the course of their harassment, is it still harassment? If they make eye contact and smile and calmly say “Good morning” before they start intimidating women, is it still intimidation? [...] These aren’t protesters, the court said. They’re sidewalk counselors. They hand out leaflets and offer “an outstretched arm.” They “seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives.”

Wow. That’s a rose-colored idea of what can happen on the ground, when a woman is trying to walk into a clinic — to get routine health care, or a cancer screening, or, yes, a legal abortion. Personal, sure. Caring, perhaps. But how consensual can a conversation be when someone is standing in your way and sticking a leaflet in your face? [...]

Every news story I’ve seen about Eleanor McCullen, the 77-year-old lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, refers to her as a grandmotherly type, cheery and sweet. I’m sure her pleasant nature is more effective than screaming and ranting.

But if your grandmother stands — literally — in the way of your right to get health care, your grandmother still needs to be stopped.

The Los Angeles Times:
Well, sure, there may be plenty of calm, soft-spoken opponents of abortion. But there are also violent and confrontational ones. The 1994 shootings may have been the impetus for Massachusetts to write its first law on the subject, but the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports the right to abortion, notes that clinics across the country continue to report bombings, vandalism, blockades, arson and violent protests. Just because some opponents of abortion are peaceful doesn't mean women don't need protection from others.

You'll hear no argument from us about how vital the right to free speech is. But that does not mean that all other rights must yield to it at all times.

Stephanie Armour at The Wall Street Journal with the kicker:
The U.S. Supreme Court, which Thursday struck down a Massachusetts law that established a 35-foot buffer around abortion clinics, enjoys its own protest-free zone.

A federal law bars protests from the white marble plaza of the U.S. Supreme Court building, an irony that was not lost on supporters of abortion rights.

The New York Times argues that the Supreme Court made a bad call in its unanimous decision to curtail presidential appointment power:
When one branch of government routinely abuses its constitutional power in order to prevent another from functioning, the Supreme Court is expected to take notice and stop the abuse. Unfortunately the court failed to do so on Thursday in an important balance-of-power case, raising the prospect that President Obama and his successors could have trouble making necessary appointments to executive posts as the nation’s politics become more sharply polarized.

The court invalidated a series of appointments Mr. Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board in 2012, at a time when Republicans were blocking all nominations to the board, regardless of merit, to prevent pro-union decisions. Mr. Obama had erred, the court said, by declaring the Senate in recess at a time when it was holding short pro forma sessions every three days when nearly all members were on vacation and no real business was being transacted. Though Article 2 of the Constitution gives the president power to make recess appointments, the unanimous opinion of the court was that these pro forma sessions did not constitute a recess because “the Senate is in session when it says it is,” as long as it is capable of conducting business.

This view is willfully blind to the real purpose of the pro forma sessions, which were held solely to thwart the president from making recess appointments. No real legislating can take place when virtually all members are out of town — as the Senate’s official website says, “no business is conducted at these sessions.” The fact that during one session the presiding officer rubber-stamped a payroll tax deal that had been reached the week before — cited by the court as proof of real business — doesn’t change what everyone in Washington knew was really going on.

The Los Angeles Times tries puts a positive spin on the decision:
Obama and his successors should welcome this decision because it could have been so much worse. The justices could have endorsed the holding of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that presidents may unilaterally appoint officials only between "enumerated sessions" of Congress, a hiatus that occurs only once a year. Or they could have backed the appeals court's holding that recess appointments could be made only for vacancies that opened up during that recess. [...] Recess appointments should be exceptional, but they shouldn't be impossible. It's good that a majority of the justices didn't allow their displeasure with Obama's overreaching to obscure that fact.
And Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog gives us the practical takeaway:
So what exactly does all of this mean, going forward?  First and foremost, it means that the three recess appointments directly involved in this case – to the NLRB – are invalid.  That in turn means that any decisions in which those three NLRB commissioners participated while they were recess appointees are invalid.  But nothing in the Court’s ruling suggests that it would invalidate other, earlier recess appointments. [...]

But what about other recess appointments in the future?  The short answer is that it really will depend on which parties are in power.  Right now Democrats control both the White House and the Senate.  With the decision by Senate Democrats back in November to invoke the “nuclear option” – which allows them to confirm the president’s nominees with a simple majority – the president currently doesn’t need to use recess appointments to fill judgeships or senior positions in the executive branch.  But that could change if the Republicans gain control of the Senate this November (a prospect that many believe is increasingly likely):  a Republican Senate could not only block the president’s nominees, but prevent the president from making recess appointments by ensuring that it never recesses for more than a few days.  And, of course, the shoe could be on the other foot if – after the 2016 elections — the Democrats were to control the Senate but lose the White House.  So even if the president’s recess appointments power may not factor into many voters’ decision-making process, it certainly could hang in the balance in the next two elections.

On a final note, it's not a Supreme Court case, but it's a critically important one nonetheless. The Denver Post explains the importance of a decision this week by U.S. District Chief Judge Marcia Krieger, which upheld Colorado's gun control measures:
Consider the ban on large-capacity magazines. Despite the law's broad scope, Krieger explains, "the statute's impact on a person's ability to keep and bear (use) firearms for the purpose of self-defense is not severe. Unlike the restriction considered [by the Supreme Court] in Heller, this statute does not ban any firearm nor does it render any firearm useless. Semiautomatic weapons can be used for self-defense in and outside of the home. ... The only limitation imposed is how frequently they must reload their weapons."

And how big of a restriction is that? Krieger says testimony established that instances when gun owners need to defend themselves or others by firing more than 15 rounds are extremely rare. In short, it simply "does not materially reduce the ability of a person to use a semiautomatic firearm for self-defense." [...]

It's one thing for opponents of last year's gun bills to argue they are unfair to law-abiding gun owners and will do little or nothing to deter criminals. But unconstitutional? That argument always seemed a big stretch, and Judge Krieger has now pretty much said as much.


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