Supreme Court Notebook

Court won’t hear free speech challenge to metals dealers law

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court won’t consider the constitutionality of an Ohio law that bars precious metals dealers from advertising without a license.

The justices on Monday declined to take up an appeal from Liberty Coins, a gold and silver dealer that claims the law violates the free speech rights of businesses.

Ohio officials say the 1996 law was enacted to protect consumers from theft and help police track down stolen wedding rings, gold bracelets and other items resold at stores that buy gold and silver merchandise.

A federal judge in 2012 ruled the law unconstitutional because the state failed to prove the license requirement was effective in curbing theft, fraud and terrorism. But the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling last year.


Justices hear small church fight over Arizona town sign law

WASHINGTON (AP) — A small church in a Phoenix suburb says its local government puts far stricter limits on its roadside signs advertising Sunday services than it places on politicians, real estate agents and other groups, and is asking the Supreme Court for relief.

The justices are hearing arguments Monday in a case from Gilbert, Arizona, that raises First Amendment questions about how governments may regulate their citizens’ speech. The Good News Community Church and Pastor Clyde Reed sued Gilbert, claiming that religious groups are treated more severely than others.

Gilbert allows so-called directional signs, like the ones put up by the church inviting people to Sunday worship, to be no larger than 6 square feet. They must be placed in public areas no more than 12 hours before an event and removed within an hour of its end. Signs for political candidates, by contrast, can be up to 32 square feet and can remain in place for several months.

Lower federal courts upheld the town’s sign ordinance because the distinction it draws between different kinds of temporary signs is not based on what a sign says.

The church is joined by religious groups and the Obama administration in urging the Supreme Court to strike down the ordinance.

The church, which serves roughly 30 adults and up to 10 children, argues that the regulation’s significant difference in the size of the signs and how long they can be displayed is essentially regulation based on content, which the Supreme Court only rarely allows in First Amendment cases.

“Simply put, to prevail in this case, Gilbert must explain why a 32-square-foot sign displayed in the right of way virtually all year long is not a threat to safety and aesthetics if it bears a political message, but it is such a threat if it invites people to Good News’ church services,” the church said in court papers.

The National League of Cities and other associations of local officials are backing the town and warning that a ruling in favor of the church would make it “nearly impossible” for cities and towns to craft sign regulations that deal with a community’s appearance and safety.

A decision is expected by June in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 13-502.


High court won’t hear challenge to Vermont campaign law

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court won’t hear a challenge to part of Vermont’s campaign finance laws that impose contribution limits on political action committees.

The justices on Monday declined to hear an appeal from the Vermont Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group. The group argued that Vermont’s campaign finance registration, reporting and disclosure requirements for PACs were too broad and unconstitutional.

The group argued that a subcommittee it created should not be subject to Vermont’s $2,000 limit on contributions to PACs because the subcommittee does not give money directly to candidates and makes only independent expenditures.

But a federal judge rejected those arguments, finding that there was no clear accounting between the two committees. A federal appeals court agreed.

Texas inmate facing execution loses appeal at Supreme Court
HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider an appeal from an East Texas man facing execution in March for a shootout that left two Henderson County sheriff’s deputies dead nearly eight years ago.
The justices made no comment Monday in turning down 55-year-old Randall Wayne Mays.
He’s scheduled to die March 18.
A federal appeals court last July rejected arguments the former welder and oilfield worker had deficient legal help at his 2008 trial and that executing him would be unconstitutionally cruel because he’s mentally ill.
Mays was convicted of slaying sheriff’s deputy Tony Ogburn. A second officer, Paul Habelt, also was killed and a third was wounded. The shootings occurred after Mays barricaded himself in his house in Payne Springs, about 55 miles southeast of Dallas.

Supreme Court won’t hear land dispute over Manhattan park
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal from New York property owners who say the federal government should compensate them for land converted to Manhattan’s High Line Park.
The justices on Monday let stand an appeals court ruling that said owners of land around the unused freight rail line gave up their right to sue when they signed a deal with New York City officials to develop the park.
The property owners claimed the federal government was not a party to their agreement with the city. They’re seeking compensation for giving up development rights to valuable land surrounding the 1 ½ mile long park on the city’s West Side.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled the agreement specifically prevented lawsuits against the United States.

Supreme Court won’t hear dispute over DUI blood tests
WASHINGTON (AP) —” The Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal from Colorado officials who want to make it easier for authorities to take blood samples from suspected drunk drivers without their permission or a warrant.
The justices on Monday let stand a state supreme court ruling that excluded evidence of a Colorado man’s blood test that showed his blood-alcohol level at the time of a traffic accident was nearly three times the legal limit.
Colorado had argued that police should be allowed to order blood samples when there is not enough time to get a warrant before blood alcohol levels decrease.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that authorities must consider several factors and be able to justify why they did not obtain a warrant before drawing blood.

Justices won’t question California Delta smelt protections
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has left in place restrictions on water deliveries from California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect a tiny, threatened fish.
The justices on Monday rejected appeals from farmers in California’s Central Valley and urban water districts who had challenged a plan put in place by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the3-inch-long Delta smelt.
The federal appeals court in San Francisco had largely upheld the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 biological opinion that restrictions were needed on the use of massive pumps that move water from the North through the state’s system of canals to deliver it to farms and cities in central and southern California.
A federal judge had earlier invalidated the study, but allowed its protections to take effect during the appeal.