U.S. Supreme Court Notebook

Court rules for ex-U.S. marshal in W.Va. tax dispute


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is siding with a retired U.S. marshal who argued that West Virginia discriminated against former federal law enforcement officers like him by giving a more generous tax break to onetime state law enforcers.

The court has ruled 9-0 that West Virginia law unlawfully discriminated against the retired marshal, James Dawson.

West Virginia law exempted the vast majority of state law enforcement retirees, including police and firefighters, from paying income tax on their retirement benefits. But retired U.S. Marshals Service employees such as Dawson didn’t qualify.

The Supreme Court says a state violates federal law when it treats retired state employees more favorably than retired federal employees when no significant differences between the two groups justify the different treatment.

 

Supreme Court won’t hear Lake Michigan beach case
 

LONG BEACH, Ind. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from Indiana residents who want to extend their property rights to the state’s Lake Michigan shoreline.

The (Northwest Indiana) Times reports that the high court denied a petition by two landowners in Long Beach, Indiana, who live adjacent to the lake.

Don and Bobbie Gunderson were appealing a ruling last year by the Indiana Supreme Court that set the ordinary high water mark as the boundary between state-owned land under Lake Michigan and private property. They contended their lakefront property extends to the water’s edge and that landowners have the right to limit who uses the beaches abutting their properties.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the state owns the shoreline and holds it in trust for all residents.

 

Justice Thomas calls for  re-examining libel case


WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Clarence Thomas says the Supreme Court should consider overturning a 55-year-old landmark ruling that makes it hard for public figures to win libel suits, writing in a case involving a woman who says Bill Cosby raped her.

Thomas took aim at New York Times v. Sullivan and similar cases that followed it, calling them “policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law.”

“We should not continue to reflexively apply this policy-driven approach to the Constitution,” Thomas wrote in a 14-page opinion that no other justice joined.

The opinion comes against the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s repeated calls to make it easier to sue for libel. Last weekend, Trump reacted to a Saturday Night Live skit by asking on Twitter, “How do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into.”

On Tuesday, the high court rejected an appeal from actress Kathrine McKee, who said Cosby raped her in 1974. McKee sued Cosby for damaging her reputation after a lawyer for the comedian allegedly leaked a letter attacking McKee. Two lower courts ruled against her and dismissed the case, based largely on McKee’s role as a public figure.

The Sullivan case set a very high bar for public officials to win a libel suit and hefty money awards over published false statements that damaged their reputations. The high court extended the 1964 decision in the ensuing decades to make it tough for celebrities, politicians and other public figures to win defamation cases.

Thomas is the justice who most often calls for jettisoning Supreme Court rulings that he says do not comport with the meaning of the Constitution at the time it was adopted.

“The states are perfectly capable of striking an acceptable balance between encouraging robust public discourse and providing a meaningful remedy for reputational harm,” he wrote.

He is not the first justice to criticize the 1964 case, though he appears to be the first to issue a call for its reconsideration in a Supreme Court opinion. The late Justice Antonin Scalia took a similarly dim view of the Sullivan ruling, once saying in a televised interview that he abhorred it.

 

High court declines to hear campaign, rape cases
 

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined without comment to hear two cases from Montana.

In the first case, the nation's high court dismissed a request from Montana Attorney General Tim Fox to reconsider a previous ruling that he says prevents the state from bringing a sex offender to justice in a 1987 child rape case.

Fox sought to charge Ronald Dwight Tipton for the rape of an 8-year-old girl based on new DNA evidence, but a 2003 court decision says it's unconstitutional to charge him after the statute of limitations has expired.

The second case is a challenge to Montana's campaign disclosure laws.

Montanans Against Community Development petitioned the court after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected its case to strike down the law that requires groups such as itself to disclose its donors and spending.

 

High court denies appeal of drug price-gouging law


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a Maryland appeal to uphold the state's law against pharmaceutical price gouging.

The high court on Tuesday denied Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh's appeal without comment, letting a lower court ruling against the law stand.

The law approved in 2017 enabled the state's attorney general to sue makers of off-patent or generic drugs for price increases that state officials considered "unconscionable." That was defined as an excessive increase, unjustified by the cost of producing or distributing the drugs.

The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 last year that the law was unconstitutional, because it forces manufactures and wholesalers to act in accordance with Maryland law outside of the state and burdened interstate commerce.

The law was challenged by the Association for Accessible Medicines.

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