SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Justice Dept. deputy wins case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has ruled for the Trump administration in a case about prison terms that was argued by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The justices said in a 5-3 decision Monday that judges need not provide detailed explanations when modifying a prison sentence. The case has limited consequences. The inmate whose appeal the high court decided argued for a term of nine years. Rosenstein pushed for the term the judge imposed, 9 ½ years.

Justice Stephen Breyer said in his majority opinion that the brief explanation the judge provided was sufficient.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Justice Neil Gorsuch took no part in the case.

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Court sides with Florida man in free speech case

By Jessica Gresko
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A man who has been an outspoken critic of the south Florida city where he lives is now 2-0 in disputes with the city before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Fane Lozman in a lawsuit that began with his 2006 arrest at a City of Riviera Beach city council meeting. Lozman, who also won a case against the city at the Supreme Court in 2013, was arrested while talking about corruption in the county during a public comment portion of the meeting.

Lozman, 56, argued he was arrested in retaliation for being a critic of the city and sued. But a lower court said Lozman was barred from bringing a lawsuit for retaliation because a jury found a police officer had probable cause to arrest him for disturbing a lawful assembly. The Supreme Court disagreed, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing in an 8-1 decision that Lozman’s lawsuit isn’t barred. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.

“What happened to me was wrong. It happens all the time to public speakers. This is going to tell municipalities that you’re not immunized from legal actions. There is a price to pay,” Lozman said in a telephone interview after the decision was announced.

The decision doesn’t end the case. Kennedy wrote that an appeals court should look at several issues when re-evaluating the case, directing the court to use as guidance a previous case that Lozman had advocated. The appeals court could rule in Lozman’s favor or against him, said Kerri L. Barsh, one of Lozman’s attorneys, but said the court had previously suggested Lozman made a strong case that he was retaliated against.

An attorney for the city, Benjamin Bedard, called the decision “narrow” and said there are various arguments open to the city when it returns to the appeals court. He said the city hopes to persuade the appeals court to rule in favor of the city and said the city never had a policy or agreement to retaliate against Lozman.

“They really were just trying to run their meeting in an efficient manner,” Bedard said, adding that if Lozman had followed a councilwoman’s direction and “moved on to other topics then none of this ever would have occurred.”

It’s also possible the case could settle. Lozman said part of what’d he’d want is an apology and for the city to pay his legal fees and other costs, which now are over $200,000.

Lozman was arrested on Nov. 15, 2006 after he began using the meeting’s public comment time to talk about government corruption in Palm Beach County, where the City of Riviera Beach is located. He kept speaking after a member of the council warned him not to continue with the topic. The charges against him were ultimately dismissed, but Lozman then turned around and sued the city.

Lozman claimed the city violated the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee by arresting him in retaliation for his criticism of city officials and policies and a separate lawsuit he’d filed against the city.

Numerous First Amendment and media organizations, including The Associated Press, filed briefs supporting Lozman.

Lozman’s win Monday comes five years after his last victory at the court. In 2013, the justices sided with Lozman in ruling that a floating home that he had docked at a city-owned marina was a house, not a boat subject to easier government seizure under laws that govern ships and boats.

The case decided Monday is 17-21, Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach.

 

Justices leave door open to curbing partisan districts

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday allowed electoral maps that were challenged as excessively partisan to remain in place for now, declining to rule on the bigger issue of whether to put limits on redistricting for political gain.

The court issued a pair of unanimous rulings in partisan redistricting cases from Wisconsin and Maryland that decided very little, and ensured that any resolution by the nation’s high court would not come before the 2018 midterm elections.

Proceedings in both cases will continue in lower courts. Meanwhile, the justices could decide by the end of June whether to take up a new case from North Carolina.

Still, the outcome was a setback for advocates of limits on what is known as partisan gerrymandering because they hoped they had finally found a way to prove their case to a long-skeptical Supreme Court and Justice Anthony Kennedy, in particular. There were two cases on the court’s agenda, one brought by Democrats and the other, by Republicans.

The justices had a range of options before them, including a broad, statewide look at the issue in Wisconsin, where Republicans have a huge edge in the legislature in a state that is otherwise closely divided between the parties. A three-judge court in Wisconsin had struck down the map as unconstitutional.

In Maryland, Republicans sued over a single congressional district that was redrawn in 2011, as the state’s Democratic former governor said, to turn a Republican seat Democratic. The Maryland case is only in its preliminary phase and has not yet had a trial. That will now happen.

Rather than endorse limits or rule them out altogether, the court decided each case on procedural grounds. In Wisconsin, the court said that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that they have the right to sue on a statewide basis, rather than challenge individual districts.

The majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts in the Wisconsin case cast doubt on the broadest theory about the redistricting issue known as partisan gerrymandering.

Roberts wrote that the Supreme Court’s role “is to vindicate the individual rights of the people appearing before it,” not generalized partisan preferences.

The usual course when the justices find that parties to a lawsuit lack the right to sue, or standing, is to dismiss the case. But, Roberts wrote, “This is not the usual case.”

So the voters who sued will be able to try to prove they have standing.

“This is definitely not the end of the road,” said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project which organized and brought the lawsuit.

“There is no vindication for the state’s rigging of the maps and disenfranchising of our voters here,” Chheda said. “We know as well today as we did when we started that our democracy is threatened and we need to return the power to the people.”

Republicans hold a 64-35 majority in the Wisconsin Assembly and an 18-15 majority in the Senate. Wisconsin’s Republican legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, issued a joint statement in reaction saying they were pleased with the decision and were confident they would ultimately win.

“Democrats have been using the maps as an excuse for their failure to connect with Wisconsin voters,” Vos and Fitzgerald said. “We believe the redistricting process we undertook seven years ago fulfilled our constitutional duty, and followed all applicable laws and standards that are required in redistricting.”

The unanimous outcome was unexpected because the justices appeared deeply divided about how to handle partisan districting cases. The outcome still only partially masked disagreement on the issue.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a separate opinion for her three liberal colleagues that suggested how the plaintiffs might solve the problem of standing going forward. They also called on the court to decide the issue once and for all.

“But of one thing we may unfortunately be sure. Courts—and in particular this court—will again be called on to redress extreme partisan gerrymanders. I am hopeful we will then step up to our responsibility to vindicate the Constitution against a contrary law,” Kagan wrote.

On the other side, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch wrote that they would have ended the lawsuit and not given the Wisconsin voters another chance to make their case.

Kennedy, who had been viewed as the deciding vote on partisan redistricting, did not write separately Monday. In 2004, he wrote that he was not closing the door on limits on partisan gerrymandering, but that he had yet to find a workable way for courts to police the practice.

The next chance to weigh in is a case from North Carolina that seemingly addresses some of the high court’s concerns. A lawsuit filed by North Carolina Democrats has plaintiffs in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts. Like Wisconsin, North Carolina is generally closely divided in politics, but Republicans hold a 10-3 edge in congressional seats.
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Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this report from Madison, Wisconsin.

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Appeal from gay inmate in South Dakota rejected

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is rejecting an appeal from a gay death row inmate in South Dakota who says jurors were biased against him because of his sexual orientation.

The justices did not comment Monday in leaving in place the death sentence for Charles Rhines. He was convicted in the stabbing death of a doughnut shop employee in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1992.

Rhines tried to persuade the court to take an interest in his case after the justices last year ruled that evidence of racial bias in the jury room allows a judge to consider setting aside a verdict. Rhines said one juror said Rhines should not be sentenced to life in prison because he is gay and would be housed with other men.

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