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Opinions Today:
The Supreme Court handed down two signed opinions and three per curiam opinions this morning. They're all available here, via Howard. For my money, the most interesting cases are Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal, a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Roberts involving a preliminary injunction under RFRA to block DOJ from prosecuting members of a religious sect for using hallucinogenic tea, and Lance v. Dennis, a per curiam decision on the scope of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Defending the Indefensible:
UDV is huge. Do Rastafari have RFRA protection now?
2.21.2006 1:48pm
boonelsj (mail):
My initial impression was that UDV is not as huge as it could have been. I think the door is still open for drug law/enforcement to be a compelling state interest that would overcome RFRA, it's just that in this case, the government couldn't meet its burden on the issue. Of course, I've only read a small chunk of it.
2.21.2006 2:15pm
Medis:
boonelsj,

A quick glance suggests, however, that the government has to meet such a burden on a case-by-case, as applied, basis.
2.21.2006 2:20pm
Lowell R. (mail):
Re Lance v. Dennis: Justice Stevens has again irked me.

He takes it upon himself today to look at the ruling of the state supreme court -- never mind that (a) the appeal is from the district court, and (b) the question is one of jurisdiction, not the content of this case, or of Colorado's state court procedure. He says the district court properly dismissed the all of the petitioners' claims, for a host of reasons, including privity and the propriety of the Petition Cause claim. But the PC opinion, in fn. 3, explicitly states that its holding deems that sort of analysis unneccesary -- and Stevens doesn't dispute this.

And no matter what Stevens' opinion of Rooker-Feldman, there was no need for him to spend a page and a half (with footnote, listing seemingly arbitararily-chosen law review notes) rejecting it, as the PC court finds that it's not applicable in this case. Justice Ginsburg's opinion should have satisfied Stevens -- but if he's right, and there are three or four good reasons for the district court to throw the case out, than Rooker-Feldman never even has to come into play. His dissent only exists because of his fervent disagreement with it.

At the very least, Stevens could have supported his implicit proposition that, even when a lower court misconstrues its justisdiction, the Supreme Court can still order it thrown out on grounds addressed only by an even lower court and not presented to the Court.

Stevens seems to be doing this more each year -- dissenting from relatively simple holdings to grandstand about a tangential issue.
2.21.2006 3:07pm
Fishbane (mail):
I think the door is still open for drug law/enforcement to be a compelling state interest that would overcome RFRA, it's just that in this case, the government couldn't meet its burden on the issue.

The biggest gap left to the government to overcome RFRA, I think, is treaty compliance. Some of the language looked pretty sympathetic to that claim, but held that the government failed to argue it properly.
2.21.2006 3:38pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Arbitration junkies shouldn't miss Cardegna, which spells out for the weak-minded that Prima Paint is substantive not procedural, and which also reminds us that Thomas *still* doesn't think the FAA applies in state courts, 11 years after Allied-Bruce Terminix. Give it up, Thomas.
2.21.2006 4:25pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"The biggest gap left to the government to overcome RFRA, I think, is treaty compliance. Some of the language looked pretty sympathetic to that claim, but held that the government failed to argue it properly."

More precisely, the Court said the government failed to present any evidence on that claim. The government failed to do so because, well... there is no such evidence.
2.21.2006 5:53pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Ironically, if Angel Raich were perfectly healthy but used cannabis as a sacrament, her case might have come out differently. But where it was only her health and her life at stake, no RFRA to protect her.
2.21.2006 6:13pm
snowball (mail):
Lowell R.:

In defense of Stevens, I think it's a pretty well-established rule in the federal system that an appellate court may affirm the judgment of a lower court on any ground supported in the record (even if not reached by the lower court). It's a matter of discretion whether to invoke that power, but it's done all the time by Courts of Appeals reviewing district court decisions. That's obviously why Stevens dissented, so I don't see why he had to state that proposition explicitly. He says that the district court was wrong on Rooker-Feldman but that, at the end of the day, the claim should have been dismissed anyway. The Supreme Court reviews *judgments* not opinions, so if from the record Stevens believes that dismissal of the claim was correct, he was duty bound to affirm the judgment below.

And why is it "grandstanding on tangential issues" for a Justice to point out that a particular doctrine was unworkable? If I were a dissenting judge who had predicted confusion, and that confusion becomes reality, I'd want also to say, essentially, "I told you so." All of this seems unobjectionable to me.

If this is what irks you, you've got some *very* thin skin!
2.21.2006 6:20pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
It just stuck me - the Dennis in Lance v. Dennis is the same (Gigi) Dennis who has the dogs my daughter feeds. Both Lance and Dennis are typically first names, and it just didn't sink in until I read the case.

What is interesting to me is that it is quite possible that CO residents won't get final resolution to this whole mess by the time of the next apportionment. If the plaintiffs actually win this case, and the legislative apportionment is adopted instead of the judicial apportionment currently in affect, it would be valid for at most two, or more likely just one Congressional election.

The Rooker-Feldman preclusion that was rejected here is not as interesting as I think the Elections Clause of Article I, §4 of the U.S. Const. claim will be. I really don't see the U.S. Supreme Ct. actually effectively reversing the Colo. Supreme Ct., esp. after having refused Cert. for the appeal from that decision. But I do see some parallels with Bush v. Gore, where explicit U.S. Constitutional state legislative power grants are overriden by state supreme courts.
2.21.2006 6:32pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Defending the Indefensible writes:


Ironically, if Angel Raich were perfectly healthy but used cannabis as a sacrament, her case might have come out differently. But where it was only her health and her life at stake, no RFRA to protect her.
I think Raich was wrongly decided, but there's no analogy to this case. Raich involved conflict between a federal statute, and a state law--and I think should have been decided on principles of federalism in favor of the state law (there being only a liberal's notion of interstate commerce regulation in Raich's use of marijuana). This case, however, involves conflict between a federal statute (Controlled Substances Act) and a federal constitutional provision--with another federal statute (RFRA) defining how the courts were supposed to interpret it.
2.21.2006 6:32pm
Steve:
It is not the cases which are being compared, but the Congressional policies at issue. Congress is willing to carve out an exception to the Controlled Substances Act to permit religious use of marijuana, but not to permit medical marijuana. One may reasonably question how Congress reconciles its position.
2.21.2006 7:31pm
David Barnett:
Steve writes:

Congress is willing to carve out an exception to the Controlled Substances Act to permit religious use of marijuana, but not to permit medical marijuana. One may reasonably question how Congress reconciles its position.

By definition, Schedule I drugs have no accepted medical use. Maybe marijuana should be in Schedule II (as cocaine is), but it makes no sense to expect Congress to grant a medical exception to a Schedule I drug.
2.21.2006 8:14pm
joe (mail):
By definition, Schedule I drugs have no accepted medical use. Maybe marijuana should be in Schedule II (as cocaine is), but it makes no sense to expect Congress to grant a medical exception to a Schedule I drug

Perhaps there shouldn't be such thing as a Schedule I drug. From which enumerated power does Congress find cover for the CSA?
2.21.2006 8:58pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Joe:

The CSA (including Schedule I) is theoretically predicated on the Commerce clause. How prohibition of commerce can be construed as a regulation of commerce, I leave as an exercise.
2.21.2006 10:06pm
JamesB:
I think you are reading too much into the "Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal" They were not rulling on the merits of the case, all they rulled on was if the Government had met a burden of proof in order to reinstate the injunction. Which they didn't. As other have noted the court gave clear indications about what arguments it expects to see during the actual trial. I have a feeling that if the government argues correctly; when the appeal reaches the Supreme Court it will have a favorable hearing.
2.21.2006 11:05pm
Defending the Indefensible:
JamesB,

If the UDV wins their ultimate case (which the preliminary injunction suggests the court thinks more than likely), I would expect the administration not to appeal. They've already got a precedent against themselves on the interlocutory appeal, why would they want to make it worse for themselves?

Moreover, there's no particular reason the SCOTUS should want to take this case again after final appeal, unless the intervening circumstances are so changed by then that several Justices change their mind even before hearing it again. Remember, this is not a split decision, this was 8-0, no dissent.
2.22.2006 8:56am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Interesting that the Constitution allows the Federal Government to decide for the states what is proper medical practice.

Benjamin Rush thought medical fascism would be the result of Federal Control and thoght that there ought to be a medical freedom amendment.

I heve written about it including a Benjamin Rush quote.
2.22.2006 10:46am