Friday, June 29, 2012

Supreme Court Activity

The Supreme Court concluded the 2011-2012 term yesterday with two important rulings.

United States v. Alvarez

Judge: Kennedy

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Military Law

The Stolen Valor Act makes it a crime to falsely claim receipt of military decorations or medals and provides an enhanced penalty if the Congressional Medal of Honor is involved, 18 U. S. C. 704 (b),(c). After pleading guilty to falsely claiming that he had received the Medal of Honor, Alvarez challenged the Act as unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit held that the Act is invalid under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed. Characterizing the law as a content-based restriction on protected speech, the Court applied the “most exacting scrutiny.” Falsity alone does not take speech outside the First Amendment. While the government’s interest in protecting the integrity of the Medal of Honor is beyond question, the First Amendment requires a direct causal link between the restriction imposed and the injury to be prevented; that link was not established. The government had no evidence that the public’s general perception of military awards is diluted by false claims or that counter-speech, such as the ridicule Alvarez received online and in the press, would not suffice to achieve its interest. The law does not represent the “least restrictive means among available, effective alternatives.” The government could likely protect the integrity of the military awards system by creating a database of Medal winners accessible and searchable. Dissenting Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas viewed the Act as significantly limited and necessary to the important governmental objective.


Nat'l Fed'n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius

Judge: Breyer
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Health Law, Insurance Law
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has upheld the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. While only four Justices found its requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance (26 U.S.C. 5000A) constitutional under the Commerce Clause, Chief Justice Roberts found it constitutional by reasonably characterizing it as a tax. Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness." The penalty is to be paid to the IRS, along with the individual’s income taxes. In a limited ruling, the Court held that the Act’s “Medicaid expansion” is unconstitutional in threatening states with loss of existing Medicaid funding if they decline to comply, but that the penalty provision is severable (which means that failure of that provision does not cause the entire Act to fail). The Act requires that state programs provide Medicaid coverage by 2014 to adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal pov­erty level, (many states now cover adults with children only if their income is considerably lower, and do not cover childless adults at all) and increases federal funding to cover states’ costs, 42 U.S.C. 1396d(y)(1). The decision leaves intact less controversial provisions, protecting individuals with preexisting conditions, allowing children to be covered by parents’ insurance until age 26, and prohibiting higher costs for insuring women.

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