Supreme Court decides gun possession, First Amendment, tribal lands cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] decided three cases Tuesday. The Court ruled 7-2 in United States v. Hayes [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a federal gun law [18 USC § 922(g)(9), text] that prohibits anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from possessing a firearm does not require that a domestic relationship between an attacker and victim be a specific element of the crime. Hayes, a West Virginia man arrested for owning a firearm ten years after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor battery of his wife, argued that because the statute specifically mentioned domestic battery crimes, applying it to general crimes would unfairly subject an offender to additional criminal charges. Reversing an earlier decision [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website], the Court held that Congress' intent in writing the law was mostly likely to focus on the wrongful actions of the offender rather than the particular charges of which they had been convicted:

Most sensibly read, then, §921(a)(33)(A) defines “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” as a misdemeanor offense that (1) “has, as an element, the use [of force],” and (2) is committed by a person who has a specified domestic relationship with the victim. To obtain a conviction in a §922(g)(9) prosecution, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim of the predicate offense was the defendant’s current or former spouse or was related to the defendant in another specified way. But that relationship, while it must be established, need not be denominated an element of the predicate offense.
Read the Court's opinion [opinion, PDF] per Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and a dissent filed by Chief Justice John Roberts.

In Ysura v. Pocatello Education Association [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court held 6-3 that a state law prohibiting payroll deductions for political purposes does not violate the First Amendment [text]. The case was brought by a group of state employee unions who wished to challenge Idaho's Voluntary Contributions Act (VCA) [text], which provides in part that "deductions for political activities . . . shall not be deducted from the wages, earnings or compensation of an employee", on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional restriction on the employee's free speech. Before accepting Idaho's argument that the prohibition was intended to avoid the appearance of political favoritism, the Court held that
[w]hile publicly administered payroll deductions for political purposes can enhance the unions’ exercise of First Amendment rights, Idaho is under no obligation to aid the unions in their political activities. And the State’s decision not to do so is not an abridgment of the unions’ speech; they are free to engage in such speech as they see fit. They simply are barred from enlisting the State in support of that endeavor.
The Court reversed a decision [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website], which had found that Idaho was interfering with the functions of local governments and that the statute was unconstitutional as a result. Read the Court's opinion [opinion, PDF] per Chief Justice Roberts, a concurrence filed by Justice Ginsburg, dissents filed by Justice John Paul Stevens and Justice David Souter and a concurrence in part and dissent in part [texts] filed by Justice Stephen Breyer.

The Court also ruled 6-3 in Carcieri v. Salazar [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Secretary of the Interior [official profile], was not authorized to take land in Charlestown, Rhode Island, to accept in trust for the use of the Narragansett Indians [tribe website] under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA) [25 USC 479 text]. The Court interpreted the IRA's phrase "now under Federal jurisdiction" to refer to the time of the statute's enactment, and therefore to limit the Secretary of the Interior's ability to accept land in trust to those tribes recognized by federal authorities in 1934. Finding that the Narragansett had been assimilated into Rhode Island as part of an 1880 land sale, and had not regained sovereignty for federal purposes until 1983, the Court held that:
[the IRA] limits the Secretary’s authority to taking land into trust for the purpose of providing land to members of a tribe that was under federal jurisdiction when the IRA was enacted in June 1934. Because the record in this case establishes that the Narragansett Tribe was not under federal jurisdiction when the IRA was enacted, the Secretary does not have the authority to take the parcel at issue into trust.
Tuesday's decision reversed a July 2007 opinion [text] by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] that "now under Federal jurisdiction" was ambiguous, and allowing the land trust to proceed. Read the Court's opinion [opinion, PDF] per Justice Clarence Thomas, a concurrence filed by Justice Breyer, a dissent filed by Justice Stevens and a concurrence in part and dissent in part [texts] filed by Justice Souter.


 

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