Supreme Court rules for state in racial minority voting rights case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] decided four cases Monday. The Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Bartlett v. Strickland [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a racial minority group that comprises less than 50 percent of a district's population cannot succeed on a vote dilution claim. In a plurality opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act [text] does not require a redrawing of the district:

Crossover districts are, by definition, the result of white voters joining forces with minority voters to elect their preferred candidate. The Voting Rights Act was passed to foster this cooperation. We decline now to expand the reaches of §2 to require, by force of law, the voluntary cooperation our society has achieved.
The ruling upheld the decision of the North Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Act only applies to districts where the minority population constitutes 50 percent or more of voters. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Antonin Scalia joined. Justice David Souter filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer joined.

The Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in Vaden v. Discover Bank [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that federal courts have jurisdiction to hear lawsuits brought under the Federal Arbitration Act [text] to compel arbitration when the claim does not raise a federal question but the underlying dispute to be arbitrated involves federal law. However, the Court also ruled that the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit improperly found [opinion, PDF] that a federal question existed and reversed the opinion below. Writing for the Court, Ginsburg determined:
We agree with the Fourth Circuit in part. A federal court may "look through" a §4 petition and order arbitration if, "save for [the arbitration] agreement," the court would have jurisdiction over "the [substantive] controversy between the parties." We hold, however, that the Court of Appeals misidentified the dimensions of "the controversy between the parties." ... Given that entirely state-based plea and the established rule that federal-court jurisdiction cannot be invoked on the basis of a defense or counterclaim, the whole "controversy between the parties" does not qualify for federal-court adjudication.
Justice John Roberts filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Justices Stevens, Breyer, and Samuel Alito joined. Roberts agreed that the court should be able to "look through" to the underlying claim but would have allowed the district court to compel arbitration.

In Vermont v. Brillon [Cornell LII backgrounder, JURIST report], the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 that delays caused solely by a public defender do not violate a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The defendant Michael Brillon faced assault charges, awaiting trial for three years while he was assigned to six different public defenders. Ginsburg wrote for the majority:
Assigned counsel, just as retained counsel, act on behalf of their clients, and delays sought by counsel are ordinarily attributable to the defendants they represent. For a total of some six months of the time that elapsed between Brillon's arrest and his trial, Brillon lacked an attorney. The State may be charged with those months if the gaps resulted from the trial court's failure to appoint replacement counsel with dispatch. Similarly, the State may bear responsibility if there is "a breakdown in the public defender system." But, as the Vermont Supreme Court acknowledged, the record does not establish any such institutional breakdown. [citations omitted]
The ruling overturned the decision [opinion text] of the Vermont Supreme Court, which held that the delay violated Brillon's Sixth Amendment rights. Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens joined.

In Kansas v. Colorado [JURIST report], the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously that it is limited to the same cap on expert witness fees that applies in a district court when the case falls under the Supreme Court's original and exclusive jurisdiction. The Court has constitutionally mandated original jurisdiction [Article 3, § 2 text] over the case because it is a dispute between two states. In 2001, the Court ruled [opinion] that Colorado was liable for millions of dollars in damages and interest for diverting water from the Arkansas River into Colorado farm lands. The dispute continued, and in 2004, the Court ordered a special master to further investigate the situation [opinion]. The special master determined that US law [28 USC § 1821(b) text] caps a witness' attendance fee at $40 per day, but Kansas argued that the legislative intent behind the statute was meant to bind only lower courts and that the Supreme Court is statutorily unlimited in awarding fees in cases of original jurisdiction. In an opinion by Alito, the Court overruled Kansas's exceptions to the special master's report:
[W]e conclude that the best approach is to have a uniform rule that applies in all federal cases.

We therefore hold that the expert witness attendance fees that are available in cases brought under our original jurisdiction shall be the same as the expert witness attendance fees that would be available in a district court under §1821(b).

 

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