Aug. 19, 2019 — University of Houston Law Center professors and members of the local legal community recently unpacked the 2018-2019 U.S. Supreme Court term during a continuing legal education session.
The opening discussion analyzed Nieves v. Bartlett and Flowers v. Mississippi, and was led by Law Center Professor Peter Linzer and George "Mac" Secrest of Bennett & Secrest, PLLC.
Nieves v. Bartlett involved a citizen, Russell Bartlett, who was detained by Alaska state troopers for disorderly conduct and harassment. It resulted in a 6-3 decision in which the court held that the presence of probable cause defeats a First Amendment retaliatory-arrest claim.
"This mechanical argument, which seems to be more about the Fourth Amendment than the First Amendment, puts police in a position of easily finding probable cause particularly when there's a demonstration going on," Linzer said. "At that point it's a blank check."
Flowers v. Mississippi involved Curtis Flowers, a black man who had been put on trial for murder six times. When he was convicted and sentenced to death he appealed on the grounds of racial bias in jury selection. In a 7-2 decision, the Court struck down Flowers' conviction, ruling that excluding black jurors violated the Constitution.
Seth Chandler, the Law Foundation Professor of Law, reviewed two cases involving gerrymandering, Lamone v. Benisek and Rucho v. Common Cause. Both cases ended with 5-4 decisions, ruling that partisan gerrymandering claims are not subject to trial in a court of law because they present a political question beyond the reach of the federal courts.
"If you want to do a partisan gerrymandering case, for the moment it better be recast as racial gerrymandering because that's justiciable and partisan gerrymandering is not," Chandler said.
Sandra Guerra Thompson, director of the Criminal Justice Institute and the Newell H. Blakely Chair, lectured on Gamble v. U.S. In a 7-2 decision the Court declined to overturn the dual-sovereignty doctrine of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Linzer spoke again on Iancu v. Brunetti and Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck. In Iancu v. Brunetti, the court held that the Lanham Act's prohibition on the federal registration of "immoral" or "scandalous" trademarks infringes on the First Amendment in a 6-3 decision.
Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck resulted a 5-4 ruling that decided private operators of public access channels are not state actors and are not subject to constitutional liability.
David Dow, the Cullen Professor of Law, presented on Timbs v. Indiana. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the states under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
Assistant Professor Emily Berman outlined Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, a decision where the court upheld an Indiana law relating to the disposition of fetal remains by abortion providers passes rational basis review, but declined to review whether the state may bar the knowing provision of gender, race or disability-selective abortions by abortion providers.
“The Court’s opinion in this case in many ways is consistent with other reproductive rights cases that have come before, in that it opted to stay out of this particular social war issue at least for this term,” Berman said.
Additional speakers included Ira Hatton of GreenbergTraurig, who discussed the antitrust case Apple Inc. v. Pepper. Capt. Reginald McKamie '86 of the Law Office of Reginald E. McKaime, Sr., P.C. discussed two maritime torts cases, Air and Liquid Systems Corp. v. Devries and Dutra v. Batterton. McKamie was joined by James T. Brown, a partner at Holman Fenwick Willan, and James Patrick Cooney, senior counsel at Royston, Rayzor, Vickery & Williams.