April 22, 2014 United States Supreme Court opinions

Navarrete v California

Acting on a 911 call accusing the driver of the truck Navarrete was a passenger in of running another driver off the road, California officers pulled the truck over and discovered marijuana. Navarrete’s motion to suppress was denied and the denial was affirmed on appeal. The Court, 5-4, affirmed. The majority held that while it was a close case, the totality of the circumstances-eyewitness informant, contemporaneous report and use of the 911 system which subjected the informant to criminal liability for false reporting-supported a finding of reliability. The majority also held that running a car off the road supported reasonable suspicion of drunk driving and thus the stop was valid. The dissent argued that the tip was completely uncorroborated, only reported a discrete completed violation and the possibility of drunk driving was disproved by the five minutes of impeccable driving observed by the officers before the stop was effectuated. The dissent lamented the loss of freedom this decision will impose by allowing malicious 911 class to authorize unreasonable stops on innocents drivers.

Schuette v Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

Michigan voters adopted a state constitutional amendment prohibiting the consideration of race in college admissions decisions. Coalition sued seeking a declaration the amendment was unconstitutional. Their claim was denied by the district court, but, granted by a divided 6th Circuit sitting en banc on the ground that policies which serve the interests of minorities could not be removed from the universities to the people. The Court, 6 (a three justice plurality, Justice Scalia joined by Thomas concurring in judgment and Justice Breyer concurring in judgment) to 2 with Justice Kegan recused, reversed. The plurality argued that the precedents relied upon by the 6th Circuit majority all dealt with factual settings where racial animus or the strong likelihood of invidious discrimination were present. Here, the voters acted in their sovereign capacity to decide whether race should be considered and there is no basis for federal intervention to overturn that decision as the rule adopted by the 6th Circuit would wrongly allow federal courts to substitute their views of the interests of minority groups (which is prohibited in under the Court’s equal protection jurisprudence) and interfere with the fundamental right of the public to debate issues and adopt law to resolve those issues. Chief Justice Roberts added a concurrence arguing that eh dissent was wrong to attack the candor of opponents of race conscious admissions programs. Justice Scalia concurred in judgment arguing that the cases relied upon by the 6th Circuit majority were wrongly decided and should be overruled because the 14th Amendment protects individuals, not groups, states have the right to organize their distributions of powers any way they want so long as it does not violate federal law and in adopting the color blind admissions policy the people of Michigan merely adopted the federal standard and cannot violate the constitution by adopting its provisions into their state constitution. Justice Breyer concurred in judgment arguing that race conscious admissions policies are permitted but not required by the Constitution and the cases relied upon by the 6th circuit majority do not apply here as the race conscious policies were adopted by an administrative body not a political body and the removal of decision-making from administrative to political decision-making is not unconstitutional. The dissent argued that the 6th Circuit got the case right as Michigan voters removed race conscious admissions policy from the university boards of regents (where it was vested by the state constitution) and transferred it to the people, this transfer made it more difficult for minority voters to pursue their policy objective on race conscious admissions and race conscious admission policies are racial issues. It argued that the precedent recognizing the right of racial minorities to have meaningful access to the political process prohibits rearrangements of power like the one here as it burdens racial minorities in ways that majority interests do not face. It also argued that as a matter of first principle the 14th Amendment removed the power of states to place procedural burdens on the right of racial minorities to participate and this is consistent with the precedent in other areas such as voting rights and legislative gerrymandering. Noting that the amendment and similar bans in California have decimated minority enrollment, the dissent concluded this decision effectively guts protections form racially impactful political restructuring thereby depriving these individuals and groups of the protection afforded by the 14th Amendment.

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