May 5, 2014 United States Supreme Court opinions

Robers v United States

At sentencing, the trial court rejected Robers argument that he should be credited with the value of the homes he surrendered to the bank he defrauded through false statements on loan applications ordered that he pay the difference between the fraudulent loan he received and the monies recovered through selling the real property. The 2nd circuit affirmed. Resolving a circuit split, the Court affirmed. It held that the plain language of 198 USC 3663A requires that “property” be understood to mean the property actually taken (here loan proceeds) and not the value of collateral surrendered. It held that the statute provides methods to overcome any unfairness of this approach in a given case, allows ease of administration and comports with normal proximate cause principles. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Ginsburg, added a separate concurrence arguing that if the victim holds onto the collateral as an investment, then the defendant should be allowed to show that retention occurred and receive credit in any restitution order for the value of the collateral including any increase in value.

Town of Greece v Galloway

Town invited minsters to open their monthly board meetings with prayer. All the participating ministers for several years were Christian and offered payers including mentions of Jesus Christ. Galloway sued for an order requiring all prayers be nonsectarian. The district court granted judgment to Town. The 2nd circuit reversed. The Court 5(as to historical analysis) -4, with two concurrences and two dissents, reversed. The majority held that legislative prayer is historically understood as not violating the establishment clause and there is no requirement that prayers be devoid of sectarian content unless the pattern of prayer demonstrates denigration of religious minorities, calls for damnation or other approaches which do not contribute to the solemnization of the occasion. Three justices argued that Galloway’s claim of pressure to conform to the views expressed in the prayers should be rejected under a fact sensitive analysis of the setting and audience. Here these justices argued that the audience of the prayer is the board and the setting is legislative meeting which is historically regarded as a proper place for solemnizing prayer and would be understood by a well-informed reasonable observer to be only used to solemnize the occasion. These justice also argued that feeling offended does not mean Galloway was coercion to participate. Justice Alito, joined by Scalia added a concurrence arguing that the principle dissent’s demand for nonsectarian prayer is contrary to historical practice and in the end all the dissent complains about is the unsophisticated way the Town compiled its list of ministers. He also argued that there is no basis to allow legislative prayers at the federal and state level but not the local level and the practices of the Continental and first Congress demonstrate that legislative prayer was deemed to be consistent with the establishment clause. Justice Thomas, joined in part by Scalia, argued that the establishment clause is a federalism measure which does not grant individual rights and even if it was incorporated into the 14th Amendment there was no violation here as Town did not use actual legal coercion to compel Galloway to participate in the prayer or any religious exercise whatever. Justice Breyer dissented arguing that given Town’s religious diversity and failure to craft an inclusive selection process when several easy steps were available to create one, Town’s program was unconstitutional. Justice Kagan, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor, dissented arguing that Town’s board meetings differed from state and federal legislative meetings because they are hybrid session with both legislative and adjudicative actions, the prayers are made to the public, not the board, and were relentlessly sectarian. She also argued that Town’s program treated nonbelievers differently from believers and thus violated the establishment clause.

Tolan v Cotton

Tolan sued Cotton alleging excessive force. The district court granted summary judgment to Cotton and the 5th Circuit affirmed on qualified immunity grounds. The Court, per curium with 2 concurring only in judgment, reversed. The majority held that the 5th Circuit failed to view the fats in the light most favorable to Tolan and thus failed to apply the correct standard of review. The case was remanded for further proceedings. The concurrence argued that this case could turn the Court into just another forum for error correction, but, agreed summary judgment was not proper here because genuine disputes of material facts exist.

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