A sharply divided Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments on government land, but drew the line on displays inside courthouses, saying they violated the doctrine of separation of church and state.
Sending dual signals in closely watched cases, the high court said displays of the Ten Commandments — like their own courtroom frieze — are not inherently unconstitutional. But each exhibit demands scrutiny to determine whether it goes too far in amounting to a governmental promotion of religion, the court said in a case involving Kentucky courthouse exhibits.
In that 5-4 ruling and another ruling, involving the positioning of a 6-foot granite monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas capitol, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the swing vote. The second ruling, likewise, was 5-4.
In a stinging dissent to the ruling involving Kentucky's courthouse exhibits, Justice Antonin Scalia declared: "What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle."
The justices voting on the prevailing side in the Kentucky case left themselves legal wiggle room, saying that some displays inside courthouses — like their own courtroom frieze — would be permissible if they're portrayed neutrally in order to honor the nation's legal history.
But framed copies in two Kentucky courthouses went too far in endorsing religion, the court held. Those courthouse displays are unconstitutional, the justices said, because their religious content is overemphasized.
In contrast, a 6-foot-granite monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol — one of 17 historical displays on the 22-acre lot — was determined to be a legitimate tribute to the nation's legal and religious history.
The cases are McCreary County v. ACLU, 03-1693, and Van Orden v. Perry, 03-1500.
For more on the cases, Click Here.
Internet File Sharing
Internet file-sharing services will be held responsible if they intend for their customers to use software primarily to swap songs and movies illegally, the Supreme Court ruled, rejecting warnings that the lawsuits will stunt growth of cool tech gadgets such as the next iPod.
The unanimous decision sends the case back to lower court, which had ruled in favor of file-sharing services Grokster Ltd. and StreamCast Networks Inc. on the grounds that the companies couldn't be sued. The justices said there was enough evidence of unlawful intent for the case to go to trial.
At issue was whether the file-sharing services should be held liable even if they have no direct control over what millions of online users are doing with the software they provide for free. As much as 90 percent of songs and movies copied on the file-sharing networks are downloaded illegally, according to music industry filings.
The entertainment industry said it needed protection against the billions of dollars in revenue they lose to illegal swapping. Consumer groups worried that expanded liability will stifle the technology revolution of the last two decades that brought video cassette recorders, MP3 players and Apple's iPod.
The case is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios v. Grokster, 04-480.
For more on the case, Click Here.
Reporter's Privilege to Refuse to Identify Confidential Sources
The Supreme Court rejected appeals from two journalists who have refused to testify before a grand jury about the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity.
The cases asked the court to revisit an issue that it last dealt with more than 30 years ago — whether reporters can be jailed or fined for refusing to identify their sources.
Time magazine's Matthew Cooper and The New York Times' Judith Miller, who filed the appeals, face up to 18 months in jail for refusing to reveal sources as part of an investigation into who divulged the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Plame's name was first made public in 2003 by columnist Robert Novak, who cited unidentified senior Bush administration officials for the information. The column appeared after Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote a newspaper opinion piece criticizing the Bush administration's claim that Iraq sought uranium in Niger.
Disclosure of an undercover intelligence officer's identity can be a federal crime and a government investigation is in its second year. No charges have been brought.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, the special counsel handling the probe, told justices that the only unfinished business is testimony from Cooper and Miller.
Cooper reported on Plame, while Miller gathered material for an article about the intelligence officer but never wrote a story.
A federal judge held the reporters in contempt last fall, and an appeals court rejected their argument that the First Amendment shielded them from revealing their sources in the federal criminal proceeding.
The cases are Miller v. United States, 04-1507, and Cooper v. United States, 04-1508.
For more on the cases, Click Here.
Restricting Internet Access
The Supreme Court ruled that cable companies may keep rival Internet providers from using their lines, a decision that will limit competition and consumers' choices.
The 6-3 decision is a victory for the Bush administration, which sought exclusive control to promote broadband investment from deep-pocketed cable companies.
More than 19 million homes have cable broadband service. At issue is whether cable Internet access is a "telecommunications service" under federal law that makes it subject to strict FCC rules requiring companies to provide access to independent providers.
The FCC said no, voting in March 2002 to exempt cable companies from the strict rules to stir more investment. The agency reasoned that high-speed Internet over cable was just an "information service," making it different from phone companies.
Consumer groups, however, argued that subscribers should be able to choose their own Internet service provider rather than be forced to use the cable company. Left unregulated, cable companies will monopolize the market, with unfettered ability to raise prices and restrict content for their business advantage, they said.
The cases are National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet Services, 04-277; FCC v. Brand X Internet Services, 04-281.
For more on the cases, Click Here.
The Supreme Court ruled that police cannot be sued for how they enforce restraining orders, ending a lawsuit by a Colorado woman who claimed police did not do enough to prevent her estranged husband from killing her three young daughters.
Jessica Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to police enforcement of the court order against her husband, the court said in a 7-2 opinion.
City governments had feared that if the court ruled the other way, it would unleash a potentially devastating flood of cases that could bankrupt municipal governments.
Gonzales contended that police did not do enough to stop her estranged husband, who took the three daughters from the front yard of her home in June 1999 in violation of a restraining order.
Hours later Simon Gonzales died in a gun fight with officers outside a police station. The bodies of the three girls, ages 10, 9 and 7, were in his truck.
Gonzales argued that she was entitled to sue based on her rights under the 14th Amendment and under Colorado law that says officers shall use every reasonable means to enforce a restraining order. She contended that her restraining order should be considered property under the 14th Amendment and that it was taken from her without due process when police failed to enforce it.
The case is Castle Rock, Colo., v. Gonzales, 04-278.