Closely Divided Supreme Court Jumps Into Social Issues with Both Feet

The Supreme Court today agreed to review two cases raising important social issues. The first concerns the constitutionality of affirmative action admissions programs at colleges and universities — the first time in almost 25 years that the Court has addressed the issue. The second concerns the constitutionality of state laws forbidding consensual sodomy — oral or anal sex — that are invoked almost exclusively against homosexuals. This issue has not been addressed since Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986. No matter which side of these issues you are on, you should probably be worried. With a Court as closely divided as the current one, there’s no telling what precedent may be set in these important cases. Read coverage from here.

IOLTA Case Before Supreme Court Dec. 9

The conservative Washington Legal Foundation claims that funding for civil legal aid derived from interest on lawyers’ trust accounts constitutes an unconstitutional taking of property belonging to clients. Their fight has gone on for more than ten years. But this article suggests that the true motive is an attack on “radical legal groups” that are funded through the programs.

Supreme Court to Hear Argument in Miranda Case Wednesday

After shooting him five times, police aggressively interrogated Oliverio Martinez, continuing in the ambulance and then the emergency room, all without reading him his rights. Martinez was never charged, but he brought a civil suit alleging, among other things, “coercive interrogation.” The police argue that Miranda does not confer a right not to be interrogated, only a right not to have coerced and un-Mirandized statements used by the prosecution in a criminal trial. The Supreme Court hears arguments December 4, and civil libertarians fear it might lead to an erosion of Miranda rights. Read more about it here.

The Firefighter’s Rule

The “Firefighter’s Rule” — a sub-species of the assumption of the risk doctrine that sometimes prohibits public safety officers from recovering in tort for injuries sustained in the line of duty — is a pet issue for me, as one of the biggest cases I ever worked on turned on its application. Recently in Coos Bay, Oregon, three firefighters died tragically when a fire in an auto parts store ballooned unexpectedly, causing the roof to collapse. The unexpected ballooning was allegedly caused by wood in the structure that had become unnaturally dry and flammable due to years of exposure to an incinerator used to burn waste grease from the store’s machine shop. This tragic accident is recounted here. I’d be willing to wager that a published opinion on “The Rule” will eventually emerge from this mess. My condolences to the firefighters’ families and colleagues.

Rhyming Judge Dissed by Peers

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice was taken to task today in an opinion by two of his fellow justices, including the Chief Justice. In principal, I think rhymed opinions are okay, but I have to agree that Justice Eakin’s poetry is pretty bad. Read all about it here. UPDATE: (12/2/02) You can read Justice Eakin’s effort in its entirety here at How Appealing, together with some amusing commentary.