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Decisions, Decisions: 4 Unanimous SCOTUS Rulings

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 10, 2013 9:03 AM

The Supreme Court celebrated its first week back to business in the new year with four -- count 'em, four! -- unanimous decisions.

On Tuesday, the Court released decisions for Ryan v. Gonzales and Tibbals v. Carter (consolidated appeals) and LA County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council. On Wednesday, the Court issued opinions in Already LLC v. Nike Inc. and Smith v. U.S.

Let's turn to the holdings!

  • Ryan v. Gonzales and Tibbals v. Carter. The Court ruled that a death row inmate is not entitled to a delay in a federal appeal on the grounds that he is incompetent to assist his lawyer. The Court also noted that a federal judge cannot indefinitely delay appeals in the hope that a defendant might eventually become competent enough to help out, Reuters reports. The Supreme Court's analysis in the habeas cases resolved a lingering issue from Rees v. Peyton, a 1966 decision in which the Court ordered a competency hearing for Virginia death-row inmate Melvin Davis Rees Jr. before it would decide whether to allow him to withdraw his court challenge. (In a brief order about a year later, it put the case on hold indefinitely, and never again returned to it, SCOTUSblog reports.)
  • LA County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council. In an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court concluded that the flow of water from an improved portion of a navigable waterway into an unimproved portion of the same waterway does not qualify as a "discharge of a pollutant" under the Clean Water Act. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion.
  • Already LLC v. Nike, Inc. Much like its namesake goddess, Nike Inc. was victorious before the Supreme Court in a trademark battle over its Air Force 1 sneakers. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the Court that Nike's promise not to pursue an infringement lawsuit against Yums-sneakers-maker Already LLC meant that Already's own trademark challenge was moot, Reuters reports.
  • Smith v. U.S. In a decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court ruled that a defendant bears the burden of proving a defense of withdrawal from a conspiracy.

It's nice to see the Court being warm and fuzzy and unanimous, but we don't expect it to last. With both affirmative action and same sex marriage decisions ahead, we suspect that the term will end -- like normal -- on a sharply divided note.

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