The U.S. Supreme Court kicked off a new term, which is expected to include a lot of time devoted to studying appeals to Obamacare, by clearing its docket of several other appeal, including one challenging President Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president and another on gun rights.
Early word from the court today as it began its new term included the following:
Obama eligibility: The high court refused without comment to hear a challenge brought by conservative activist Alan Keyes and other members of the American Independent Party. They contend Obama wasn't eligible to be president because he was not born in the United States and thus not a citizen. Other U.S. courts, as well as the Supreme Court, have tossed similar suits.
Keyes wanted the certification of Obama's victory halted in California until there was documented proof by a state official that he was eligible to be president. The Supreme Court of California threw out the lawsuit.
The case is Keyes v. Bowen, 10-1351.
Gun rights: The high court refused to consider whether an individual's right to own guns includes carrying a firearm outside the home, staying out of one of the nation's most divisive social, political and legal issues.
The justices let stand a ruling from Maryland's highest court that upheld a state law prohibiting the carrying of a handgun without a permit outside of one's home.
The court turned down the opportunity to define the reach of its landmark 2008 ruling that the constitutional right to keep and bear arms applies to individuals and allows them to use guns for lawful purposes such as self-defense in the home.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that gun rights apply not only to federal laws but also to state and city statutes. The court's rulings in the gun cases have been closely divided, by 5-4 votes and split along conservative and liberal lines.
Gun rights have long been a contentious issue. The United States has the world's highest civilian gun ownership rate, with some 90 million Americans owning an estimated 200 million guns.
At issue in the new case from Maryland is whether that right extends to carrying a gun outside the home. The Supreme Court without comment rejected an appeal by Charles Williams, who was convicted of unlawful gun possession.
Williams bought his handgun legally from a licensed dealer in August 2007, but never applied for a permit.
A police officer from Prince George's County on Oct. 1, 2007, saw Williams standing behind a bus stop, pulling items out of a book bag near the woods.
When asked what he had hidden in the bushes, Williams replied, "My gun." The officer then retrieved the handgun, a black Glock with 15 rounds in the magazine.
Williams, who had been transporting the gun from his girlfriend's house to his residence, was convicted of violating a state law prohibiting the wearing, carrying or transporting of a firearm in public without a permit.
He was sentenced to three years in prison, with all but one year suspended, and to three years of probation.
Stephen Halbrook, an attorney for Williams, said in the appeal that the Supreme Court so far has ruled only on the right to keep a handgun in the home but argued the right also exists outside the home.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler opposed the appeal. He defended the state law and said it protects an individual's right to have a handgun in the home and carry one on the street with a permit.
The Supreme Court case is Charles Williams v. Maryland, No. 10-1207.
Ballot case: The Supreme Court will not get involved in a Massachusetts dispute over whether election officials were within their rights to block the name of the Libertarian Party's national presidential candidate from the state ballot in 2008.
The court refused to hear an appeal from Bob Barr and the state Libertarian Party.
The party initially put a local presidential contender on its nomination papers.
State officials said the party could not then substitute the name of national Libertarian candidate Barr. A judge intervened and Barr received less than 1 percent of the vote.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said the state's ballot laws are nondiscriminatory and that Barr had enough time to collect the needed 10,000 signatures.
The case is Barr v. Galvin, 10-1456.
Text messages: The Supreme Court let stand a ruling that the police can search text messages from an arrested criminal suspect's cell phone without obtaining a warrant.
The justices refused to review the California Supreme Court ruling that upheld the search on the grounds that defendants lose their privacy rights for any items they are carrying when taken into custody.
The Supreme Court rejected without comment an appeal by Gregory Diaz, who was convicted on drug charges. His attorneys said Supreme Court intervention was needed to resolve differing lower court rulings on how to apply precedent to warrantless searches of cell phone data.
In 2007, Diaz was arrested, searched, and taken to a police station after driving a car in which his passenger sold six pills of the drug ecstasy during an undercover operation. A small amount of marijuana also was found in his pocket.
The Ventura County Sheriff's Department seized his cellphone and placed it with other evidence. Diaz initially denied any knowledge of the drug transaction.
During a break in the interrogation, an officer looked at the text message folder and discovered a coded message that appeared to refer to the ecstasy sales. That was about 90 minutes after Diaz had been arrested.
The officer showed the text message to Diaz, who then admitted that he had taken part in the deal. He later pleaded guilty to transportation of a controlled substance and was sentenced to three years of probation.
Diaz appealed, challenging the search as unreasonable and for violating his constitutional rights. A California appeals court and the state Supreme Court both upheld the search as valid under a lawful arrest.
The Supreme Court already has on its docket a case about privacy rights, the police and modern technology. On Nov. 8, it will hear arguments on whether the police need a warrant to use a global positioning system device to track a suspect's movements.
The Supreme Court case is Diaz v. California, No. 10-1231.
Ten Commandments in courtroom: The high court turned away another appeal from an Ohio judge who wanted to display a poster containing the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.
The court on Monday refused to hear the argument from Richland County Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese.
The judge hung the poster in his courtroom in Mansfield, north of Columbus, in 2006 after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand lower-court rulings that another Ten Commandments poster he hung in 2000 violated separation between church and state.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation sued and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the display endorsed religious views and was unconstitutional.
The ACLU also sued in the case of the first poster.
The case is DeWeese v. ACLU of Ohio, 10-1512.
KFC taxes in Iowa: The court won't stop Iowa from forcing KFC Corp. to pay nearly $250,000 in corporate income taxes, even though it had no restaurants or employees in the state.
The high court today refused to hear an appeal from the fried-chicken giant, which a decision by that state's Supreme Court overturned.
All KFC restaurants in Iowa are independent franchises, whose owners pay KFC for the use of its logo and systems. But the Iowa Department of Revenue and Finance assessed the company more than $248,000 in unpaid corporate income taxes, including interest and penalties, in 2001. The taxes were for 1997 to 1999.
KFC says it doesn't owe Iowa taxes because it doesn't have property in the state. But Iowa judges have not agreed with that argument.
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