U.S. Supreme Court Updates on Four Cases

While not of  paramount importance to civil general counsel for governmental entities like City Attorneys (except for perhaps Shelby County), the below cases may be of interest to some cities. They are in summation form  which is smaller than usual as only the points possibly of interest to general counsel are noted.

Salinas v. Texas, No. 12-246 (June 17, 2013).

Salinas, without being placed in custody or receiving Miranda warnings, voluntarily answered some of a police officer’s questions about a murder, but fell silent when asked whether ballistics testing would match his shotgun to shell casings found at the scene of the crime. At his murder trial the prosecution used his failure to answer the question as evidence of guilt. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.  The plurality held that a witness who “ desires the protection of the privilege [against self-incrimination] . . . must claim it ” and it must be affirmatively invoked.  The two justices concurring in the result, reasoned that since the comment on silence did not compel testimony, whether it was invoked or not is irrelevant.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.


Fisher v University of Texas Austin, No. 11-345 (June 24, 2013).

In this case the University of Texas at Austin had an admissions policy which provided a “plus factor” for applicants based on their race. The Court determined that while such factors can be permissible, they must still withstand a strict-scrutiny analysis. Since the Fifth Circuit did not utilize the strict-scrutiny test the opinion upholding the admissions practice is reversed and remanded.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.


Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96 (June 25, 2013)

In this 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court held §4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional. The formula used for preclearance of voting issues which must be approved by the Department of Justice can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance. The Court held the Voting Rights Act “imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.”  The Court recognized that nearly 50 years after the Act’s passage, things have changed dramatically; largely because voter turnout and registration rates are nearly at parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.  The Act, while proper for its time, is unconstitutional under current conditions.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.


Hollingsworth v Perry, No. 12-144 (June 26, 2013).

In this opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that voters who supported a proposition amending their state constitution and prohibiting same-sex marriages did not have standing to defend the amendment from the constitutional challenges of same-sex couples. When the plaintiffs sued challenging the constitutionality of the amendment, the government refused to defend that amendment. The trial and appellate courts recognized amendment supporters had a right to defend in the government’s place. But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed noting that voter standing is insufficient to step into the shoes of the government to defend the amendment. As a result, they have no standing and the lower court opinions were vacated and remanded.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.

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