In June, the Supreme Court ruled that a 40-foot-tall cross, erected nearly a century ago in what is now a traffic circle outside Washington, D.C., as a memorial to soldiers killed during World War I, does not violate the Constitution. Eight days later, the justices agreed to review a decision by the Montana Supreme Court striking down a state law that created tax credits to provide scholarships for families who send their children to private schools, including religious schools. Now the Archdiocese of Washington hopes to add another case involving religion to the Supreme Court’s merits docket – this time, a challenge to a policy that bars religious advertisements on public buses in the Washington, D.C., area.
In 2017, the archdiocese began a campaign to encourage community service and charitable giving during the Advent season and to provide information about services at local Catholic churches. The archdiocese wanted to promote its campaign on public buses with an advertisement that featured three shepherds, sheep, and the words “Find the Perfect Gift.” However, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, known as WMATA, rejected the advertisement because of its religious nature. The archdiocese challenged that rejection in federal court, but the lower courts sided with WMATA.
In May, the archdiocese asked the Supreme Court to weigh in. It stresses that, if “Amazon or Macy’s had wanted to run an advertisement with the same text or graphics or with reindeer instead of shepherds, there is no question that WMATA would have readily accepted the advertisements”: the problem with the archdiocese’s proposed advertisement But, the archdiocese continues, the Supreme Court has “three times rejected no-religious-speech policies materially indistinguishable from WMATA’s.”
The state of Michigan’s petition in Michigan v. Frederick arises from an investigation into the distribution of marijuana butter (which is apparently a popular ingredient in cannabis edibles) to corrections officers from the sheriffs’ department in Kent County, Michigan.
As part of the investigation, police officers went to the homes of two corrections officers, Michael Frederick and Todd Van Doorne, who had been identified as recipients of the butter. The police officers arrived at Frederick’s home at approximately 4 am without a warrant. After Frederick invited the officers inside, the officers asked if they could see the marijuana butter. Frederick agreed to show it to them and later agreed to allow them to search his home.
The police officers arrived at Van Doorne’s home at approximately 5:30 am. Van Doorne spoke with officers outside the house and then agreed to a search of his home, during which the officers found marijuana butter.
Both Frederick and Van Doorne were charged with drug offenses. They argued that the marijuana butter should not be admitted as evidence because they had not voluntarily consented to the searches of their homes. The police officers’ “knock and talk” sessions at their homes violated the Fourth Amendment, they contended, under Florida v. Jardines, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a sniff by a trained police dog at the front door of a house where a police suspected drugs were being grown was a search, for which a warrant was required.
The lower courts rejected Frederick and Van Doorne’s argument, but the Michigan Supreme Court reversed. It ruled that the police officers’ “knock and talk” sessions were searches, for which police should have obtained a warrant: Because it was so early, the court concluded, the police were trespassing when they went to the door, and they were trying to obtain information from Frederick and Van Doorne.
On remand, the lower courts concluded that, although Frederick and Van Doorne had consented, their consent was not sufficiently removed from the police officers’ unconstitutional conduct to allow the evidence to be used. In its petition for review, the state is now appealing the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling that the “knock and talk” procedure violates the Fourth Amendment.
The name Gilbert Hyatt is a familiar one to Supreme Court watchers: He was the respondent in a trio of cases (including one just last term) arising from California’s efforts to collect over $10 million in taxes, penalties, and interest that it believed Hyatt owed the state for income that he earned from a computer patent (later canceled) in the early 1990s.
Hyatt is a prolific inventor who owns nearly 75 patents, and his battles with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office led to another Supreme Court case, Kappos v. Hyatt, in 2012. Now Hyatt is back at the Supreme Court again. This time, he is asking the justices to review the legality of a PTO rule that allows the PTO to reopen a patent prosecution to enter a new ground to reject a patent after a patent applicant has already been rejected and appealed to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
Hyatt argues that the rule is inconsistent with the Patent Act, which gives applicants a right to appeal after a second rejection and requires the PTAB to review those rejections. It also, Hyatt adds, conflicts with a century-old Supreme Court decision. The Supreme Court’s review “is required to rein in an agency that refuses to recognize a crucial check on its own authority,” Hyatt concludes.