Notable Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, 2006–2007 Term
- Court Rules in Favor of Assisted Suicide Law (Jan. 17, 2006): Voting 6–3 in Gonzales v. Oregon, the Justices decide that former attorney general John Ashcroft lacked the legal authority to declare that physicians who helped terminally ill patients commit suicide in compliance with the state's Death With Dignity Act would lose their federal licenses to prescribe drugs.
- Justices Send Abortion Case Back to Lower Court (Jan. 18, 2006): In a unanimous ruling, the Court says that the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit erred when it declared unconstitutional a state law requiring that a minor notify her parents before obtaining an abortion. The Court sends the case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, back to the appeals court and tells it to find a way to include an exception to the law for a medical emergency. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the majority opinion; it was her last as an associate justice.
- Court Allows Sect to Import Banned Substance (Feb. 21, 2006): Justices, ruling unanimously in Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita, apply the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and allow a small religious sect to continue importing a hallucinogenic tea that contains a banned substance. The tea is a central part of the group's rituals.
- Justices Rule in Favor of Military Recruiting (March 6, 2006): Court, voting 8–0, upholds a federal law that says colleges and universities must grant military recruiters the same access to students as other potential employers or else lose federal financing. In Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, a group of law schools challenged the law, called the Solomon Amendment, saying it violated their First Amendment right to free speech and association. The law schools objected to the military's presence on college campuses because of its policy of excluding openly gay men and women.
- Court Restricts Warrantless Searches of Homes (March 22, 2006): Justices rule, 5–3 in Georgia v. Randolph, that if police do not have a warrant, they cannot search a home if one of the occupants objects, even if another grants police permission. “A warrantless search of a shared dwelling for evidence over the express refusal of consent by a physically present resident cannot be justified as reasonable,” Justice Souter writes for the majority. John Roberts, Jr., issues his first dissent as chief justice.
- Court Rules Against Whistle-Blowers (May 30, 2006): Justices rule, 5–4, in Garcetti v. Ceballos, that government employees are not protected by the First Amendment against retaliation by superiors when they report illegal or unethical activity within the workplace. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy implied that public employees would be protected if they made their complaints to the public.
- Death-Row Inmates Can Challenge Method of Execution (June 12, 2006): Court, ruling unanimously in Hill v. McDonough, says prisoners can invoke the Civil Rights Act of 1871 to challenge a state's choice of drugs used in administering a lethal injection.
- Court Allows New Hearing for Death-Row Inmate (June 12, 2006): Justices rule, 5–3, that a Tennessee man convicted of rape and murder should be granted a new hearing because DNA testing that was not available at the time of his trial—and has since been conducted—cast doubt on the prosecution's case. Writing for the majority in House v. Bell, Justice Kennedy said that courts must consider “all the evidence, old and new, incriminating and exculpatory.”
- Evidence Gained After Improper Entry Is Still Admissible (June 15, 2006): Court decides, 5–4, in Hudson v. Michigan, that even if police fail to “knock and announce” before entering a home to execute a search warrant—as required by the Constitution—evidence obtained in the search may be admitted at trial.
- Court Is Divided on Wetlands Protection (June 19, 2006): In a fractured 5–4 decision, the Court rules, in Rapanos v. United States, that the Army Corps of Engineers—citing the Clean Water Act—overstepped its jurisdiction in objecting to development plans that involve wetlands, and sends the case back to a lower court. The Justices, however, fail to reach consensus on the definition of wetlands and the government's regulation of them. Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts vote to limit the definition of wetlands, and Justices Ginsberg, Souter, Stevens, and Breyer favor maintaining the criteria currently used by the Army Corps of Engineers. Justice Kennedy, who votes with the former, suggests that wetlands should be under federal jurisdiction if they have a “significant nexus” to navigable water.
- Justices Uphold Defendants' Rights to Choose Lawyers (June 26, 2006): Court rules, 5–4, in United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, that a conviction can be overturned if a defendant was wrongly deprived of the right to hire an attorney of choice.
- Court Upholds Kansas's Death Penalty Law (June 26, 2006): Justices, voting 5–4 in Kansas v. Marsh, overturn a 2004 Kansas Supreme Court decision that declared the state's death penalty statue is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the state law that makes the death penalty automatic if mitigating and aggravating evidence hold equal weight is valid.
- Justices Strike Down Vermont's Campaign Finance Law (June 26, 2006): Court votes, 6–3, to invalidate Vermont's campaign finance statute, which limited the amount of money a candidate could spend on a campaign and how much individuals and political parties could contribute to a candidate. Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, says that such limits violate the First Amendment right of free speech of both candidates and political parties.
- Foreign Defendants Are Not Protected by International Treaty (June 28, 2006): Court rules, 6–3, that foreigners who are imprisoned without being told of their right to contact their consulate—as required by the Vienna Convention—are not entitled to a new trial or other accommodation.
- Justices Render Split Decision on Redistricting (June 28, 2006): In a two-part case, League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, the court rules, 5–2–2 (Justices Souter and Ginsburg did not give an opinion in the case), that a mid-decade gerrymandering of Congressional districts—organized by Texas Republicans at the behest of former Sen. Tom DeLay—was permissible. The Justices, however, rule, 5–4, that the Texas Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act when it dismantled a district with a majority Latino population.
- Court Rules Against Military Tribunals (June 29, 2006): In a striking blow to the Bush administration, the justices rule, 5–3, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that military commissions used to try suspected terrorists detained at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp in Cuba violate the Geneva Conventions and were established without Congress's authorization. The ruling forces the Bush administration to seek authorization from Congress. “The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction,” Justice Stevens writes in the majority opinion. Chief Justice Roberts does not participate in the case, having earlier ruled in favor of the administration in the case as a judge on the federal appeals court.
- Justices Grant Last-Minute Stay Execution (Oct. 30, 2007): With the required five votes, Court grants Earl W. Berry a stay of execution moments before he is scheduled to die by lethal injection. A full court review of the appeal remains unscheduled.