U.S. Supreme Court

The Bilski Watch Ends Monday, When SCOTUS Issues Final Four Decisions


The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue its final four decisions Monday, and it’s saving some of the most awaited decisions for last.

Still to come are decisions on gun rights, religious groups on campus, federalism and business-method patents. The blog First One @ One First calls the court’s flurry of seven opinions Thursday the “appetizer” and the expected Monday opinions the “main course.”

Court watchers are especially vexed by the delayed decision in the patent case, Bilski v. Kappos, argued way back in November. At issue is whether patents can be issued for business methods if they are not tied to a machine or if they don’t produce some physical transformation. The patent application at issue is for a method of hedging risk in commodities trading.

The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times headlined an article last week “Another Bilski-Free Day at the Supreme Court.” SCOTUSblog joked about the absence of a Bilski opinion in its live court coverage on Thursday. “The court has voted unanimously to drive patent lawyers crazy,” the website reported. It expects John Paul Stevens to write the opinion and says that could mean “a narrow approach to permitting business method patents but probably not [an] extremely detailed test.”

The other three remaining cases are:

McDonald v. City of Chicago. At issue is whether the individual right to own guns under the Second Amendment, established in District of Columbia v. Heller, applies to state and local governments. Coverage of oral arguments suggests that the justices are likely to extend the Second Amendment to states and municipalities, while giving them leeway to impose regulations. The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times has more information on the case.

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. The case pits a law school’s right to enforce its nondiscrimination policy against the right of a Christian legal group to exclude gays and nonbelievers. The Christian Legal Society contends its First Amendment rights of free association were violated when the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law refused to recognize the group.

Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. At issue is whether the Securities and Exchange Commission may appoint members of an oversight board created by the Sarbanes-Oxley law without violating the Constitution. Challengers to the law contend the appointments procedure undermines the president’s appointments authority and violates separation of powers. According to a column in the New York Times, that “obscure constitutional clause regarding presidential powers” threatens the entire Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed after the collapse of Enron to regulate accounting firms. The reason: Congress did not add a severability clause to the act to make clear that if one part of the law is found constitutional, the rest may stand.

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