First Amendment Cases Highlight Annual Supreme Court Preview

Lexington, VA • Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 6:30 p.m.
Millhiser Moot Court Room, Lewis Hall
Faculty at Washington and Lee University School of Law will discuss several of the most compelling cases on the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court docket during the School's annual Supreme Court Preview. Sponsored by the American Constitution Society, the event will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 19 beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

During the panel discussion, law professors will analyze several key cases currently on the high court's docket, framing the important issues of the case and explaining the routes the cases took through the lower courts before being accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court. The cases and participating faculty are as follows:

Prof. David Bruck, director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, will discuss two cases on the docket. In Connick v. Thompson, one of the first cases argued this term, the Court will decide if a prosecutor's office can be held liable for the illegal conduct of one of its prosecutors, resulting from the failure of the office to train its prosecutors on Brady violations. In this case, those violations resulted in blood evidence being withheld that would have exonerated John Thompson. In 1985, Thompson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Over twenty years later, the blood evidence was discovered, and Thompson was acquitted at a new murder trial.

Bruck will also discuss Skinner v. Switzer, which will explore whether a convicted prisoner is required to file a habeas petition, rather than a civil rights suit, when the prisoner wishes to sue a state to obtain access to biological evidence.

Preview the Preview: Watch video of Prof. Bruck discussing the cases.

Prof. Josh Fairfield will discuss Schwarzeneggar v. Entertainment Merchants Association, a freedom of speech case in which the Court will rule on the constitutionality of a state law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. In their appeal, California officials urged the Court to adopt a constitutional standard created for use in cases involving protection of minors against obscene materials. In the 1968 decision Ginsberg v. New York, the Court allowed states to pass laws barring minors' access to obscene materials if exposure to such materials will harm minors. Thus far, this standard has not been applied when the content in question is violent in nature, rather than obscene.

Preview the Preview: Watch video of Prof. Fairfield discussing the case.

Prof. Ann Massie will discuss the immigration and gender discrimination case Flores-Villar v. U.S. Currently, children born overseas who have one U.S.-citizen parent can obtain U.S. citizenship if the citizen parent had been physically present in the U.S. for a certain period of time before the child's birth. If the citizen parent is the father, the period is five years; if it is the mother, the period is one year. The Court will decide if this differentiation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  New Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from this case along with roughly 24 others on the docket due to conflicts of interest created by her previous position as Solicitor General.

Prof. Brian Murchison will discuss the funeral picketing case, Snyder v. Phelps, which focuses on a question of First Amendment law: the degree of constitutional protection given to remarks that a private person made about another private person, occurring outside the site of a private event.  Four years ago, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder was killed while serving in Iraq.  His family arranged for a private funeral, at St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster, Md.  The Rev. Fred W. Phelps, Sr., pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., who has gained notoriety in recent years by staging anti-gay protests at military funerals, decided to stage a demonstration at the Maryland funeral.  In response to such protests, some 40 states have passed laws to regulate funeral demonstrations.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Court found that the signs displayed at the funeral in western Maryland were protected speech.  

Preview the Preview: Watch video of Prof. Murchison discussing the case.


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