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The U.S. Supreme Court on June 27 rendered the following decisions: The justices ruled, 5-4, that the displays of the Ten Commandments in two county courthouses in Kentucky were so overtly religious as to be impermissible. McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, No. 03-1693. Because the Ten Commandments were displayed by themselves on the courthouse walls, Justice David H. Souter, writing on behalf of the majority, declared that, “The reasonable observer could only think that the counties meant to emphasize and celebrate the religious message.” Souter went on, “When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates that central Establishment clause value of official religious neutrality.” Souter’s opinion was supported by justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The justices ruled, 5-4, that the display of the Ten Commandments in a park at the Texas State Capitol has both religious and political significance, and thus doesn’t violate the establishment clause. Van Orden v. Perry, No. 03-1500. Writing on behalf of the majority, Rehnquist said, “While the Commandments are religious, they have an undeniable historical meaning. Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.” Rehnquist’s opinion was joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer. Stevens’ dissent was joined by O’Connor, Souter and Ginsburg. The justices ruled, 6-3, that cable companies may keep rival Internet providers from using their lines. National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet Services, No. 04-277, and FCC v. Brand X Internet Services, No. 04-281. The case challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s 2002 ruling that cable television companies that offer Internet services are information providers, not telecommunications companies. Under FCC regulations, telecommunications companies are subject to strict FCC rules that require them to provide access to independent providers. Information providers are exempt from such rules. Santa Monica, Calif.-based Brand X Internet Services claimed that the FCC’s exemption of cable Internet service was a misinterpretation of its authority under the 1934 Federal Communications Act. Writing for the majority, Thomas said that the FCC’s policy was a legitimate application of its authority: “Nothing in the Communications Act . . . makes unlawful the Commission’s use of its expert policy judgment to resolve these difficult questions.” Thomas’ opinion was joined by Rehnquist, Stevens, O’Connor, Kennedy and Breyer. Scalia’s dissent was joined by Souter and Ginsburg. The justices ruled, 7-2, that a Colorado woman cannot pursue a due process claim against the police over their failure to enforce a restraining order. Castle Rock v. Gonzales, No. 04-278. Jessica Gonzales claimed that she was entitled to sue Castle Rock, Colo., police over their not having done enough to prevent her estranged husband from killing their three young daughters. She contended that her restraining order should be considered property under the 14th Amendment and that it was taken from her without due process when police failed to enforce it. Writing for the majority, Scalia said, “The creation of a personal entitlement to something as vague and novel as enforcement of restraining orders cannot ‘simply go without saying.’ ” Scalia’s opinion was joined by Rehnquist, O’Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas and Breyer. Stevens’ dissent was joined by Ginsburg. The justices ruled, 5-4, that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had improperly infringed on the right of Tennessee to execute a man on death row. Bell v. Thompson, No. 04-514. Gregory Thompson was convicted and sentenced to death for a 1985 murder. His execution was called off after a 6th Circuit judge discovered an expert’s opinion, not entered into the record, suggesting that Thompson suffered from schizophrenia. Writing for the majority, Kennedy said that the circuit court had failed to “accord the appropriate level of respect” to Tennessee’s courts. “Thompson’s trial attorneys . . . chose not to pursue a mitigation strategy based on mental illness, stressing instead character evidence . . . that he had the capacity to adjust to prison . . . .This strategic calculation, while ultimately unsuccessful, was based on a reasonable investigation into Thompson’s background.” While the expert’s testimony does suggest that the defense strategy was a mistake, this evidence “would not come close to satisfying the miscarriage of justice standard.” Kennedy’s opinion was joined by Rehnquist, O’Connor, Scalia and Thomas. Breyer’s dissent was joined by Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg. The justices’ unanimous ruling that the entertainment industry can file piracy lawsuits against technology companies caught encouraging customers to steal music and movies over the Internet is discussed in this issue [see Related Articles]. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios v. Grokster, No. 04-480.

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