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Monday, April 19, 2010

Supreme Court hears religious student group, workplace texting cases
Jaclyn Belczyk at 3:54 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Monday in two cases. In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether a state law school may deny recognition to a religious student organization where the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious beliefs, thereby excluding gay students. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] in favor of the law school. Counsel for the petitioner argued that, "[a] public forum for speech must be open and inclusive, but participants in the forum are entitled to their own voice." Counsel for the respondents argued that all organizations must abide by the school's open membership policy. The justices appeared split along ideological lines, but much of their questioning focused on the facts of the case rather than the broader constitutional question.

In City of Ontario v. Quon [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team member has a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages sent to and from his SWAT pager, where the police department has an official no-privacy policy, but a non-policymaking lieutenant announced an informal policy of allowing some personal use of the pagers. The Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the SWAT team member had a reasonable expectation of privacy and that a search of his text messages violated his Fourth Amendment [text] rights. Counsel for the petitioners argued that, "[u]nder the less restrictive constitutional standards applied when government acts as employer, as opposed to sovereign, there was no Fourth Amendment violation here." Counsel for the US argued as amicus curiae on behalf of the city. Counsel for the respondents argued that, "[t]he scope of the search was unreasonable." Several of the justices appeared to side with the government employer, with Justice Steven Breyer saying, "I don't see anything, quite honestly, unreasonable about [the search]."

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