June 26th, 2013
10:03 AM ET

Justices rule for adoptive couple in Native-American custody dispute

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

Washington (CNN) - The Supreme Court sided on Tuesday with adoptive parents in a divisive custody fight over a Native American child after the biological father asserted his parental rights.

The justices, by a 5-4 margin, said the adoption by a white couple was proper and did not intrude on the federal rights of the father, a registered member of the Cherokee tribe, over where his daughter, Veronica, 3, would live.

The court said the father could not rely on the Indian Child Welfare Act for relief because he never had legal or physical custody at the time of adoption proceedings, which were initiated by the birth mother without his knowledge.

Justice Samuel Alito said when "the adoption of an Indian child is voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights, the (law's) primary goal of preventing unwarranted removal of Indian children and the dissolution of Indian families is not implicated."

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Filed under: Ethnicity • Family • How we live • Native Americans
June 25th, 2013
11:19 AM ET

Supreme Court limits federal oversight of Voting Rights Act

What do you think? Sound off in a video on CNN iReport.

By Bill Mears, CNN

Washington (CNN) - A deeply divided Supreme Court has limited use of a key provision in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, in effect invalidating federal enforcement over all or parts of 15 states with past history of voter discrimination.

The court said it is now up to congressional lawmakers to revise the law to meet constitutional scrutiny.

"Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to the current conditions," said Chief Justice John Roberts for the 5-4 conservative majority.

Section 4 of the law was struck down, the coverage formula used by the federal government to determine which states and counties are subject to continued oversight. Roberts said that formula from 1972 was outdated and unworkable.

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Filed under: Discrimination • History • How we live • Politics • Race • Where we live
High court avoids larger ruling on university's affirmative action admissions policy
The Supreme Court has handed down a decision on affirmative action.
June 24th, 2013
10:46 AM ET

High court avoids larger ruling on university's affirmative action admissions policy

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

Washington (CNN) - The Supreme Court side-stepped a sweeping decision on the use of race-conscious school admission policies, ruling Monday on the criteria at the University of Texas and whether it violates the equal protection rights of some white applicants.

The justices threw the case back to the lower courts for further review.

The court affirmed the use of race in the admissions process, but makes it harder for institutions to use such policies to achieve diversity. The 7-1 decision from the court avoids the larger constitutional issues.

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Filed under: Education • History • How we live • Race
High court to look at Michigan ban on preferences in university admissions
The Supreme Court Justices will decide the constitutionality high-profile challenge to affirmative action.
March 25th, 2013
04:48 PM ET

High court to look at Michigan ban on preferences in university admissions

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

Washington (CNN) - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to confront another high-profile challenge to affirmative action in college admissions.

The justices will decide the constitutionality of a voter referendum in Michigan banning race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public university admission decisions.

The high court is currently deciding a separate challenge to admissions policies at the University of Texas, which did not involve a voter referendum.

A federal appeals court last year concluded the affirmative action ban, which Michigan voters passed in a 2006 referendum, violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection laws.

Appeals court strikes down Michigan's affirmative action ban

It was the latest step in a legal and political battle over whether the state's colleges can use race and gender as a factor in choosing which students to admit. The ban's opponents say classroom diversity remains a necessary government role.

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Filed under: Education • History • Race • Where we live
March 1st, 2013
02:21 PM ET

Obama urges court to overturn California same-sex marriage ban

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

Washington (CNN) - In a bold political and legal move, the Obama administration formally expressed its support for same-sex marriage in California, setting up a high stakes political and constitutional showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over a fast-evolving and contentious issue.

In a broadly worded legal brief on Thursday that senior government sources said had President Barack Obama's personal input and blessing, the Justice Department asserted gay and lesbian couples in the nation's most populous state have the same "equal protection" right to wed and that voters there were not empowered to ban it.

"Use of a voter initiative to promote democratic self-governance cannot save a law like Proposition 8 that would otherwise violate equal protection," said the brief. "Prejudice may not however be the basis for differential treatment under the law."

California's 2008 Proposition 8 referendum revoked the right of same-sex couples to wed after lawmakers and the state courts previously allowed it.

New Sotomayor memoir reveals pain, joys of an 'extraordinary journey'
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently released a new memoir.
January 15th, 2013
10:02 AM ET

New Sotomayor memoir reveals pain, joys of an 'extraordinary journey'

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

"Yours is the life that I breathe,
my inspiration is yours,
yours is my thought,
yours all feeling
that blooms in my heart."
–Excerpt from Jose Gautier Benítez's poem "To Puerto Rico (I Return)," quoted by Sonia Sotomayor in her memoir

Washington (CNN) –With "candor comes a measure of vulnerability."

Sonia Sotomayor wants readers to know in the first pages of her new memoir that this will be different from other books by members of the Supreme Court.

The dynamic story of the first Latina to sit as a justice seeks to inspire by revealing often-painful chapters in her self-described "extraordinary journey": her father's early death from alcoholism; a complex, often distant relationship with her mother; growing up poor in the Bronx projects; self-doubts about her looks, brief failed marriage; and professional path.

But her strengths are celebrated, too: self-reliance to the point of giving herself insulin shots at age 7, after being diagnosed with diabetes; her loyalty to a large circle of friends; and vivid pride in her Puerto Rican heritage.

"Experience has taught me you cannot value dreams according to the odds of their coming true," she writes in "My Beloved World" (Knopf/Random House). "Their real value is in stirring within us the will to aspire. That will, wherever it finally leads, does at least move you forward."

Read the full story

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Filed under: Latino in America • Who we are
January 7th, 2013
09:30 AM ET

High court to tackle Native American adoption dispute

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

Washington (CNN) - A custody battle involving the "best interests" of a 3-year-old Cherokee girl will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, an issue spanning the rights of adoptive parents and the desire to preserve Native American families within tribes.

The justices announced they will hear an appeal from Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who legally adopted little Veronica in 2009, shortly after the birth mother agreed to give up the child. Oral arguments in the case will likely be heard in April with a ruling by late June.

The South Carolina Supreme Court in July ruled for the biological father, who had sought custody shortly after the child's birth. He is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation and is raising the child in Oklahoma.

Dusten Brown had earlier signed a legal document agreeing to put the girl up for adoption, but his attorneys say the father did not understand the extent of the waiver, and that the birth mother misrepresented the child's American Indian heritage to social service workers when the adoption was finalized.

At issue is whether Brown, as the onetime non-custodial father, can gain parental custody, after the non-Indian mother initiated an adoption outside the tribe.

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Filed under: Family • History • Native Americans
As high court hears affirmative-action case, student voices differ on diversity
October 9th, 2012
07:21 PM ET

As high court hears affirmative-action case, student voices differ on diversity

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

(CNN) - The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear oral arguments in an important affirmative-action case - whether the University of Texas' race-conscious admissions policy violates the rights of some white applicants.

The justices will decide whether and when skin color and ethnicity can be used to create a diverse college campus. CNN gathered comments from three current or former students with a direct interest in the case. Their comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Justices to re-examine use of race in college admissions

Abigail Fisher, plaintiff in the Supreme Court appeal

Fisher was denied admission to the state's flagship university and filed a lawsuit challenging the selection process. She graduated this year from Louisiana State University, and issued a statement of her views, through her legal team.

FISHER: "I dreamt of going to UT (the University of Texas) ever since the second grade. My dad went there, my sister went there, and tons of friends and family. And it was a tradition I wanted to continue.

"There were people in my (high school) class with lower grades who weren't in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT. And the only difference between us was the color of our skin. I took a ton of AP (advanced placement) classes, I studied hard and did my homework, and I made the honor roll. I was in extracurricular activities - I played the cello, I was in math club, and I volunteered. I put in the work I thought was necessary to get into UT.

"I was taught from the time I was a little girl that any kind of discrimination was wrong. And for an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me. What kind of example does this set for others? A good start to stopping discrimination would be getting rid of the boxes on applications - male, female, race, whatever. Those don't tell admissions people what type of student you are, or how involved you are. All they do is put you into a box, a theoretical box.

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Filed under: Age • Education • Ethnicity • How we live • Race • Where we live
Justices to re-examine use of race in college admissions
October 8th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Justices to re-examine use of race in college admissions

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

"Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free" - from the Bible (John 8:32), inscribed on the facade of the the University of Texas at Austin Main Building ..."Equal Justice Under Law" - inscription above the U.S. Supreme Court Building

(CNN) - Heman Marion Sweatt and Abigail Noel Fisher both wanted to attend the University of Texas at Austin.
Both claimed their race was a primary reason for their rejection. Both filed civil rights lawsuits, and the Supreme Court ultimately agreed to hear their separate appeals - filed more than half a century apart.

Their cases share much in common - vexing questions of competition, fairness, and demographics - and what role government should play when promoting political and social diversity.

But it is the key difference between these plaintiffs - separated by three generations and a troubled road to "equality" - that now confronts the nation's highest court: Sweatt was black, Fisher is white.

Sweatt's 1950 case produced a landmark court ruling that set the stage for the eventual end of racial segregation in public facilities.

Fisher's case will be heard by the justices Wednesday. The question here could come down to whether a majority on the bench believes affirmative action has run its course - no longer necessary in a country that has come far to confront its racially divisive past, a country that has a president who is African-American.

"There's a good chance that affirmative action, at least in the case of education, is on the chopping block," said Thomas Goldstein, a Washington appellate attorney and SCOTUSblog.com editor.

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Filed under: Education • History • Race • Where we live
Supreme Court kicks off new term, faces agenda that could be historic
September 28th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

Supreme Court kicks off new term, faces agenda that could be historic

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

(CNN) - A day after the Supreme Court upheld the health care law, Chief Justice John Roberts joked that he would spend some time at "an impregnable island fortress" to escape the torrent of vitriol and praise heaped on the bench.

The nation is now focused on the presidential election, but attention will likely shift back to the court after the November vote. A new term opens on Monday and the nine justices will address another potentially historic docket. Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, voting rights, and abortion could be taken up.

"The justices are moving from the frying pan right into the fire, having moved up with the big healthcare case," said Thomas Goldstein, a leading Washington lawyer and publisher of SCOTUSblog.com. "They are tackling some of the most difficult legal questions of today. Across the board, probably the biggest term in at least a decade."

A range of explosive issues will test Roberts' leadership of a shaky 5-4 conservative majority:

–Affirmative action and whether universities may continue to use race as one factor in student admissions to maintain a diverse campus.

–Same-sex marriage and the constitutional "equal protection" rights of gay and lesbian couples to wed.

–Voting rights challenges to rigorous federal oversight of state and local elections, and to voter identification laws.

–"Personhood" laws that say life begins at conception, a push by some states and anti-abortion opponents to perhaps revisit the Roe v. Wade ruling.

These issues and several other important criminal, business, and international cases could change the social political landscape in coming years.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • History • Race • Sexual orientation • Where we live • Women
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