Blurred Lines…


“With more than 60,000 employees, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP, is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade.” 


This week we will be discussing a case that is quite relevant to the current political climate in our country. The case of Hernandez v. Mesa is number seven on the list of top ten Supreme Court cases to follow this year. A tragic case, Hernandez v. Mesa focuses on the topic of border patrol along the U.S. Mexican border and which laws apply within this border region.

The details of the case follow as, that on June 7th 2010, Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, who was fifteen at the time, was playing with friends along the U.S. Mexican border near El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. The kids were playing a game where they would dare each other to run up to the fence, starting on the Mexican side, touch the fence, and then run back down. The following set of details are still argued on their validity, but what is understood is that one of Hernandez friends was apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol and the remaining children began to flee back to the Mexican side of the border area. The border officer, Mesa, then fired two shots in the direction of Hernandez and one struck and killed him. Following Hernandez’s death, his parents sued Mesa in Federal District court in Texas, claiming that Mesa had violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the constitution, specifically in reference to the use of deadly force and the inability to determine necessary force. Mesa stated that the case should be dismissed because Hernandez had been on U.S. soil illegally and had been shot while standing on Mexican soil, thus the claims of violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are void. The court held that Mesa was entitled to immunity in this case and that the Hernandez family could not sue based on the fact that their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights had been violated, since they are not U.S. Citizens.

The formal questions posed by this case are:

  • Does a formalist or functionalist analysis govern the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unjustified deadly force, as applied to a cross-border shooting of an unarmed Mexican citizen in an enclosed area controlled by the United States?
  • May qualified immunity be granted or denied based on facts – such as the victim’s legal status – unknown to the officer at the time of the incident?
  • Can the claim in this case be properly asserted under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, which governs when federal agents may be liable for damages for violating an individual’s constitutional right?

This cases poses plenty of thought provoking questions: Should U.S. law apply to everyone, or at least to people who come into contact with American citizens? Should there be a set of laws, not country specific, that are applied to border regions?



Argument preview: Justices take on issues arising out of cross-border shooting


“Get off my lawn!”

”Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

Fifth Amendment 

This week in court we will be discussing the case Murr v. Wisconsin, which was granted to be heard by the Supreme Court in January 2016; the case is still pending. This case specifically revolves around the idea of personal property; I know it may not be the most interesting topic, but bear with me.  

In 1960 in St. Croix County, Wisconsin, the parents of Joseph P. Murr bought two adjacent lots of land that totaled to about .98 acres. In the mid 90s the parents transferred the land to their children, and in 1995 the two lots were combined to create one large lot. In St. Croix County there is an ordinance that prohibits the individual development or sale of adjacent lots, if they are owned by the same person, unless when totaled they occupy a space greater than one acre, but the land owned by the Murrs did not. To clarify, a lot must be at least one acre to be sold or if multiple acres are combined together they must collectively equal one acre in order to be sold separately. Years later the Murr family wished to sell only one lot that they owned, but were denied by the St. Croix County Board of Adjustment. The Murr family sued the state and county stating that the ordinance results in an unjust and uncompensated seizure of their property and deprived them of “all, or practically all, of the use of Lot E because the lot cannot be sold or developed as a separate lot.” All local and state courts held that the Murrs had not been deprived of the use of their property.

This case, although a little drier than others at its surface, touches on a very foundational right: the right to own property and to choose what one does with it. This case poses the question of, can local and state governments regulate personal property, and in such a way that the owners cannot decide themselves how to sell or develop their land? Who has the final say on property and its regulation: those that own it or some form of government? For without some form of regulation, would not the ownership of property become chaotic?




Sunday Night Showdown: Church vs. State!


“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Thomas Jefferson

Court is in session! This week marks the half-way point on our journey through the Top Ten Supreme Court cases of this year. The Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley case revolves around the idea of the separation of church and state, especially in regards to government funds and aid.

The debate over the separation of church and state is almost as old as the church and the creation of the first state. The timeless conversation is about where to draw the line between the two powers and whether or not they can ever be completely separate and equal.

The Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia operates a licensed daycare, The Learning Center, which began as a nonprofit and then merged with the Trinity Organization in 1985. Since then, The Learning Center has operated under Trinity and thus incorporated religious lessons into its programs. As expected, The Learning Center maintains a playground for its students and felt it necessary to resurface the playground. In the state of Missouri, where The Learning Center is located, the Department of Natural Resources offers scrap tire material grants to organizations that qualify under state and federal law. The Learning Center applied for one of these grants, but was denied based on an Article within the Missouri Constitution that states “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, section, or denomination of religion.”

Trinity sued on behalf of The Learning Center claiming that the state constitution violated the Center’s First and Fourteenth amendment rights, specifically the freedom to express one’s religion and speech and the right to equal protection under the law. The district court dismissed the case and the Trinity Organization amended its complaint so as to state that other religious organizations had been previously granted state funds and that they should receive equal funds as well. All higher level courts affirmed the district court’s opinion, but the Supreme Court has allowed that this case be presented before it.

The constitutional question that is presented by this case is… “does the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause?”

This case seems to present a relatively straightforward problem and one that does not express a very large “grey area” of interpretation. The separation of church and state has been a long standing rule, guideline, law, etc. in our nation’s history. Regardless of the fact that other religiously affiliated organizations might have received some form of state and federal aid, there does not appear to be a clear reason why Trinity and The Learning Center should receive any of this aid, if we are simply following the law. However, this case poses the question of whether it is better to completely cut off aid to religiously affiliated organizations, or rather should aid be given to all and any that require it, for then is the state and government truly endorsing one religion over the other?





“Knock, Knock…”

“We the people…”


This week in court we will be discussing the case of Los Angeles County v. Mendez. Number four on our list of the top ten cases on the Supreme Court’s docket this year to watch, L.A. County v. Mendez revolves around the hot topic of the use of force in relation to police work, warrants, and unlawful entry into homes, businesses, etc.

This case dates back to October 2010, when two deputies from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department responded to a call that a wanted parolee, Ronnie O’Dell, had been spotted in front of another citizen’s residence. The deputies responded to the call and proceeded to clear the house and then moved onto the backyard, under the direction of other officers. The deputies determined that O’Dell was not in any of the backyard structures; they then proceeded to another structure where two other citizens, Mendez and Garcia, we’re living. The officers failed to announce their presence as they opened the door and one deputy saw the silhouette of a person holding what appeared to be rifle and thus alerted his partner of the weapon. The two deputies proceeded to shoot both Mendez and Garcia, resulting in Mendez having his right leg amputated and Garcia being shot in the back. Throughout the trial it was unclear of whether Mendez and Garcia purposefully pointed the gun towards the officers or were merely moving it out of the way.

Mendez and Garcia sued the deputies, Conley and Pederson, claiming that their Fourth Amendment rights had been violated and that the officers had performed an “unjustified warrantless search” and did not adhere to the “knock and announce rule.” The court ruled that the officers use of force was justified, but they were held liable for the use of deadly force because the incident was classified as “intentionally or recklessly provoking a violent confrontation,” under the Fourth Amendment. At higher level courts, the decision that the officers search violated the Fourth Amendment was upheld, but they reversed the “knock and announce” violation because there is no clear declaration that officers must announce their presence again at a property they have already entered.

This case ties together many topics and questions that are currently swirling around the nation about police work. When is force necessary? How much? How justifiable is it? Can there be a clear line to define the use of force and when to announce their presence or just jump right into the situation? Are there exceptions to the declared rules? In this case, I do believe that it was fair to hold the officers liable for the shooting based on the fact that they recklessly entered a situation and failed to announce their presence again, but then again how can any of us speak on the actual events that took place; we weren’t there and didn’t have to make split life or death decisions.






“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”

Maya Angelou

This week’s session in court takes us to Gloucester County, VA, where a transitioning student has been denied the use of the restroom that matches his gender identity. The third Supreme Court case on our list of the top ten this year, G.G. v. Gloucester Country School Board is very relevant to the social climate of our nation.

Gavin Grimm, a student at Gloucester High School, is a transgender male student who began his transition at the beginning of his sophomore year. Having been seeking treatment for severe gender dysphoria, Gavin and his mom notified the high school of his transition so that he could return to school and be allowed to use proper facilities that matched his gender identity. Administrators granted Gavin the ability to use the restroom that agreed with his gender identity; he did so without incident for two months. Unfortunately, after a few weeks the school received complaints from both students, parents, and residents of Gloucester County about Gavin. Thus the school adopted a new policy that forced Gavin to use separate restrooms and facilities that were not in line with his gender identity and were also against ACLU regulations (ACLU—American Civil Liberties Union). This policy still remains and the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board for discrimination. This policy also violates Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As of October 28th, the Supreme Court agreed that it will review this case from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Given the current debate about LBGTQ rights in our nation, this case can serve as the one that paves the way for meaningful change; it can change the lives of so many for the better. I feel and I hope that the court will overturn this discriminatory policy in the Gloucester School District because Gavin deserves to express his rights and his gender identity freely; it’s that simple.



Fr(me)e Speech


“Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech.”

Charles Bradlaugh

For this week’s installment in our journey through the top ten Supreme Court cases to follow on this year’s docket we will be discussing the case Lee vs. Tam, which discusses “disparaging trademarks.” A case revolving around the First Amendment and the freedom of speech, this case talks about the law against disparaging trademarks, which has existed since 1946, but the Supreme Court has never expressed its full opinion or interpretation of this clause.

In this case, Simon Tam and his band “The Slants” wanted to register their band’s name with the U.S. Trademark Office, but their request was denied because it was disparaging to those of Asian descent. The Trademark Office cited the Disparagement Clause of the Lanham Act from 1946, which prohibits the use of trademarks and logos that are deemed immoral or may suggest a relation to a certain group of people, belief, institution, etc. On his third appeal, Tam’s request was denied because the judges decided that they were within their rights to refuse Tam’s request to trademark his band’s name. However, later the case was overturned and it was determined that the Trademark Office was violating Tam’s First Amendment right by denying him the ability to trademark his band’s name and thus indirectly stated that the Disparagement Clause from 1946 also violated the First Amendment. Simply, the case asks “is the Disparagement Clause invalid under the First Amendment?”

This case at its base touches on one of our most tightly protected rights—freedom of speech. So, is there any way to truly regulate what people say? I guess the simple answer is no because people are free to express their opinions and thoughts as much or as little as they want, and given how many ways there are to express one’s opinion in today’s world it is hard to avoid running into situations like this. I agree with the fact that if Tam’s band wants to Trademark their name they should be able to do so and I understand that their name is offensive, but they have the right to choose what name they will use. Once they choose a name, it is more on their part to regulate themselves and the message they will send as a band using said name. Here, responsibility falls more on the individual than the law; people must be able to regulate and understand certain social standards when expressing how they feel. Although this decision may appear to be insensitive, it is the most neutral and simple way to approach this issue.

A similar case to Lee vs. Tam was the case against the Washington Redskins football team and the discussion over whether the team should change their trademark because it was offensive to a certain group of people. Although that case never made it to the Supreme Court, it was dismissed in October 2016, it presents a near parallel story to that of Lee vs. Tam, and as a matter of fact Lee vs. Tam was cited in the arguments in the case against the Washington Redskins.


10 Supreme Court cases to watch in 2017



“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Benjamin Franklin

For the second semester of my passion blog I will focus on the 10 Supreme Court cases that have been highlighted as “must see” for this year’s docket, which is great because we need 10 posts! Since these cases are so recent most, if not all, will not have a final verdict, so these posts will simply act as an area for commentary on the topic presented. The cases are as follows: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, Lee v. Tam, Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., Los Angeles County v. Mendez, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, Murr v. Wisconsin, Hernández v. Mesa, TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods, Turner v. United States and Overton v. United States, and Microsoft v. Baker. Today we will discuss the first: Endrew F. v. Douglas Country School District.

This case revolves around the idea of public education, especially when educating children with disabilities, specifically autism. Endrew F. is an autistic fifth grader who was sent to a private school because his parents believed that the public education offered to him was insufficient and did not meet his needs. Endrew’s parents thus sued the school district for reimbursement of the tuition of Endrew’s private school on the grounds that the public school had failed to provide their son a proper education and were forced to look elsewhere. They did this under the (IDEA)—the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The case has been rejected before based on (FAPE)—the “free appropriate public education” requirement dictated by IDEA because the court decided that Endrew’s public school did provide him adequate education. Thus the question posed by this case is “what is the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the individuals with disabilities education act?”

It appears that this case exhibits a greater “gray” area of interpretation than most cases because it is hard to standardize the education requirements and needs of children. There appears to be no one clear answer because, as cliché as it sounds, all students learn differently and it is hard to prove whether or not they are learning enough and learning properly. With this case, there also may be an issue of whether parents are trying to send their child to a better school, even if their public school offers a great education for free, by claiming that their choice of location for their child’s education was out of necessity, not choice.

Thus I feel as though they may make a very general conclusion on the ruling, so that there can be some room for personalization when discussing these cases because that is the only way to appease both sides of the argument.


“With Great Power comes Great Responsibility.”

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.


The Tenth Amendment was created to round out the Bill of Rights and make sure that all natural and unalienable rights that are promised to the citizens are protected. Originally, some states had voted against a Bill of Rights, for they believed that the Constitution they had constructed limited the government enough and would allow state constitutions to delegate and outline those rights not specifically listed by the federal government. However, not all states were in agreement about not creating a Bill of Rights and many had only agreed to ratify The Constitution on the belief that a Bill of Rights be formed later on. The Tenth Amendment speaks most simply and poignantly about the core beliefs of those citizens wanting a Bill of Rights; these citizens wanted all powers not given to the government to belong to the people, so that a true government by and for the people could be established.


A landmark Supreme Court case that debated some of the topics brought up in the Tenth Amendment was Bond v. United States in 2011, which is relatively recent. Carol Bond had been tried and found guilty on attempting to poison her husband’s mistress twenty-four times and mail theft twice. Bond had been charged in Pennsylvania on two counts of possession of a chemical weapon, which violates a criminal, federal statute under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Bond’s attorney’s defended her by stating that the statue was only applicable to “rogue states” and terrorists and that Bond should have been charged and prosecuted under state law, not federal. Having been found guilty, Bond lost on appeal based on the fact that the court believed she “lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statute on the basis of the Tenth Amendment.” The constitutional question posed here was whether or not Bond, a convicted criminal, had the grounds to challenge the stance that the federal government was acting beyond their delegated powers, which would be in violation of the Tenth Amendment.


The Supreme Court unanimously decided in favor of Carol Bond and stated that yes, Bond does have grounds to challenge this federal statute based on the fact that it violates the Tenth Amendments clause that gives all powers not deemed to the federal government to the state governments and their people. They also stated that no citizens may be prosecuted under a constitutionally invalid law.


In the end, it appears to be that the Tenth Amendment was created to act almost as a grey area when it comes to constitutional law, for it allows the court to make decisions that are pertinent to the time period or based on special circumstance. It almost provides them an escape if they are ever in a “jam” when it comes to constitutional law. This, I believe, is a good thing because as we have seen so many times the law can become outdated, and the Tenth Amendment allows for its modification. Although, one place where the Tenth Amendment may cause some controversy is in its ability to mold to different situations, for then the law may become too fluid and lack regulation.






“Griswold’s back Baby!”



The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The Ninth Amendment was created simply to protect the rights of citizens not explicitly guaranteed by The Constitution; the Tenth Amendment discusses similar topics as both were once one, but then were split when the Bill of Rights was created. A source of much debate, the Ninth Amendment was formed during the creation of The Constitution because many feared that if the rights deemed necessary for man to live free were not stated clearly they would be crushed by the government and that a Bill of Rights was the only way to prevent that. Even in today’s court system, the Ninth Amendment is rarely used and when it is it provides a topic for debate because how far do we go when expressing rights that are not guaranteed by the government? Where do we limit ourselves? What’s more dangerous: a populous that has somewhat of a no restriction zone or a government that overregulates?




A landmark Supreme Court case that dealt with the issues discussed in the Ninth Amendment, was an “oldie but a goodie” Griswold v. Connecticut, which was discussed in relation to the Third Amendment. As a quick review, the case was centered around the defendant, Griswold, who was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League in Connecticut. Both she and another member of the league gave advice to married couples in regard to birth control. Once they were discovered giving these counseling sessions, Griswold and her co-worker were convicted under a Connecticut state specific law that criminalized providing information regarding birth control. Now, when looking at it through the lens of the Ninth Amendment, not the third, which touches upon privacy, Griswold and her co-workers are guaranteed the right to offer these counseling sessions. Now you may be thinking, well they broke a state law, but that does not apply if it took place within their private organization and in a private conversation. The decision in this case, which was a 7-2 decision, established the precedent that together the First, Third, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments created a new level of a right to privacy, especially in a marriage or on private property. And considering this decision took place at the federal level, it outweighs a state decision and follows the provision in the Ninth Amendment that gives citizens the ability to exercise their rights that are not strictly stated by The Constitution.



But this guarantee to practice any rights we see fit, and that are not written clearly in our laws does not hold true for everyone; some citizens still feel neglected and restricted when exercising’s their rights. And that may be an effect of not necessarily the written law, but our society and its cultural norms that may not warrant nor accept certain forms of behavior.




“An Eye for an Eye: causing blindness or justice”


Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


The Eighth Amendment to The Constitution revolves around the idea of protecting individuals from cruel and unusual punishment. A simply stated amendment, the Eighth presents some challenges when it comes to classifying what truly is cruel and unusual punishment. What constitutes an unjust punishment? What does it mean to be cruel under the law? Is there a clear definition that we can draw for every situation, regardless of circumstance, that will say “this is where just punishment ends, and cruelty begins?”


The Amendment was created so that the government could not abuse its power because once the United States was formed and we were an independent nation, the government gained the ability to try, convict, and punish those accused of federal crimes. Not only was this amendment created to limit federal power, but the states as well under the Fourteenth Amendment which prohibits states from infringing on the personal privileges and protections of U.S. citizens. Regardless, the Eighth Amendment has plenty of topics for discussion as it asks what classifies as cruel and unusual punishment, does “cruel” expand to other methods than those simply described as barbaric, and should the death penalty still be used.




A landmark Supreme Court case that revolved around the Eighth Amendment took place in 1972 under the Burger Court. The defendant, Furman was in the process of robbing a home when a member of the family stumbled upon him. Furman attempted to flee from the home, but in doing so he tripped and his gun he had went off and killed a member of the family. In the state of Georgia, Furman was convicted of murder and was sentenced to death along with two other defendants in other cases that involved murder or rape convictions. The question posed by Furman’s case was “does the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?”

The Supreme Court decided unanimously or in “per curiam” for Furman and decided that yes, in these cases, especially Furman’s, the decision to impose the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment. In an extensive document the justices outlined their opinions and decisions; many stated that the death penalty may be dealt to certain criminals, but that there are so many mitigating factors that must be considered before doing so because there are so many cases that have involved the death penalty that should not have. Only two justices argued against the use of the death penalty at all. The Supreme Court’s decisions forced all state and national legislatures to rethink their stance and regulations on the death penalty and to make sure that it would not be administered in a discriminatory manor.




Thus the Eighth Amendment causes citizens to think about how much the law truly protects them, considering how much debate still continues over the issues of discipline and punishment. Does the court system protect its citizens enough, too much, or not enough? Does a perfect system really exist? Should we as a nation still use the death penalty, even though we are the only western nation to do so and only about 56 nations worldwide still use it within their legal systems? What does that say about our system? Our morals?