Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Don't forget four other big Supreme Court decisions this term

June 28, 2013 by Scott Bomboy


As the Supreme Court ends its historic 2012-2013 term, decisions about same-sex marriage, the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action grabbed headlines. But there were other big cases the Court decided well before June.

350px-Supreme_Court_US_2010The Court concluded its business on Thursday as it considered some new cases for its next term, which starts in October.

Here’s a look back at earlier key decisions, including a few about privacy issues that aren’t going away.  (If you are curious, our friends at SCOTUSblog have a full list of case decisions."

Florida v. Jardines and Florida v. Harris

The two cases, which were decided in February 2013, were for the dogs—literally.

In Florida v. Harris, a unanimous court said police officers can search a motor vehicle for drugs once a properly trained police dog has “alerted” to a smell on a vehicle.  The dog sniff was probable cause to search the car, which was on a public road.

But in Florida v. Jardines, the Court said that bringing a police dog to the front door of a house to sniff for drugs inside a private residence was a Fourth Amendment violation.

In case you’re wondering, Aldo, a German shepherd, was involved in the Harris case, and while Franky, a chocolate Labrador retriever, was part of the Jardines case. Neither were called to testify at the Supreme Court.

Clapper v. Amnesty International USA

A key decision from February 2013 got a burst of publicity in the past month after revelations about government surveillance programs were made public by two newspapers, using former CIA analyst Edwin Snowden as a source.

In Clapper, the court said that the respondents lacked standing under Article III of the Constitution to challenge the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008. The respondents included journalists who feared their conversations with overseas sources were being monitored.

The court, in a 5-4 decision, agreed with the federal government’s claims that the respondents’ fears were based on speculation. The court didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Since then, FISA and its secret court have been at the center of a firestorm about privacy, the Fourth Amendment and the First Amendment.

Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., Inc.

Kiobel is a complicated case that involves human rights and the ability for foreign nationals to seek a legal remedy in the U.S. court system when alleged crimes happen outside the U.S.

In February 2013, the Supreme Court blocked a lawsuit from 12 Nigerians (who had left their country for the U.S.), and claimed three Dutch or British oil companies asked the Nigerian government to violently suppress resistance to oil exploration in that country.

The Court decided that the Alien Tort Statute (law dating back to 1789), can’t be used in the Kiobel case to mount a lawsuit where all the events occurred in a foreign country.

The Alien Tort Statute has been used in recent years to allow human-rights cases to come to court, brought by foreign nationals for acts committed outside the territory of the United States.

The  Court left open the possibility of future lawsuits when a matter "touches and concerns" the United States with "sufficient force."

Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

Recent Constitution Daily Stories

The Next 10 Amendments: A constitutional amendment to define marriage?

Updated: Our Supreme Court scorecard

America’s Town Hall: The National Constitution Center’s Supreme Court Debates

Constitution Check: Where does same-sex marriage go from here?

Sign up for our email newsletter