On the last day of the term Monday, the Supreme Court issued a flurry of hotly contested 5-4 decisions, including the much awaited ruling in McDonald v. Chicago, which basically extends to the states the court’s holding in the Heller case two years ago that the 2nd Amendment provides an individual right to bear arms. The ruling, long expected, may all but obliterate what’s left of the country’s gun control laws, a ramification that may explain why Justice Stephen Breyer read his dissent from the bench. Justice Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, noted that the decision was binding on state and local governments, but still seemed to believe that his jurisprudence was not going to produce much bloodshed. He wrote that the decision “limits (but by no means eliminates) [cities’] ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values.”
In other court news, former Whitewater special prosecutor Ken Starr wins a major victory in a ruling that will help corporate America get rid of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB)–jokingly referred to as the “peek-a-boo” case. The board, created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the wake of Enron, Arthur Anderson and other corporate accounting scandals of the early 2000, was set up as a private entity that is supposed to keep corporate auditors honest. Its members are appointed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Starr sued the board on behalf of a business group called the Free Enterprise Fund, arguing that because it’s got some executive functions, the PCAOB was unconstitutional because its members are appointed by the SEC and not the president. In a complex ruling, the court sort of agreed in a decision that will make it easier for businesses to defang the board. The case was pending last year when Starr publicly endorsed Justice Sonia Sotomayor shortly before her confirmation hearings. Cynics suggested that he endorsed her to hedge his bet in the case, but as it turns out, Sotomayor didn’t see fit to return the favor. She was in the liberal minority on this one.
The most remarkable news from this morning’s end of the term opinion dump is that it was attended by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who even read an opinion from the bench. Her husband of 56 years, Martin Ginsburg, died yesterday, at the age of 78. Chief Justice Roberts opened the session with a tribute to Ginsburg, who was a well-known Georgetown University tax law professor.