U.S. Supreme Court Notebook

U.S. high court upholds extortion conviction 5-3

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has upheld the conspiracy conviction of a former Baltimore police officer for his role in a repair shop extortion scheme.

The court's 5-3 decision Monday holds that Samuel Ocasio took part in a conspiracy when he received cash payments for steering people with cars damaged in accidents to a body shop.

Ocasio was among 10 Baltimore officers who were convicted for their arrangement with Majestic Auto Repair Shop in Baltimore County to send customers to the shop. Officers would receive $150 to $300 for each referral from the two brothers who owned the business.

The case probed whether Ocasio's agreement with the body shop owners amounted to an extortion conspiracy under the federal Hobbs Act.

Ocasio argued that he couldn't be charged with conspiring with the business owners to receive money from them. Their actions would amount to a conspiracy only if they were trying to extort money or property from a third party, Ocasio said.

But Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court that Ocasio's argument "is contrary to age-old principles of conspiracy law."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying that what took place in this case cannot be called a conspiracy under federal law. Joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Sotomayor wrote that "the everyday understanding of their agreement us that they intend to obtain property from someone outside of their conspiracy."

Justice Clarence Thomas also dissented.

The case is Ocasio v. U.S., 14-361.


High court rejects appeal over long hair in prisons

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from Native American inmates who want to wear their hair long in Alabama prisons.

The justices on Monday let stand an appeals court ruling that said the state's prison system could keep in place its policy requiring male inmates to cut hair short.

Inmates argued that keeping their hair long is part of core Native American religious traditions. But prison officials said long hair was a hygiene risk and could be used to conceal weapons and contraband.

The 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that many other prison systems allow inmates to follow the grooming practices of their religion. But the appeals court ruled that Alabama's system could make its own assessment on the benefits and risks.


High court won't review appeal from POM juices

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is leaving in place a court ruling that found advertising claims of the health benefits of POM Wonderful juices were deceptive.

The justices on Monday rejected an appeal from POM Wonderful LLC that argued that the ruling violated the company's speech rights. POM makes pomegranate-based products.

The Federal Trade Commission and the federal appeals court in Washington faulted POM for asserting that its products curb the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction and are clinically proven to work.

Judge Sri Srinivasan said the First Amendment does not protect "deceptive and misleading advertisements."

The three-judge panel included Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Srinivasan also was considered for the high court seat left open by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.


High court to hear patent fight over adult diapers

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court will resolve a patent dispute between companies that make adult diapers.

The justices said Monday they will hear an appeal from SCA Hygiene Products AB, which argues that it did not wait too long to file a patent infringement lawsuit against rival First Quality Baby Products LLC.

The divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled last year that SCA's six-year delay in bringing the lawsuit was unreasonable.

SCA is relying on a 2014 Supreme Court case that said unreasonable delay is not a defense against claims of copyright infringement. The company says the same reasoning applies to patent cases.

The court will hear arguments in the case when its new term begins in the fall.


Justices reject franchises' appeal over $15 wage

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is turning away a challenge to Seattle's $15 an hour minimum wage from franchise business owners who say the law discriminates against them.

The justices are not commenting on their order Monday that leaves in place a federal court ruling in favor of Seattle.

Five franchises and the International Franchise Association said the law treats Seattle's 623 franchises like large businesses because they are part of multi-state networks. But in reality, the franchises say, they are small businesses and should have more time to phase in the higher hourly wage minimum.

Small businesses employing fewer than 500 people have seven years to phase in the $15 hourly wage, while large employers must do so over three years.


Justices to hear copyright fight over uniforms

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is taking on a copyright dispute between two manufacturers of cheerleading uniforms.

The justices on Monday agreed to hear Star Athletica's appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of industry leader Varsity Brands.

The issue for the Supreme Court is whether the design of cheerleading uniforms, including their stripes and chevrons, can be protected under copyright law.

Varsity sued when Star Athletica published its first catalog of uniforms in 2010. Varsity said its competitor's uniform designs infringed on Varsity's copyrights.

A trial court ruled for Star Athletica, but the federal appeals court in Cincinnati sided with Varsity.

The case, Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, 15-866, will be argued in the fall.


Man condemned for slaying loses at Supreme Court

HOUSTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review an appeal from a 41-year-old man on death row for attacking a newlywed couple on a jogging trail outside Dallas 23 years ago, killing the husband and raping the wife.

The high court issued no comment in the case of Alvin Braziel. His attorneys had argued trial lawyers were deficient for not presenting sufficient mitigating evidence during the punishment phase of Braziel's 2001 murder trial in Dallas.

Braziel was condemned for a 1993 failed robbery attempt where 27-year-old Douglas White was shot dead and White's wife of 11 days was raped. The attack occurred on a trail encircling Eastfield College in Mesquite.

Braziel was in prison for sexual assault of a child when DNA tests linked him to the slaying.

Published: Tue, May 03, 2016