Looking Back, and Ahead
A look back at the year in law, and what's to come in the months ahead.
Just over 12 months ago, I wrote my first Counsel Corner column for the Sharon Patch. Looking back, it has been quite a year in the world of the law.
Last summer, media outlets were consumed by the Casey Anthony trial.
Anthony appeared, to all observers, to be guilty as sin in the murder of her young daughter. She failed to report her daughter’s disappearance to authorities, lied repeatedly to investigators when pressed for details, and then, when her daughter’s body was located, mounted a bizarre defense at trial in which her lawyer claimed that the child drowned and that Anthony’s father covered up the drowning, a story the grandparents denied under oath and for which no evidence ever was offered.
And yet despite the incriminating circumstances, Anthony was acquitted, and Americans were reminded once again that no jury decision should ever be taken for granted.
Shortly after the Anthony verdict was announced, the United States Supreme Court began its term, and the next several months were highlighted by a series of remarkably significant decisions.
In November, we saw federal courts weigh in whether high-tech criminal investigation techniques are covered by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In one case the high court ruled, without dissent, that the Fourth Amendment does not permit governmental authorities to install GPS devices on private vehicles. Reading the decision, the Court just seemed uncomfortable giving police the unfettered right to track our whereabouts. Elsewhere, but along those same lines, we highlighted a series of lower court decisions in which courts were asked to issue warrants allowing police access to individual’s cell phone records.
As technology continues to expand the ways we communicate with one another and track our whereabouts, courts will continue to face challenging questions as to whether, and to what extent, the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches applies to these technologies.
The spring brought two monumental court rulings.
First, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the “Arizona immigration law” case. There, the court took issue with several regulations adopted by that state in its effort to combat illegal immigration from Mexico.
Second, the Court ruled by a vote of 5-4 that the so-called Obamacare bill was constitutional. Remarkably, the deciding vote in favor of the law was cast by normally conservative-leaning Chief Justice Roberts. Later reports suggested that Roberts may have been influenced in casting his vote by concerns over his legacy as Chief. Whether Roberts has more surprises in store will remain to be seen.
Along the way we discussed some less weighty matters, including the recent issuance of our nation’s eight millionth patent. And more recently, we addressed the NCAA’s epic ruling, which bars Penn State from playing post-season football for four years, costs the school millions in fines and reduces the number of scholarships the school may award to football players.
Yes, it has been quite a year in the world of law. But the next twelve months promise to be dominated by politics.
So without further ado, here some intrepid predictions about what lies ahead.
On the national front, with the conventions still going on I am not ready to make a presidential pick. But I am confident predicting that Governor Romney will give the President a serious run for his money. For one, contrary to what many people seem to believe, incumbent presidents are not invincible. Of the last eight incumbents eligible to run, just four were reelected (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush). Three incumbent Presidents, on the other hand, were defeated at the polls (Ford, Carter and George H.W. Bush) and one declined to run because he believed he would lose his party’s nomination (Johnson).
Americans, in other words, historically are not afraid to make a change. In fact, if President Obama is reelected, it will only be the second time in our nation’s history that our country has had three consecutive two-term Presidents. (Jefferson, Madison and Monroe held the post from 1801-1825.)
You will hear a lot about Presidential poll numbers. Be wary - many polling organizations make no effort to determine whether the persons answering the questions are in fact “likely voters.” Because Republicans historically turn out a greater percentage of their registered voters on Election Day, GOP candidates tend to outperform the poll numbers. And all signs indicate that the Romney/Ryan ticket will raise substantial sums of money, allowing the Republican ticket to get tremendous media exposure in key markets.
On the other hand, the President has proved himself in the past a formidable campaigner. He has a well-oiled campaign machine that will do all it can to get the vote out in key states. Events also can play a part in elections, as was the case in 2008, when a serious economic crisis turned many swing voters toward the Democrats. For all these reasons, the President is not to be underestimated.
On the local front, the big race pits incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown vs. Democrat Liz Warren. My sense, talking to people around town, is that Brown may have the edge. Many friends that normally vote in the Democrat column are solidly behind Brown, viewing him as a good guy that often is willing to take more centrist positions. Warren, on the other hand, has been dogged by reports of missteps and misstatements. These may reflect, to some extent, simply inexperience with the rough and tumble of a major political campaign. She certainly will do better as Election Day draws near. She also is likely to raise millions as Democrats try to regain the seat once held by Ted Kennedy. Still, forced to pick now, I would take Brown in a squeaker.
As for you, my dear readers, I appreciate the chance to speak with you each week. Thank you for the occasional e-mails, Tweets. comments and Facebook recommends.
Here’s to another interesting year ahead.