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Court Rules Punitive Damages Taxable by IRS
Punitive damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit are taxable, according to this Dec. 10, 1996, U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The case involved the family of a woman who died of toxic shock syndrome in 1983. The family won a punitive damage award of $10 million in a product liability suit against International Playtex Inc, the manufacturer of the tampons the woman used. At issue was a section of the Internal Revenue Code that excludes from its definition of gross income any damages received "on account of personal injuries or sickness." The ruling was a victory for the U.S. Justice Department, which argued that the damages should be taxed.
 
Texas v. Hopwood
The Court's order refusing to review a lower court ruling that struck down the University of Texas Law School's affirmative action program. Issued: July 1, 1996.
 
U.S. v. Winstar Corp.
The Court ruling that the government can be held liable for a rule change that plunged savings and loans into financial trouble. The 7-2 ruling said the government broke its contracts with three S&Ls when it changed an accounting rule in 1989. The law that sought to restore the troubled thrift industry to health by tightening rules and providing over $100 billion to close insolvent S&Ls. Until then, the government had encouraged healthy thrifts to take over insolvent ones by letting them count the insolvent S&L's losses as ''goodwill'' assets. S&Ls also were allowed to double-count as ''capital credit'' government funds provided to help them take over ailing thrifts. But the 1989 law said S&Ls no longer could count such assets toward their minimum capital requirements. The rule change forced many previously healthy S&Ls into the red. A number of them sued, including Winstar Corp. of Minnesota, Statesman Savings Holding Group of Iowa and Glendale Federal Bank of California. Issued July 1, 1996.
 
Denver Area Educational Telecommunications Consortium, Inc. v. FCC
The ruling to uphold one section of a 1992 law that permits cable television operators to decide whether to show sexually explicit programs on leased access channels. But the court struck down a provision requiring cable operators who choose to carry indecent programming to have a separate channel for it and to block out the channel until a subscriber requests it in writing, and a separate provision dealing with public, educational and governmental channels. The justices said the two provisions that were struck down violate constitutional free-speech guarantees under the First Amendment. Issued June 28, 1996.
 
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Felker v. Turpin
The Court's unanimous ruling upholding an important part of a new anti-terrorism law that restricts appeals by death-row prisoners and other convicts. Rejecting a challenge to the law in a case involving a death-row inmate from Georgia, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said the law does not improperly limit the Supreme Court's own ability to consider successive appeals by inmates against their convictions or sentences. Issued June 28, 1996.
 
U.S. v. Virginia
The Court's decision ordering the all-male Virginia Military Institute to admit women. By a 7-1 vote, the court said offering female cadets a separate program does not provide an equal education. Issued June 26, 1996.
 
Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Elections Commission
The Court's ruling that spending limits can't be placed on political parties making "independent" expenditures to its candidates. Issued June 26, 1996.
 
Gray v. Netherland, Warden of Virginia
The Court's decision refusing to throw out the death sentence for a Virginia killer who claimed prosecutors ambushed him by producing surprise evidence linking him to two other murders during the penalty phase of the trial. By a 5-4 vote, the Court said Coleman Wayne Gray could not raise the claim in a federal appeal of a state court conviction. Issued June 20, 1996.
 
Gasperini v. Center for Humanities
The Court's decision upholding the authority of federal judges to reduce large jury awards in certain types of civil trials. The justices held that the Seventh Amendment does not prevent federal judges from reviewing the appropriateness of a jury's award. The case involved an appeals court decision to cut to $100,000 from $450,000 an award to a California photographer whose slides were lost by a New York educational center. Issued June 24, 1996.
 
U.S. v. Ursery and U.S. v. $405,089.23
The Court ruled that the government can prosecute drug dealers on criminal charges while also seizing their property. In the 8-1 ruling, the court found that such treatment of those accused of drug crimes does not constitute double jeopardy. Issued: June 24, 1996.
 
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Shaw v. Hunt, Gov. of North Carolina
The Court's decision to strike down congressional districts in North Carolina. The Court held that race should not be the sole factor for creating odd-shaped districts that string together pockets of minority voters. Issued June 13,1996.
 
Koon v. U.S.
The Court's June 13, 1996, decision overturning a lower court ruling that ordered increased sentences for the two former Los Angeles police officers convicted in the 1991 beating of black motorist Rodney King. The justices said an appeals court was wrong to rule that former sergeant Stacey Koon and officer Laurence Powell should get new sentences ranging up to five years and 10 months in prison. The appeals court had held that the trial judge was too lenient in departing from federal sentencing guidelines and giving each of the two officers a 30-month prison sentence. But the Court said the trial judge was not entirely right either in the sentence he gave the two officers and it sent the case back to the courts in California for further hearings on the proper punishment.
 
Whren v. U.S.
The Court's June 10, 1996, ruling giving police broad power to use even minor traffic violations as justification for pulling over motorists and searching their cars for drugs. Under the unanimous ruling, once a car is stopped because of a traffic violation, police may ask the driver questions and visually search the passenger compartment. If officers suspect a weapon is in the car, they can physically search the entire car. The Court rejected arguments that police may be tempted to use common technical violations of traffic laws as a pretext to stop cars and search for evidence of more serious crimes.
 
Loving v. U.S.
The Court's June 3, 1996, ruling upholding the military death penalty. The Court ruled that the president, as commander-in-chief, has the authority to establish rules for capital punishment for military personnel.
 
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Smiley v. Citibank
The Court's unanimous June 3, 1996, ruling that banks can continue to charge late fees to credit card customers who live in states that ban or limit such fees. The court determined that credit cards fees can be considered interest charges and therefore are controlled by laws in the state where the bank is located.
 
Ornelas v. U.S.
The Court's May 28, 1996, ruling that federal appellate judges should conduct a new review on whether police had sufficient grounds to conduct a search without a warrant. The high court by an 8-1 vote in a drug search case set out the standard to be used in determining if there had been reasonable suspicion by the police to stop and make a search without a warrant. The case involved two men who pleaded guilty to drug possession charges in federal court in Wisconsin. Ismael Ornelas-Ledesma was sentenced to 60 months in prison and Saul Ornelas received a 63-month prison term.
 
BMW of North America v. Gore
In a major victory for American business, the Court curtailed jury awards aimed at punishing or deterring misconduct. By a 5-4 vote, the court struck down as "grossly excessive" a $2 million punitive-damages award won by an Alabama doctor dissatisfied with his BMW sedan. The justices said the huge award unconstitutionally violated the car manufacturer's due-process rights
 
Romer v. Evans
The Court's May 20, 1996, ruling that Colorado's controversial Amendment Two is unconstitutional.
 
44 Liquormart v. Rhode Island
The Court's May 13, 1996, ruling that Rhode Island's ban on mentioning prices in liquor advertisements violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
 
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South Dakota v. Planned Parenthood
On April 29, 1996, the Supreme Court rejected South Dakota's request to revive a law that would have required unmarried girls under 18 years old to notify a parent before having an abortion. The vote was 6-3 not to hear the case, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissenting.
 
Libretti v. U.S.
The Court's November 7, 1995 ruling stating that a criminal defendant who agrees in a plea bargain to forfeit property does not have to be told of his right to a jury trial on the amount to be seized. The 8-1 ruling also held that federal rules do not require the judge to inquire into the factual basis for the forfeiture of assets embodied in the plea agreement.
 
Capitol v. Ku Klux Klan
The June 29, 1995 ruling that the Ku Klux Klan must be allowed to erect a large wooden cross in a public square in front of the state capitol in Ohio.
 
U.S. v. Lopez
The Court's April 26, 1995 ruling that Congress overstepped its authority by making it a federal crime to possess a gun within 1,000 feet of a school. The Gun-Free School Zones Act was passed in 1990. Like many federal laws, it was justified as part of Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, however, said the law has nothing to do with commerce or any sort of enterprise.
 
Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter
The Court's landmark ruling that rejected arguments that property rights take precedence over aims to protect wildlife habitat on private land. The ruling was issued June 29, 1995.
 
Rosenberger v. University of Virginia
The June 29, 1995 ruling that a public university cannot refuse to fund a student-run Christian publication. The court said the University of Virginia violated the free speech rights of Ronald Rosenberger, a student who wanted money to subsidize "Wide Awake: A Christian Perspective at the University of Virginia." The defense said that by giving Rosenberger money the University would be advocating a particular religious belief, a violation of the constitutional requirement on Church-state separation. Rosenberger said the University funds 118 groups, including Jewish and Muslim student publications.
 
U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton
The court's May 22, 1995 ruling that bars Congress and individual states from setting term limits on members of Congress.This is the majority opinion.
 
Griswold v. Connecticut Documents
This is a set of documents pertaining to Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court decision that struck down Connecticut's ban on birth control and paved the way for Roe v. Wade. The seven documents -- reproduced as they appear in their original form, complete with typos -- show that lawyers carefully contemplated to present the perfect case. Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut Inc. has kindly permitted American Lawyer Media to reproduce them.
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