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Supreme Court justices do botch the truth, even in cases of great importance

By Ryan Gabrielson . . . In 2007, a group of California Institute of Technology scientists working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory filed suit against the venerated space agency. Many of the scientists had worked on NASA missions and research for years as outside employees. As part of efforts to tighten security measures after 9/11, in 2004 NASA started requiring outside workers to submit to the same kind of background checks used for federal employees, including questions about drug use. The scientists, some of the nation’s best and brightest, protested and resisted for years, and finally went to court to argue that the checks violated their privacy rights.

The case ultimately made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where, in 2011, the justices unanimously sided with NASA. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the opinion, made a central point of noting that such background checks had long been commonplace in the private sector. Alito even cited a very specific statistic: 88 percent of all private companies in the country conduct such checks, he wrote.

It was a powerful claim in a decision with real consequences for American workers. It was also baseless.

Alito, it turns out, had borrowed the statistic from a brief filed in the case by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. ProPublica asked the association for the source of its statistic. The association offered a variety of explanations, none of which proved true, and ultimately conceded it could not produce evidence that the 88 percent figure was accurate or say where it came from.

The decisions of the Supreme Court are rich with argument, history, some flashes of fine writing, and, of course, legal judgments of great import for all Americans.

They are also supposed to be entirely accurate.

But a ProPublica review of several dozen cases from recent years uncovered a number of false or wholly unsupported factual claims.

The review found an error in a landmark ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Roberts used erroneous data to make claims about comparable rates of voter registration among blacks and whites in six southern states. In another case, Justice Anthony Kennedy falsely claimed that DNA analysis can be used to identify individual suspects in criminal cases with perfect accuracy.

In all, ProPublica found seven errors in a modest sampling of Supreme Court opinions written from 2011 through 2015. In some cases, the errors were introduced by individual justices apparently doing their own research. In others, the errors resulted from false or deeply flawed submissions made to the court by people or organizations seeking to persuade the justices to rule one way or the other.

Some of the mistakes were technical or arguably minor, and it is difficult to determine with certainty if they played a vital part in the court’s reasoning and final judgments.

But the NASA case was not the only one where a mistake involved a core aspect of the court’s ruling on an issue with widespread ramifications.

In 2013, the court issued a unanimous ruling in a case involving Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches by the police. In the case, the court determined that when a drug-sniffing dog signals it smells an illegal drug from outside of a car, police have probable cause to search the entire car without a warrant. Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the opinion, took on one of the central fears of those worried about innocent people being caught up in such police searches.

Kagan argued that the risk of “false positives” — instances in which a dog might mistakenly identify the presence of drugs — should be based on whether the dogs had been formally certified by police groups as reliable in their performance. She cited material from the Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines to support the court’s position.

Please continue reading at ProPublica.

This topic contains 18 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  SCOTUS Rev process 3 weeks, 6 days ago.

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  • #24580 Reply

    Darrel Hoffman

    There are many decisions the Supreme Court got wrong-abortion, homosexual marriage, sex offender registry. None of this should surprise anyone that the nine old fools in blacks robes there rely on misinformation to support their heinous rulings.

  • #24581 Reply

    HH

    This is our chance to gain audience with intelligent thinkers. Go comment on PROPUBLICA’s article about the flaw used in Smith V Doe….and remind the other commentators that the U.S. Constitution is not being applied to Registered Citizens. This is the opportunity we have been waiting for.

  • #24573 Reply

    Tim L

    Well I know canine officers use weed balm in ChapStick containers and smear a bit on vehicles they want the dog to alert on. Sure not every canine cop does but some do. The problem is the dog are always rewarded when they do what the handlers desire.

    Just to be balanced the cartel use the same trick on border crossers from Mexico. They mark every car with weed balm causing dogs to alert on unsuspecting innocents.

  • #24574 Reply

    Stay outraged

    Megan’s Law is based entirely on a false premise – that knowing where someone that committed a sex crime will prevent the same thing the Kankas’ went through. This is patently false. I even dare say the entire registry is not the will of the people. It’s actually taxpayer fraud in that the efficacy of community notification amounts to little more than a false sense of relief.

  • #24576 Reply

    Truth/Justice

    Put a checks & ballances agency in place when can’t be bought off.

  • #24601 Reply

    Dave

    When it is found out that a case had false information in it that played a part in the decision then they must go back and rehear the case. Doing anything else is simple an abortion of justice.

  • #24623 Reply

    Doug

    I was offered a plea bargain not to have to register I went to trial because I was also being sued now I have to register and probation and treatment today I left feeling its me against them I have been denied employment housing church travel plans and I have cancer.

  • #24620 Reply

    Tony From Long Island

    They still haven’t corrected their “frightening and high” mistake . . . .

  • #24642 Reply

    Saddles

    You know sometimes we all need a bit of push and I’m sure NARSOL could use a bit of a push also. In some of these internet sex sting ordeals even some of these having sex with someone that was consensual or slightly younger than one thought, I’m sure it would be safe to say a lot of them just amount toamount to Sexual misconduct. If these law enforcment people ask you to bring condoms than you find out that they are the law on the other end of the computer by going down their than one know’s it was pre-planned in advance. No citizen to my knowledge plans to get into an automobile accident do they?
    I believe the court systems need to look at this justice theory that they have came up with to induce these diobolic sex schemes and than revamp the rights and liberitys of Citizens of America. Aside from the sex schemes why do you think people protest about police coruption in America. I’m sure with this sex scheme we all can learn that police are just as undermided when it comes to true Justice. Billy Joel once said “Were only human” so get your second wind.
    One cannot protect someone that is imaginary as one cannot have faith in God if God is imaginary can one? You know I may talk about the bible on here at times but who’s doing wrong and who’s doing right in these ordeals. When police protect and serve they protect the person that they are called to protect or should they trump up some fictitous person to protect or are they going on a canvassing spree or prediction. Sure one can protrol but presenting an opportunity is out of character for one to protect and service. Man wants to hold things against a person the rest of their life. Would a true person of God do that so what God are they serving? If you read the bible two wrongs don’t make a right. Lawyers sometimes I have to wonder about them. I think Billy Joel was right, were only human.

  • #24941 Reply

    Wes gray

    They don’t just botch, it’s deliberate. They are liars and scammers. How many of us have been lied to and about by prosecutors, police, even our own attorneys, judges, probation officers, treatment providers, in court and lies in our documents. 40 years of witch hunt, won’t stop until we stop it. Do not fear, fight back now, get angry. Join a support group, start one, advocate, offenders and families, and the rest must unite now to stop this abuse. Even our children are killing themselves over the stigma and fear.

    • #24949 Reply

      Robin
      Keymaster

      Don’t despair so terribly. I don’t believe it’s correct–and certainly not reasonable–to call each and every justice on the Supreme Court a liar. That’s exactly the sort of blanket application of smear and tarnish that we, as registered citizens, are fighting against. While it is true that there are liars and scammers who are cloaked with power (after all, humans ARE liars, generally speaking, and SOME have power), it’s also true that there are a lot of good and decent people striving to do the right thing. Those individuals have a right to expect the appreciation they deserve, and we all, as citizens, need to put our Trump-sized, broad-stroking, felt-tipped markers back into the drawer.

  • #24972 Reply

    Brian

    @Robin
    Key master
    I would like to say as far as the PA SUPREME COURT goes they could have very well stated that Muniz is constitutional and non punitive and said PA has done nothing wrong by enforcing retroactive postexfacto laws. I would like to add not all are crooked liars but yes they are out there. Buuuuuut they said oh wait this is illegal why in the first place was this law passesd to began? Incorrect statistics made up from 30 year old information form phsycoligest or therapist or wherever they got these statistics from and I think these judges are seeing through this bs that the AHOLES want to keep throwing at us. Politicians are scaring the public saying oh SO’s are a danger to the public. I honestly say me personally have never seen an honest politician not that they aren’t out there and no one is going to kill there own career to help and SO I believe the SUPREME COURT doesn’t have to worry to much about that because no one can touch them without being truly screwed big time.

  • #26900 Reply

    Tim L

    I too believe SCOTUS opinions are sometimes based on common sense rather than facts. In this case in the beginning there was little proof of the “dispositive intent” behind SORNA.

    Kids DO get murdered by deviants AND their parent sometimes too. It happens! What parent or society can look itself in the mirror knowing they had done little to protect their family. Surely a nation who failed in this important endeavour could not survive? NOT ONE!

    So our Federal government undertook the endeavour utilizing the power of the electronic database to set forth protecting our vulnerable. Keep in mind it was a top down approach. Fed law first then states followed via law under the threat of loss of Byrne grants. IF AN IDEA SO GOOD WHY THE NEED FOR COERCION?

    From what I see NARSOL does not dispute the idea of protecting the vulnerable, it merely demands A RATIONAL APPCH. Preferably a social policy that works! So while electronic notification massages the peoples desire for the right to “know.” Such notification IS justifiable given that the information is accurate. IN THIS LIES THE RUB for me at least.

    SORNA says something but little of importance. SORNA made online notice of conviction and not actual behavior. In other words, it tells what the STATE
    DID and NOT what wrongful behavior actually committed – or exactly what behavior was done. Instead it leaves too much unsaid, leaving the facts to the imaginations of the public. Personally knowing what an know, I would prefer the trial transcript be open to the public via the database. In my eyes such an approach, would alleviate the unjustified stereotypical obfuscation used to impose affirmative disability and constraint. It would also prevent the cops
    local, county and fed from coming to my door demanding unreasonable search when a kid comes up missing near me. IT CANNOT BE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST TO INVESTIGATE those not involved. This is the same as saying the collection of METADATA wholesale is unconstitutional, because it presumes too much.

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