High Court Sides With Cops, HMOs

CAROUSEL -- Political strategists Anita Dunn and Kevin Madden preview President Obama's State of the Union Address on "The Early Show" Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. CBS

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that people do not have a constitutional right to refuse to tell police their names, and sided with HMOs in a fight over large malpractice lawsuits.

But the nine justices did not release their decisions on several controversial cases, like the detention of "enemy combatants," the Guantanamo Bay prison and documents from Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force.

Rulings in those cases are expected next Monday, the last of the court's current term.

The 5-4 decision on police identification frees the government to arrest and punish people who won't cooperate by revealing their identity.

The decision, reached by a divided court, was a defeat for privacy rights advocates who argued that the government could use this power to force people who have done nothing wrong to submit to fingerprinting or divulge more personal information.

Police, meanwhile, had argued that identification requests are a routine part of detective work, including efforts to get information about terrorists.

The justices upheld a Nevada cattle rancher's misdemeanor conviction. He was arrested after he told a deputy that he didn't have to reveal his name or show an ID during an encounter on a rural road in 2000.

"This is just the latest in a string of rulings from the Court that give law enforcement officials more power and authority over people even when there is no serious criminal activity afoot," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "And we ought to expect more of these rulings given the war on terrorism and the government's interest in trying to prevent crime and not just punish it."

In the malpractice case, the court said that patients who claim their HMOs wouldn't pay for needed medical care cannot sue for big malpractice damages, an issue at the heart of the long debate over efficiency versus service in managed health care.

The court was unanimous in saying that two HMO patients in Texas cannot pursue big malpractice or negligence cases against their insurers in state court, as they claimed a Texas patient protection law allowed them to do. Instead, they must go to federal court, where evidence standards are generally higher and damages awarded are usually lower than in state courts.

The managed care industry said the ruling would actually be good for patients because it would reduce lawsuits and make insurance more affordable, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

But the patients who brought the lawsuit called the ruling an injustice. Ruby Calad of Houston, was one of two Texas patients who claimed under state law their HMO's injured them by denying them care. Now says the state Attorney General, the HMOs are more free to do harm.

"What this does is it meaningfully limits the rights of patients to go to the courts, and get a court ruling or a jury ruling that HMOs have done wrong," said Attorney General Greg Abbott.

"This tosses the ball back into Congress' lap because Congress can easily solve this problem by changing the law to give patients more rights in federal court or to allow states to do what Texas did here, which is to give patients certain benefits under state law," Cohen said.

Four years ago Texas Governor and candidate George Bush said he was all for giving patients the right to sue.

When it got the Supreme Court however the Bush Administration argued the HMOs should be immune.

In rulings Monday the court also:

  • allowed a lawsuit to proceed that accuses the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of transferring a child molester from Wisconsin to work as a Roman Catholic priest in California. Matthew Flynn, the attorney for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, said that California courts should not handle cases involving out-of-state religious institutions.

  • rejected an appeal from the family of a guest murdered days after he admitted a secret crush on another man during the taping of the "Jenny Jones Show." The family of Scott Amedure won a $29.3 million award against Warner Brothers and the talk show, but the decision was later thrown out. A Michigan appeals court ruled against the family last year.

  • ruled that a U.S. judge has the power to force the world's largest computer chip-maker, California-based Intel Corp., to turn over records to foreign regulators.

  • passed up a chance to consider whether a lower court was wrong to rule that Southeastern California's Imperial Valley has serious air pollution problems. A federal appeals court had ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to add the area to a list of communities with some of the worst air quality in the United States, a designation that will require it to spend more money controlling pollution.

  • refused to consider an appeal from South Carolina death row inmate Jamie Wilson, convicted of killing two third-graders during a shooting spree at an elementary school in 1988. Mental health groups had urged the court to use Wilson's case to decide if it is unconstitutional for states to execute people who were seriously mentally ill when they committed their crimes. The high court has already decided that mentally retarded inmates may not be put to death.

    This is the second summer in a row in which the Supreme Court has ended its spring session in high drama. Last year, the court made last-minute, landmark rulings in cases involving affirmative action and laws prohibiting sodomy.

    Last week, the nine justices dispatched one of the more controversial issues on its docket, the lawsuit of an atheist father opposed to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in his daughter's classroom.

    In one of the remaining cases, the judges hold in their hands the futures of so-called "enemy combatants" Yaser Hamdi, captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and Jose Padilla, arrested in Chicago on suspicion of plotting a terrorist act.

    Both are U.S. citizens. In both cases, the court is being asked whether constitutional protections against being locked up without trial apply in the war on terrorism.

    In the Guantanamo Bay case, lawyers for the prisoners have asked: Can foreign-born prisoners picked up overseas and held outside U.S. borders use American courts to try win their freedom? The Bush administration asserts that in war, the constitution gives the president broad powers.
    • Jarrett Murphy

    Comments