The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to get involved in a fight between Texas communities and the federal government over the building of hundreds of miles of fence along the border with Mexico to block illegal immigration.
Several Texas counties had asked the high court to review the case after a lower court dismissed their lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security. They contend that former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff improperly waived 37 federal laws in order to ensure construction of barriers and roads at the border.
The counties maintained that the actual construction of border barriers and related infrastructure would cause irreparable injury by cutting off an Indian tribe's access to a stretch of the Rio Grande River used in religious ceremonies, impeding the El Paso County Water Improvement District's ability to deliver water, and damaging the natural environment of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, court documents show.
The Department of Homeland Security began building the fence during the Bush administration in an effort to guard the borders against entry by terrorists after a 2005 amendment to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.
Other orders and actions by the court released Monday include:
— The justices agreed to hear arguments in a dispute between Shell Oil Co. and gas station operators who claim the oil company tried to drive them out of business.
The case involves the operators of eight Shell stations in Massachusetts who are fighting changes in lease terms that they say were intended to convert stations run by franchisees to company-owned facilities.
A federal jury awarded the gas station operators $3.3 million in damages, and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld some aspects of the verdict and overturned others.
— The Supreme Court also refused to review the convictions of five men convicted of spying on behalf of the Cuban government. The so-called Cuban Five maintained they didn't get a fair trial because of strong anti-Castro sentiment in Miami.
The defendants were part of a group of Cuban spies known as the "Wasp network" that infiltrated Cuban exile groups in Miami, including Brothers to the Rescue. In 1996, Cuban fighter jets shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes over international waters, killing four pilots.
The FBI arrested members of the spy network, and five were tried in Miami. All five — Ruben Campa, Rene Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Luis Medina and Antonio Guerrero — were convicted of spying. Hernandez was also convicted of murder conspiracy for his role in shooting down the plane.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals initially reversed the convictions, saying the trial should have been moved from Miami. But the whole court reviewed the case again a year later and decided the trial was fair and upheld the men's convictions.
— The justices also agreed to decide whether student loans can be dismissed through bankruptcy without a hearing. The case involved a former student, Francisco Espinosa, who gave United Student Aid Funds Inc. a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan saying he would pay back $13,250 on his student loans. USA Funds said he owed $17,832 but did not object to his bankruptcy plan, which was finalized in 1994.
However, Espinosa's 2000 income tax refund was taken to pay on the rest of the debt.
USA Funds says the bankruptcy agreement is void because Espinosa never proved in court that paying the full amount would cause undue hardship, but Espinosa says the agreement is final and that the company cannot go back on it now. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco agreed, saying the time to object was before the bankruptcy was completed.
— The court said immigration officials do not have to have a jury determine the financial impact of an immigrant's crime in their deportation decisions.
In a unanimous decision, the court turned away the appeal of Manoj Nijhawan, who immigrated to the United States from India in 1985 and was convicted of fraud and money laundering, having stipulated that the loss exceeded $100 million. The government then started deportation proceedings.
The law says any immigrant convicted of an aggravated felony at any time is deportable. A related statute said aggravated felonies include fraud and deceit in which the loss exceeds $10,000. Nijhawan argued that a jury should have determined the loss before he could be deported, but the court disagreed.
— The justices agreed to hear a dispute between Florida property owners and local and state officials over plans to rebuild eroded beaches in the area of Destin, Fla. The state is attempting to widen a seven-mile stretch of beach by 210 feet, but beachfront property owners argue the plan would limit their access to the water. The project would give the state ownership of some of the beach.
The Florida Supreme Court said the state has a constitutional duty to protect the beaches. The Supreme Court may hear arguments this fall.
— The court won't stop the Federal Communications Commission from setting rules making it easier for new cable TV competitors to gain local franchises, turning down an appeal from local governments.
To offer cable television service, a company must negotiate with local governments. But some companies claim that local officials make unreasonable demands.
The FCC said its new rules would speed the approval process, cap fees paid to local governments and ease requirements that competitors build systems that reach every home. Some local governments said the agency rules severely restrict their ability to protect rights of way, community channels and public safety networks.
From NPR staff and wire reports