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Brett Kavanaugh Shut Down by Supreme Court Justices

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was shut down by his colleagues over a case challenging online sports gambling.

The nation’s highest court rejected a writ petition from two rival gaming companies, West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation, requesting that the justices declare unconstitutional an agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis, which granted the tribe the sole authority to operate casino gambling and mobile sports wagering in Florida.

However, Kavanaugh, who had previously indicated he thought the issue had value, voted to approve the petition even though the majority of judges decided to conclude the legal battle over the compact. Kavanaugh’s lone vote is insufficient for oral arguments to be granted in the Florida case because the Supreme Court needs the support of at least four justices to grant certiorari before taking up a case.

Citing previous judicial service, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson refrained from participating in the decision. She was a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia before it overturned a decision made by a federal court in June of last year.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida was able to keep taking online bets after an appeals court reversed a previous court’s ruling that the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, siding with the gaming competitors, Newsweek reported.

West Flager and Bonita-Myers filed a lawsuit against Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is in charge of tribal gaming, claiming that internet wagers were only being made to servers who were located on reservations and that no betting was occurring on tribal land.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida applauds today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to decline consideration of the case involving the Tribe’s Gaming Compact with the State of Florida,” Gary Bitner, a spokesperson for the tribe, told the Sun Sentinel on Monday. “It means members of the Seminole Tribe and all Floridians can count on a bright future made possible by the Compact.”

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In 2021, DeSantis approved legislation that resulted in the largest gaming compact ever.

The state’s gambling contract is set aside in the compact for property purchases, wildlife preservation, and waterway protection, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Since the tribe opened for business late last year, more than $120 million has been made in revenue for Florida from online sports betting.

The competing businesses claimed that the compact provided the tribe with a monopoly on sports betting and established a “backdoor” route around the state Constitution, which was changed in 2018 to demand a citizens’ initiative before expanding casino gaming beyond tribal territory.

In a lawsuit that is currently before the Florida Supreme Court, West Flager and Bonita-Myers have also sued DeSantis and politicians from Florida.

The Supreme Court has been busy lately.

The Court ruled last week that when authorities seize cars and other property used in drug crimes, even when the property belongs to so-called innocent owners, they are not required to hold a prompt hearing.

The justices voted 6-3 to reject the claims of two Alabama women who had to wait more than a year for the return of their cars.

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When the cars were being driven by others, police pulled them over and took them after discovering drugs.

Civil forfeiture permits authorities to seize property without requiring proof that it has been used illegally. Opponents call the practice “legalized theft.”

For the conservative majority, Justice Kavanaugh wrote that a civil forfeiture hearing to ascertain if an owner will lose the property permanently must take place on time. However, he added, the Constitution does not also call for a different hearing to determine whether police may temporarily retain cars or other property.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissent for the liberal members of the court that since police departments frequently have a financial incentive to retain the property, civil forfeiture is “vulnerable to abuse.”

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Halima Culley and Lena Sutton filed federal lawsuits, claiming they were entitled to a speedy court hearing that would have led to the cars being returned to them far sooner. Nothing in the report indicated that either woman was aware of or engaged in the illicit activity.

Sutton had given her friend a loaner car. When they detained him for trafficking methamphetamine in Leesburg, Alabama, police took it.

During the 14 months that Sutton was without a car, her attorneys stated in court documents that she was unable to find work, pay her bills, or attend her mental health appointments.

Culley had given her son a car to drive to college. A loaded handgun and marijuana were discovered in the car when Satsuma, Alabama, police stopped it. Keeping the car, they charged the son with marijuana possession.

Justice Clarence Thomas joined Justice Neil Gorsuch in a statement that said more fundamental issues regarding the application of civil forfeiture remained unanswered. Gorsuch was a member of Thursday’s majority.

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