William H. Freivogel

William H. Freivogel is director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Previously, he worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 34 years, serving as assistant Washington Bureau Chief and deputy editorial editor. He covered the U.S. Supreme Court while in Washington. He is a graduate of Kirkwood High School, Stanford University and Washington University Law School. He is a member of the Missouri Bar.

Back row from left Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito, and Elena Kagan. Front row from left Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court photo | 2010

The Roberts court has made a “surprising move leftward,” writes The New York Times. Conservative justices have stopped “playing nice” and taken off the gloves, writes Politico.  Liberal justices are “legislating from the bench,” claim all manner of Republican candidates for president.

Those were the story lines emerging from the Supreme Court as it ended its 2014 term with extraordinary decisions that save Obamacare, constitutionalize same-sex marriage and make it easier to prove housing discrimination.

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision recognizing a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry traversed centuries of arguments about how the court should find new rights that are fundamental to individual liberty.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for a five-justice majority, came down firmly on the side of a Constitution that grows with time and that recognizes the “dignity” and “autonomy” of the individual. He said it is the job of judges to identify and protect newly recognized fundamental rights that haven’t been enumerated in the Constitution.

Dan Moyle | Flickr

The roots of the important housing discrimination victory won by civil rights groups in the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday reach back 45 years to the creation of the little town of Black Jack, Mo.

On Thursday, the court ruled 5-4 that housing discrimination can be proven by “disparate impact.” That means that if government policies have a disparate effect on minorities they may violate federal law even if there is no proof of overt discriminatory intent.

Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby of Baltimore, left, and Robert MCCulloch of St. Louis County
Official Photo and Bill Greenblatt | UPI

First of two reports — A change may be underway in the prosecution of police brutality cases, with prosecutors moving more quickly to charge officers when they have strong evidence, experts say.

After two long-running grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island, N.Y., decided not to indict officers in high-visibility cases, authorities in North Charleston, S.C.; Tulsa, Okla., and Baltimore moved rapidly to charge officers in the deaths of Walter Scott, Eric Harris and Freddie Gray, respectively.

The shooting of Walter Scott

The police killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina looks like an open and shut case of murder. But South Carolina, like Missouri and many other states, has confusing laws on police use of deadly force — laws that could provide Officer Michael Slager with a defense, experts say.

falkow | Flickr

The Missouri Supreme Court’s decisive and unexpected Ferguson reforms Monday - on top of the Justice Department’s devastating critique of the town’s municipal courts last week - have created momentum toward major reform of the St. Louis County municipal courts, experts say.

Jeff Roberson | Associated Press

The Justice Department has neither the authority nor the staffing to expand its investigation of unconstitutional police and court practices from Ferguson to surrounding municipalities, legal experts say.

Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson Aug. 20.
Office of U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay

The Ferguson police department and municipal court engaged in such a widespread pattern of unconstitutional conduct that it lost the trust of the people, the Justice Department concluded after a seven-month investigation.

The federal civil rights case that the Justice Department is unveiling against the Ferguson Police Department offers the town great opportunities but also poses substantial costs and risks, experts say.

gavel court justice

The grand juror who wants to challenge publicly St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s portrayal of the Ferguson grand jury has a relatively strong First Amendment case -- if the juror can get the argument before a judge, legal experts say.

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a Florida law that permanently barred a grand jury witness from disclosing his grand jury testimony. That same rationale may apply to grand jurors themselves, legal experts say.

Arch City Defenders executive director Thomas Harvey spoke during the last meeting of the Ferguson Commission.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Supreme Court issued a new rule two weeks ago that eases the financial burden on poor people facing big fines in municipal courts. The new rule should reduce the number of people who spend time in jail for failing to pay fines. 

Darren Wilson
Undated video grab

One of the most important reforms that could grow out of the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, experts say, would be the creation of a national database containing detailed information about all police shootings, whether or not suspects are wounded or killed.

On this much experts agree. But beneath that agreement, the debate about police use of force is fraught with sharp disagreements about how important a factor race plays.

The laws governing how much force police are allowed to use has had a long, circuitous history.
Flickr | Quinn Dombrowski

Second of two parts.

Even though a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, the case against Wilson is not entirely closed. The U.S. Department of Justice is also conducting an investigation into the Aug. 9 incident.

Protesters gather on the steps of the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis on Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

First of two parts.

Two grand juries in two very different cases have refused to indict white police officers for the deaths of two black men. As a result, many people are wondering if it's possible to hold police officers accountable for use of deadly force.

State and federal laws could be reformed to make it easier to punish police officers who misuse deadly force, but legal experts say those changes would face political hurdles and an unfriendly U.S. Supreme Court. 


The federal government is sharply limited in what it can do to address a police killing such as the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

A tiny handful of allegations of police brutality are prosecuted and the burden of proof is extremely high. Courts give police the benefit of the doubt, not wanting to second-guess decisions made in the “heat of battle.”

The Justice Department also can bring a civil “pattern and practice” suit against a police department aimed at changing policies and procedures that may have contributed to a shooting.

Protesters are greeted by a wall of police officers after a march to the Ferguson Police department on August 11, 2014.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI / UPI

Police appear to be violating the First Amendment rights of protesters and journalists in Ferguson by arresting and targeting journalists, and by turning the right to assembly into a daytime-only right, according to legal experts. 

U.S. Supreme Court

Update: U.S. district court grants St. Louis Archdiocese an injunction from enforcement of the mandate to provide contraceptive coverage, even with the existing religious accommodation.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
Wikipedia | government photo

In a case from Illinois that may not reach outside that state, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Pamela Harris, whose child’s disabilities required that he have around-the-clock care. She became his home health worker and objected to having to pay union dues that she thought reduced the amount of money she had to care for her child.

U.S. Supreme Court
Matt H. Wade | Wikipedia

The era of unanimity on the U.S. Supreme Court lasted about four days.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued three important decisions last week with unanimous votes, a flurry of legal and media commentary talked about Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. having engineered a new era of consensus on the court, with nearly two-thirds of this year's decisions decided without a dissent. Some contended that this new consensus court had rejected President Barack Obama's extremism and bolstered House Speaker John Boehner's threatened lawsuit against the president.