Trump-appointed justices surprised some when they sided with liberal justices over more senior conservative colleagues. Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch agreed with left-leaning Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan on a narrow approach on how to apply a 1986 law against computer hacking.
Fox News reports:
The justices overturned the conviction of a police officer\, Nathan Van Buren, who was paid to run a license plate search in violation of the police department’s policy and, according to the federal government, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
But Barrett, writing for the majority, said the officer technically did not access information he wasn’t entitled to. Instead, he simply misused his access to information he was authorized to see. Therefore, the court said, the officer did not violate federal law.
The case is focused on a narrow issue of statutory interpretation rather than the broad constitutional issues that animate much of the hot-button debate around the Supreme Court. Therefore, it is not likely to reveal much about the justices’ potential rulings or approach to other major cases on freedom of religion, guns, abortion and more.
But the vote breakdown – which comes after the court issued five consecutive unanimous opinions in recent weeks – further underscores that the court does not always rule simply on ideological lines as many Democrats calling on President Biden to pack the court allege. Some have speculated the several unanimous opinions in a row could be a message to pro-court-packing liberals that the court does not necessarily rule only on ideological lines.
Barrett and the agreeing justices noted that the government’s broad reading of how a person may not use a computer could have the accidental effect of criminalizing millions of Americans for things they do every day.