U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the newest member of the bench, has repeatedly sided with conservative colleague Clarence Thomas since her confirmation.
As the Washington Examiner reported, however, the two justices parted ways for the first time in a recent decision.
Details of the case
The case focused on computer-related law — specifically the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
As its name suggests, the law prohibits an individual from accessing a computer without proper authorization.
A lower court established that Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren took outside payment in exchange for using his police computer to search a license plate database. It was determined that he had gone beyond the authorization he had been granted by the law enforcement agency.
As a result, the court’s ruling found that Van Buren violated to rules of the police department.
The case continued in appeals, however, advancing to the Supreme Court, where justices were asked to determine whether the rulings by lower courts against Van Buren should be upheld.
“Improper motives for obtaining information”
In a 6–3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Van Buren, overturning the lower courts’ rulings. Barrett wrote the majority opinion, siding with five colleagues — including fellow conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The prevailing argument determined that Van Buren would have only violated applicable law if he used a part of his computer to which he did not otherwise have access. Barrett wrote that this was not the case.
“This provision covers those who obtain information from particular areas in the computer — such as files, folders, or databases — to which their computer access does not extend,” she wrote. “It does not cover those who, like Van Buren, have improper motives for obtaining information that is otherwise available to them.”
Thomas, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, dissented, arguing that the sergeant was not “entitled” to use the computer just because he was allowed to use it in other situations.
The decision was notable in that it was the first that sided all three of former President Donald Trump’s nominees — Barrett, Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh — with the court’s liberal justices and against the more senior conservatives.