October 2017

The new Supreme Court term begins with some very significant cases, including Trump’s Muslim travel ban and a profoundly important case involving partisan gerrymandering.  I highlight some significant October cases below, and will add cases to be argued in future months as those schedules become available.  (The Court does not schedule oral argument when it grants cert., but rather waits until written briefing is complete.)

One of the cases receiving a lot of national attention, Masterpiece Cakeshop (involving discrimination, in violation of state law, by refusing to prepare a cake for a same-sex marriage), is not likely to be heard until 2018.  The Cakeshop’s brief is due on August 31, with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s brief coming October 23, followed finally by the company’s reply brief on November 22.  So I would expect oral arguments in January or February, although it could be as early as December.

“First Monday,” October 2

The 2017 term opens with the issue of mandatory arbitration clauses.  The Court has taken on a number of arbitration disputes in recent years, typically finding that the Federal Arbitration Act requires state courts to enforce these provisions against a variety of legal challenges.  In these three consolidated cases (one hour total, for NLRB v. Murphy Oil, Ernst & Young v. Morris, and Epic Systems v. Lewis), the issue is whether arbitration clauses are enforceable when they infringe on rights protected under the National Labor Relations Act.  Most of the briefing in these cases was completed before the 2017 Presidential Election, so there is an odd set of conflicting positions in briefs filed by the NLRB initially and by the Solicitor General after Trump took office.

The Court will also re-hear argument in the first of two immigration law cases it heard last year but did not decide, presumably because it was split 4-4. This one, Sessions v. Dimaya, involves the vagueness of the terms “aggravated felony” and “crime of violence.”  Dimaya was ordered removed from the US on the basis of two burglaries of unoccupied homes–no violence was involved, but it’s the kind of crime that can involve violence.

Tuesday, October 3

The first case today takes on the important but vexing issue of partisan gerrymandering, and deserves to be one of the most-watched cases of the term.  In Gill v. Whitford, there does not seem to be any dispute that the Wisconsin legislature engaged in “packing” and “cracking” to concentrate Democratic votes in as few districts as possible and ensure they were small minorities in all other districts.  The issue is whether this is the sort of political practice that is unconstitutional, and whether the courts can craft a set of criteria that allow for legal challenge without exceeding the judiciary’s role.  A good summary is here, with a set of thoughtful positions collected here.

The second case today is the second of the two immigration law cases it heard last year but did not decide, presumably because it was split 4-4. This one, Jennings v. Rodriguez, involves a detained immigrant’s right to post bond for pre-hearing release.

Wednesday, October 4

This is a criminal law day, with both cases coming out of Washington, DC.  The first involves probable cause and qualified immunity.  Under DC law, the crime of unlawful entry (trespassing) requires that the person knew or should have known that the entry is unlawful.  In DC v Wesby, MPD officers responded to complaints about a loud party and arrested the partiers for unlawful entry even though they said they had permission from a person who was leasing the house.  Police spoke with that person, who confirmed, but then called the owner, who said the lease had not begun yet.  Lower courts held that there was not probable cause to believe that the partiers knew they did not have the owner’s permission.  They also held that the police should have known that an arrest under these circumstances would violate the 4th Amendment, so were not entitled to qualified immunity.  The Court has accepted review of both questions.

The second case, Class v. US, is a criminal procedure case in the context of gun laws.  Mr. Class brought three guns from his home in North Carolina to Washington, DC, leaving the guns inside his car when he went to tour the US Capitol.  He says he did not realize the parking lot was on Capitol grounds, where firearms are prohibited.  A Capitol Police officer noticed something suspicious in the car, and Class was arrested upon returning to the car.  He raised various Second Amendment and due process claims, but ultimately pled guilty after the trial court rejected those constitutional claims.  He then appealed, but the appellate court held the guilty plea waived his right to appeal.  The Court has granted cert on the question “Does a guilty plea inherently waive a defendant’s right to challenge the constitutionality of his conviction?”  This case also had briefs filed by both the Obama and Trump administrations, although both sided against Mr. Class (first arguing that the Court should not grant review, and then arguing that it should reject his arguments).

(the Court does not hear cases on Monday, which is Columbus Day)

Tuesday, October 10

This will be one of the most highly watched arguments of the year–the “Muslim travel ban” cases, Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawaii.  I don’t have anything to add to the extensive commentary on these cases….  Scotusblog has a useful introduction and then a series of thoughtful articles from a variety of perspectives.  It is also worth reviewing a few of the amici briefs that have been filed in this case (especially those by the “Former National Security Officials” and the “Constitutional Law Scholars”).

The other case this morning, Hamer v. Neighborhood Housing Services, is a technical issue of appellate procedure.

Wednesday, October 11

The first case scheduled for this morning involves court jurisdiction for Clean Water Act cases, under the “Obama Water Rule.”  I say scheduled because Trump has said he will rescind the rule, so the case may become moot and get removed from the docket.

The second case involves corporate liability under the Alien Tort Claims Act.  The ATCA has received a lot of attention from the Supreme Court in recent years, after almost no attention for centuries (it was enacted by the first Congress, in 1789). Jesner v. Arab Bank is brought by victims of attacks in the West Bank and Gaza now living in the US, who claim that US branches of the bank were involved in laundering funds for Hamas.  The Court has accept cert. on the question of whether corporations can be sued under the ATCA.  Scotusblog has some good background.

April Cases

There is a major religion case and an interesting criminal procedure case tomorrow, and a death penalty case on Monday.  Otherwise, this and next week are mostly taken up with cases that involve hard-to-follow matters of procedure and specialized areas of law, so with the exception of the cases below, this is generally not the best month for the casual observer.

Wednesday, April 19

The competing religion clauses are once again up for examination and attempt at reconciliation in the first case this morning, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.  The First Amendment prohibits laws “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  In order to avoid violating the first clause, Missouri prohibits public money from being disbursed “directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” In this case, that meant a church-owned playground could not be reimbursed for refurbishing its playground with a rubber surface made from recycled tires under a program that is available to non-religious nonprofit organizations.  The church sued, claiming this effort to comply with the first religion clause violates the second religion clause, by singling out churches for less favorable treatment compared with all other nonprofits. There is a web of not-always-consistent legal doctrines and tests for the constitutionality of regulations that impact religion, developed in the Supreme Court over the past several decades. Intriguingly, the state is emphasizing the text of the Constitution, noting that refusing to give money for a playground renovation in no way prohibits exercise of religion.  The argument is even more intriguing given that the briefing predated the nomination of the textualist, but generally pro-religion, now-Justice Gorsuch. A full overview of the case and arguments is available here.

The second case today involves appellate review of “errors” in a criminal trial.  Some types of error require a showing of prejudice — to get a new trial, it’s not enough that the trial judge did the wrong thing, the defendant has to show that the error likely impacted the outcome of the trial.  Other types of errors are “structural,” undermining the integrity of the proceedings as a whole, and are deemed always and necessarily prejudicial.  In Weaver v. Massachusetts, the judge closed the courtroom during jury selection, denying entry to the defendant’s mother and others.  By all accounts, this was simply because so many potential jurors were called, in an effort to find enough impartial jurors, that the room was full (although some potential jurors could simply have been told to wait outside).  Nevertheless, it is fundamental that the Constitution requires public trials (except under very unusual circumstances) and this was structural error, requiring no special showing of prejudice to warrant reversal and a new trial.  But the defendant’s lawyer failed to object to the closing of the courtroom, and ineffective assistance of counsel is a type of error that requires a showing of prejudice.  So which rule applies, and does the defendant need to show prejudice in order to get a new trial?

Monday, April 24

First up is a death penalty case involving the right to independent psychological experts.  In McWilliams v. Dunn, the judge ordered psychological examination of the defendant, which was first conducted by a Department of Corrections doctor who recommended evaluation by an independent expert.  The report by an independent expert was not delivered until the day before sentencing, and the judge denied a request for time for the defense counsel to review the report with an expert.  The Court has granted cert on the question of whether this violates the right (declared in other cases) to “meaningful expert assistance.”

The second case today is a complex issue involving the right to effective assistance of counsel.  The Court has held that the constitutional right to counsel requires effective assistance at trial and on direct appeals, but not during discretionary or collateral post-conviction proceedings (like requests to reduce the sentence for reasons other than legal error at trial). However, some states require ineffective assistance claims to be raised in collateral proceedings, and difficult issues arise when claims are “nested” among actions by counsel in various proceedings.  It’s a complex area of criminal appellate law, and the argument will not be easy to follow for the casual observer.  If you plan to attend, start here and follow the links.

[April 25 & 26:  Tuesday cases and the first cases on Wednesday involve technical FDA and civil procedure cases, which I wouldn’t recommend for a casual observer.  The second hour on Wednesday involves denaturalization so may be of some interest, although it too is a relatively technical issue.]

 

February cases

This month, the Court will consider a wrongful death claim involving a cross-border shooting by a Border Patrol agent, arbitration agreements in the context of alleged wrongful death of nursing home residents, and sex offender laws in immigration and free speech contexts.

Tuesday, Feb 21

A tragic case made more politically interesting in the context of current US-Mexico tensions is up first today, in Hernández v. Mesa. A 15 year-old boy was shot and killed by a US Border Patrol agent.  The agent fired from US territory, but the boy was in Mexico.  That much is undisputed; the parents say he was playing a game that involved touching the fence and running back, while the agent says this was part of an illegal border crossing that involved a group throwing rocks at agents. But the Court will decide only whether this dispute can get as far as trial:  does the 4th Amendment apply to use of force under these circumstances, and can the parents bring a suit like this?  A through description of all the legal issues is available here.

McLane Co v. EEOC is a more procedural issue without much suspense.  Federal courts enforce or quash (cancel) subpoenas issued by federal agencies like the EEOC.  All but one Circuit court decides based on whether the EEOC abused its discretion (which is deferential toward the agency), but the 9th does so based on de novo review (its own original determination, with no deference to the agency). Interesting arguments on both sides are described here.

Wednesday, Feb 22

The Court hears only one case today, involving arbitration agreements, which have been the subject of much controversy recently.  Historically, the Court has held that the Federal Arbitration Act serves as a very serious obstacle to any state laws that would restrict the enforceability of arbitration agreements.  Kindred Nursing Centers v. Clark involves deceased residents of a nursing home whose “principals” (individuals who held their power of attorney) sued the home for for wrongful death, personal injury, and violations of certain Kentucky laws protecting nursing home residents.  The home sought to dismiss the cases based on the mandatory arbitration agreement those principles had signed on behalf of the residents, but the Kentucky Supreme Court held that they lacked authority to enter the arbitration agreement because the right to a jury trial and to appeal to higher courts are fundamental constitutional rights that cannot be waived absent express authority to do so. A thorough discussion of the case is available here.

Monday, February 27

The Court takes on sex offender laws in two cases today, in immigration and free speech contexts.

The question in Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions is: Whether a conviction under one of the seven state statutes criminalizing consensual sexual intercourse between a 21-year-old and someone almost 18 constitutes an “aggravated felony” of “sexual abuse of a minor” under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act – and therefore constitutes grounds for mandatory removal.

In Packingham v. North Carolina, the issue is: Whether, under the court’s First Amendment precedents, a law that makes it a felony for any person on the state’s registry of former sex offenders to “access” a wide array of websites – including Facebook, YouTube, and nytimes.com – that enable communication, expression, and the exchange of information among their users, if the site is “know[n]” to allow minors to have accounts, is permissible, both on its face and as applied to petitioner, who was convicted based on a Facebook post in which he celebrated dismissal of a traffic ticket, declaring “God is Good!”

January Cases

This week, the Court considers a free speech challenge to credit card surcharges, litigation sanctions, and what standards for a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities.  Next week, the Court takes on both disparaging trademarks and the rights of detainees who claim they were held in severe conditions of confinement based only on racial profiling.

Tuesday, January 10

An interesting case this morning involves claims of free speech rights in an unusual context:  credit card fees.  Merchants pay a fee to credit card companies, but ten states prohibit them from passing on that fee as a “surcharge.”  The group of merchants in Expressions Hair Design v Schneiderman argue that this prohibition is an unconstitutional limitation on speech.  The Second Circuit rejected that, holding that it only regulates commercial practices (conduct, not speech), but the merchants note that the law allows them to offer a discount for paying with cash, so as a practical matter, it regulates what they call it rather than what they charge.

The second case, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger, involves the scope of a court’s inherent power to award attorney fees and other sanctions where a party engages in some form of litigation misconduct.

Wednesday, January 11

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires states to provide children with disabilities with a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE), but that is not fully defined.  Some courts, including the lower courts in this case (Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District), have held that it requires only that the state provide some sort of education that is of more than minimal value to the student.  Other courts, and the Obama Administration in this case, have argued that this is not enough, and the standard should involve a “meaningful” education.

[This is the only case being argued today, and is scheduled for one hour.  However, the Solicitor General is arguing along with the parties, so it may run a few minutes long.]

Wednesday, January 18

Two significant and contentious issues are before the Court today.

First, the Court considers the provision in the Trademark Act that allows for refusal to register the trademark if it would “disparage . . . persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” 15 U.S.C. 1052(a). The specific case (Lee v. Tam) involves Samuel Tam, who named his band The Slants in order to bring attention to discrimination against Asians, “following in the long tradition of reappropriation, in which members of minority groups have reclaimed terms that were once directed at them as insults and redirected the terms outward as badges of pride.”  This case will have implications for the current name of the Washington football team, among other contentious current issues.

Next, the court considers detainee rights in Ziglar v. Abbasi and Hasty v. Abbasi, which allege that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, individuals were arrested and detained in extreme conditions on the basis of no evidence other than race, religion, and national origin.  The Atlantic offers an overview and makes predictions of the sort of reception the cases are likely to receive.  The Center for Constitutional Rights has detailed information about their case.  [The parties had requested additional time for argument, but that was denied and the cases are considered with one hour total.  I would expect it to run a little long nonetheless.]

 

December 5 – Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court and state legislators have been struggling with voting districts as they relate one-person-one-vote principles and racial discrimination in multiple cases over the past several years, and the issues arise again in the two cases scheduled for Monday, December 5.

Amy Howe has an excellent article on Scotusblog that provides a full description of the context and these cases.  Briefly, Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections challenges twelve “majority-minority” districts in Virginia, with one side arguing that African Americans were packed into these districts in order to dilute their voting power in other districts and the other side claiming that the case was filed in order to require re-drawing of the maps after Democrats won the governorship.  The second case, McCrory v. Harris, is a challenge to North Carolina’s infamous NC-1 and NC-12 districts, which look like this:

congressmap01

(via http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article58756583.html)

Inaugural Parade Protests (DC Cir)

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments on Monday (Nov. 14) in a case involving the rights of protesters to line the Inaugural Parade Route on January 20, 2017.  The Partnership for Civil Justice went to court back in 2000 and successfully secured access for protesters on Inauguration Day 2001, but according to this release:

In an unprecedented court filing, the U.S. Government and its Justice Department argue that the government may take the public parklands, sidewalks and streets of America at the central moment of their use by the people for assembly, speech and debate, and petitioning of the government and redesignate our public spaces into exclusive “government speech” or No Free Speech Zones. There is no limitation to the scope of these zones.

Circuit arguments are open to the public and typically do not draw much of a crowd, although it would be wise to get there a bit early for Monday’s.

Monday, November 14 – 9:30 a.m.
US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit
333 Constitution Avenue
Courtroom 31

Final argument days

The Supreme Court’s last day of schedule argument this term is April 27.  In the final two weeks, it will consider cases involving immigration (two “deferred action” programs) and compelled alcohol testing without a warrant.  [The Court also takes up issues relevant in patent and copyright litigation, the False Claims Act, specific criminal law issues, and other matters that are not recommended for the casual observer but are listed over on scotusblog.]

Monday, April 18

The sole case scheduled for today is among the most controversial of the term, U.S. v. Texas.  The case is a challenge by 26 states to the Obama Administration’s DACA and DAPA policies (more fully, Deferred Action for Children Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents).  The policies would (they were enjoined before implemented) provide guidelines for immigration authorities to postpone action on people who are alleged to be in the US illegally.  There is longstanding authority that the executive branch can choose how to prioritize prosecution of cases.  The central complication seems to be that formal deferred action would cause the individual to be termed “lawfully present,” which arguably comes with benefits and effects a change in the law that was not authorized by Congress or even arrived at through the normal process for considering and adopting Agency regulations (known as “notice and comment rule making,” as required by the Administrative Procedures Act) and would be–the states say–beyond the scope of what can be authorized by Executive Order.  One interesting and useful response to that argument is available here.

If you go to the arguments, follow that link and take some time to understand the terminology.  The politicized dispute is familiar but the legal arguments may be a little harder to follow without some preparation.  And get there early–this is a highly controversial area and the arguments are sure to draw a crowd.  (Or get there later and just plan to take in the demonstrations and press conferences out front.)

Wednesday, April 20

Several consolidated cases (one hour total) involve laws that make it a crime to refuse to take a drunk-driving test. The Court accepted cases with factual differences:  one person refused to take a breathalyzer, another refused a blood test, and another refused a field sobriety test and was then taken to the hospital for a blood test against his will.  In each instance, there was no warrant but a state law required compliance with a police officer’s order to take the test.  In 2013, the Court issued an opinion that seemed suspicious of general rules that no warrant was required, but noted that dissipation of alcohol in the blood could amount to risk of loss of evidence and “exigent circumstances” in at least some cases, permitting a search without a warrant.  However, the Court was divided and the facts were unclear in that case. A useful overview is available here.

The Court will also hear a case with limited applicability but a rather interesting question.  The Fair Labor Standards Act provides that certain types of employees are exempt from overtime pay, including “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles.”  The question in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro is whether “Service Advisors,” who meet the customer coming in for service and decide what services the customer needs, is within that category of employees exempt from overtime pay.

Feb 29 – March 2 cases

One of the most anticipated arguments of the term–involving abortion rights–is scheduled for Wednesday.   The Court also takes up gun control for persons convicted of domestic violence and the death penalty on Monday.

Monday, February 29

The first case will be viewed as a gun control issue in the context of domestic violence, but involves questions of Congressional intent where a federal law is triggered by a state law conviction.  Federal law prohibits firearm possession by someone who has been previously convicted of a crime of domestic violence.  Such a criminal act generally evokes intentional conduct, but 34 states have reckless assault laws.  The question is whether Congress intended for the federal prohibition to extend to convictions for laws that required only reckless conduct. Full write-up of all the issues in Voisine v. US is here.

The second argument is in a death penalty case.  The official question presented in Williams v. Pennsylvania describes the case well:  Whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments are violated where a state supreme court justice declines to recuse himself in a capital case in which he had personally approved the decision to pursue capital punishment against the defendant in his prior capacity as an elected prosecutor and continued to head the prosecutors’ office that defended the death verdict on appeal, and where he had publicly expressed strong support for capital punishment during his judicial election campaign by referencing the number of defendants he had “sent” to death row, including the defendant in the case now before the court; and (2) whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments are violated by the participation of a potentially biased jurist on a multimember tribunal deciding a capital case, regardless of whether his vote is ultimately decisive.

Tuesday, March 1

The cases today are important but fairly limited in scope.  Nichols v. US asks whether federal law requires a sex offender to update his registration in the state where he was convicted when he resides outside the US.  Husky International Electronics v. Ritz involves the “actual fraud” bar to discharging debts in bankruptcy.

Wednesday, March 2 – abortion

It has been eight years since the Supreme Court has directly taken on questions relating to laws that restrict access to abortion.  States may regulate abortion providers, just as they may regulate other medical practices, but laws that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to access abortion are unconstitutional.  Regulations that improve safely and health typically survive the “undue burden” test, but in this case, providers argue that the restrictions Texas put into place do not actually enhance health and safety, despite the state’s claimed purposes.  The Court has accepted cert on the question of whether the Fifth Circuit erred by “refusing to consider whether and to what extent laws that restrict abortion for the stated purpose of promoting health actually serve the government’s interest in promoting health.”  Linda Greenhouse has co-authored a useful overview of this case and the history of the Court’s approaches to abortion rights and restrictions.

This case will draw a huge crowd.  It will be worth going to the Court just to see (or be part of) the crowds, demonstrations, and press conferences.  Demonstrations will start around 8:00am, may calm down a bit during the 10:00 argument and as people come and go, and then there will be more renewed demonstrations and press conferences when the arguing counsel exit the Court, probably around 11:30. If you want to get into the courtroom, you’ll need to get there very early; I wouldn’t be surprised if enough people camp out overnight to fill the court.  More than 80 amicus briefs have been filed, and the Solicitor General has been granted permission to participate in oral argument (in addition to counsel for the clinic and for Texas, the parties to this case).  I don’t see an order extending time for the argument, but no other case is scheduled for this day and I would expect the argument to run a little past the usual hour.

First Monday (and more)

The 2015-16 Supreme Court term opens on October 5 (the “first Monday” in October) and in the first two weeks the Court will hear arguments in several cases involving the death penalty, whether the 2012 decision that life without parole for minors is unconstitutional should apply retroactively to old cases, and whether Austria is entitled to sovereign immunity for a Eurail injury.

Looking further ahead, some of the most significant cases this term will involve the ability to challenge race discrimination in jury selection (Foster v. Chatman; oral arguments on November 2), “one person one vote” and the Voting Rights Act (two cases; arguments not yet scheduled but could be later this year), and affirmative action in college admissions (Fisher v. UT-Austin; also not scheduled, but probably early 2016).

I’ll have more to say on those and other cases as they come up for argument.  The Court schedules cases for oral argument on an ongoing basis, as the written briefing in each case is complete.  It hears cases on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, typically in the first two weeks of each month.

This blog is meant to point to cases that I think will be particularly interesting to my students and other casual observers.  A reminder that Scotusblog is a great resource for the full listing of cases and other Court news, and that you can see practical info on attending arguments on this page.

And now, the October cases of note:

Monday, October 5

The term opens with two cases involving fairly technical areas of the law, but may be of interest to some casual observers.

In Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore, two wives were made to personally guarantee loans to a company owned by their husbands.  They allege that the bank only required this because they were married to the owners of the company, which they say constitutes discrimination on the basis of marital status in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.  The Court will have to decide if guarantors are covered under the ECOA or if the Federal Reserve can extend protections to them by regulation.

OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs involves a woman who was seriously injured on Eurail and had to have both legs amputated.  The location and site of the injury was a government-owned railroad.  Austria has asserted immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, while the plaintiff says the “commercial activities” exception to FSIA applies.  The Eurail pass was sold through a Massachusetts company.  Is this commercial activity (selling tickets through an agent and running a travel service) or government activity (running a state-owned railroad)?

Tuesday, October 6

Cases today involve interpreting the elements of criminal conspiracy and preemption of the Federal Arbitration Act.  Neither are particularly recommended for the casual observer.

Wednesday, October 7

The full day is devoted to important death penalty issues in consolidated cases.  Ordinarily, jury members understand that they should only say something is true if they determine it to be true beyond a reasonable doubt–for example, “did the defendant shoot the victim?” or “did he act with malice aforethought?” should only be answered in the affirmative if it is beyond a reasonable doubt.  In death penalty cases, however, jurors need not find mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt–if a juror thinks the defendant was probably under duress, for example, but is not completely sure, she can still vote for life.  The juries in these cases were not told that mitigating factors need not be found beyond a reasonable doubt.  The first hour today will be devoted to that issue, with the second hour addressing whether the defendants should have been tried separately.

Tuesday, October 13
(the Court is closed Monday for Columbus Day)

In 2012, the Court held that sentencing systems that can send a person to jail for life without possibility of parole for crimes committed while a minor are unconstitutional.  The issue in Montgomery v. Louisiana is whether that rule is retroactive, requiring resentencing of defendants whose direct appeals were exhausted before the 2012 ruling.

The Court then returns to the death penalty in Hurst v. Florida, with the question “whether Florida’s death sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment or the Eighth Amendment in light of this Court’s decision in Ring v. Arizona.”  The wording of the question presented has led to considerable speculation.

Wednesday, October 14

Cases today involve technical issues regarding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and issues of civil procedure in a specific factual context.  Neither is recommended for the casual observer.

[The Court will next hear cases on November 2, so look for a  post in mid-October discussing November cases.]

Speculation and Updates: Final decision days

Factual update and speculation…  To speculate first, Scalia offered an unhappy announcement of his dissent in the Affordable Care Act decision, which I think may provide a spoiler on the outcome of the Congressional redistricting case.  The ACA issue was statutory interpretation, and the majority read insurance exchanges “established by the state” to include ones established by the federal government in stead of the state.  To bash this, Scalia referenced the Constitution’s elections clause, and suggested that everyone would agree that Congress using its election-regulating power would not represent “the state legislature” acting (this is from memory, but that’s the gist).  So — if this means that the majority of the Court has agreed that a plain and un-nuanced reading of the elections clause is what commands, then I think the Independent Redistricting Commission is about to lose…  (See the bullets below if you need a refresher on what that case is about.)  It’s possible that he was forecasting another dissent in that case, but that’s not how I heard it.

Further speculation is that I expect we’ll know about that case tomorrow, with marriage on Monday.  I say this simply because it seemed like redistricting is almost ready, and because both Kennedy and Roberts had major opinions today so are a little less likely to have opinions tomorrow (and they seem the most likely authors of a marriage decision).  But that’s a bit of a stretch on my part, and I plan to be in the courtroom tomorrow in any event.

If you plan to attend, know that the public area was full today but the bar section was not.  There was also a fairly sizable set of demonstrators out front.  IMG_3439The Obamacare supporters were chanting (they cleverly had stickers to modify their large signs, depending on the outcome), and I saw people who looked like they had been ready for a decision in the marriage cases.  So even standing outside the courtroom can be a worthwhile experience on big decision days.

Now for objective information:  after today’s decisions, there are now 5 cases that were heard this term but are still undecided, with two announcement days left on the Court’s calendar–tomorrow and Monday.  So an updated recap of what remains (ordered by date of oral argument):

  • Congressional redistricting by independent bodies, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (argued March 2).  Frustrated with political gamesmanship and claims of racial discrimination in the process of drawing Congressional districts, voters in Arizona amended the state constitution to empower an independent body to draw the districts. Interestingly, Congressional districts are never mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but it does state that “times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” (Art. I § 4.) Arizona’s legislature seized upon this to challenge the AIRC. Certainly, most people would not call the AIRC “the legislature,” but arguably the phrase refers to any body that makes statutory laws, and a state constitution can vest the legislative power in one body, in a bicameral system, or broken up among multiple bodies with specially defined legislative functions. In addition to the question of whether the Constitution permits the people of Arizona to prescribe this system, the Court must decide whether the legislature has standing to bring this case.
  • Role of cost-benefit analyses in EPA regulations, [3 cases] v. EPA (argued March 25).  Important issues about what the EPA must consider when it regulates power plants.  Fuller analysis is here.
  • Criminal law, Johnson v. US (argued April 20):  (1) Whether mere possession of a short-barreled shotgun should be treated as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act. (2) Whether the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act is unconstitutionally vague.
  • Same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges (argued April 28).  One of the most high-profile cases of the term.
  • Death penalty drugs, Glossip v. Gross (argued April 29). A challenge to the “three-drug cocktail” commonly used in executions.