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.]