February Cases

In the last week of February, the Court will hear cases involving religious accommodation obligations (in the context of Abercrombie’s “look policy”) if the applicant never mentions religion, the reviewability of visa denials, the Prison Litigation Reform Act, and sales of firearms after being convicted of a felony.

One note, too, about a much-anticipated case that had been scheduled for March:  The Court this term will not be deciding whether the 2012 decision that it is cruel and unusual to sentence juveniles to life without parole is retroactive to prisoners who were sentenced before that decision was announced.  The case raising that issue has been rendered moot by a plea deal.

Monday, February 23

Kerry v. Din is an interesting challenge to immigration policy and secrecy.  Under the doctrine of “consular nonreviewability,” people seeking to immigrate to or visit the US are not entitled to judicial review if their applications are denied.  But in this case, it is the US citizen, who is the wife of the person seeking a visa, who is suing and claiming a constitutional right to know why the government is keeping her husband from entering the US.  The embassy cited a provision that denies visas for “terrorist activities” but offered no further explanation.  The husband worked for the Afghan government under the Taliban as a payroll clerk in the ministry of social welfare, but after the US invasion, he continued to work for the Afghan government, now in the ministry of education (and anyway, the US government funded the Taliban as late as 2001).  The Court will have to decide if the citizen-spouse is entitled to demand and explanation for the denial of a visa for her husband, and then whether there is a legitimate reason for the denial.

Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson involves prisoner access to the courts under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Prisoners may file lawsuits without paying fees (in forma pauperis) but the PLRA denies ifp if the prisoner has had three earlier lawsuits dismissed. The issue in this case is whether a dismissal that is pending appeal counts as a “strike” under the PLRA.

Tuesday, February 24

Henderson v. US involves a Border Patrol agent who was charged with narcotics offenses, turned over 19 guns to the FBI as a condition of his pre-trial release, and then pled guilty.  The felony guilty plea makes him ineligible to possess firearms, but he wants the FBI to return them, either to him or to a buyer.  The Court granted cert. on the question, “Does a felony conviction, which makes it illegal for the felon to possess firearms, also prevent a court from ordering that the government transfer non-contraband firearms to a third party to whom the defendant has sold his property interests or sell the firearms for the defendant’s benefit?”

Today’s second case (Tibble v. Edison International) involves complex procedural questions and the duties of investment fund managers under ERISA.  Not really one for the casual observer…

Wednesday, February 24

Much has been said about Abercrombie’s “Look Policy,” which dictates hiring decisions.  In this case, a woman wore a headscarf to the interview.  The interviewer never mentioned it, so the reasons for wearing the headscarf were never stated, and the interviewer gave her relatively high marks on the evaluation and recommended hiring.  Upon hearing about what she wore, however, the district manager directed the “appearance” score to be lowered, making the applicant ineligible for employment.  Abercrombie claims that the applicant is not entitled to religious accommodation and Abercrombie was not unlawfully discriminating because the applicant never mentioned that she was dressed in that way for religious reasons.  The question before the Court in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch is whether unlawful discrimination requires “direct knowledge that a religious accommodation was required.”

Today’s second case involves payment of attorney fees in bankruptcy cases; the casual observer will likely want to leave after the Abercrombie case….