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.