April cases — last of 17-18 term

April 25 is the last day of oral argument this term — when they will take up the “Muslim travel ban” (after sentencing guidelines and Congressional redistricting cases earlier in the week).  After that, the Court will sit each Monday until the end of June in order to announce its decisions in cases argued this term, then will go on summer recess until First Monday in October.

Monday, April 23

The morning cases are rather technical and not recommended for the casual observer, but there is an unusual afternoon argument today that may be of interest.  Chavez-Meza v. United States involves the ongoing confusion regarding sentencing guidelines. This time, the issue is how thoroughly the judge must explain a sentencing reduction on the record.  Scotusblog has a useful preview.

Afternoon arguments are rare and it’s hard to predict how difficult it will be to get in.  Arguments begin at 1:00; morning arguments are 10:00-noon, then there’s a lunch break during which the courtroom is cleared.  Often, it’s been enough to get in line by 11:00.

Tuesday, April 24

Redistricting is before the Court yet again this morning — the third time this term alone. Abbott v. Perez involves protracted litigation over claims that Texas violated the Voting Rights Act when it redrew Congressional districts in 2011. The history of the various lawsuits and interim rulings is critical to understanding this case and being able to follow the arguments, so review the overview from Brennan Center and follow at least some of those links for key documents in the case (the links near the bottom, and particularly the NAACP LDEF amicus brief, will be especially helpful).

The case has been scheduled for 70 minutes, which is slightly more time than usual.  There will be 4 arguing counsel (2 on each side) and 35 minutes total for each side.

The second case today,  Animal Science Products v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co., is an antitrust case that raises the question of to what extent US courts should defer to foreign courts’ interpretations of foreign law. See the overview here.

Wednesday, April 25 — the “Muslim Travel Ban”

The Court’s last scheduled argument of the term is Trump v. Hawaii — perhaps the most politicized case in years, as well as one that raises some interesting unanswered academic legal questions.  Obviously, a great deal has been said and written about this case, but below I suggest some specific reading that should help you to follow the legal arguments before the Court.

A general overview will obviously help, but I also suggest some more reading on each of the official “questions presented,” as specified in the grant of cert.:

(1) Whether the respondents’ challenge to the president’s suspension of entry of aliens abroad is justiciable;
[This involves the “political question” or “plenary-power” doctrine and the question of whether certain matters are entrusted by the Constitution to the executive branch alone.  See the argument here.]

(2) whether the proclamation – which suspends entry, subject to exceptions and case-by-case waivers, of certain categories of aliens abroad from eight countries that do not share adequate information with the United States or that present other risk factors – is a lawful exercise of the president’s authority to suspend entry of aliens abroad;
[This question is essentially one of administrative law and statutory interpretation.  The decision below will give a good sense of the argument that the president lacked that authority.]

(3) whether the global injunction barring enforcement of the proclamation’s entry suspensions worldwide, except as to nationals of two countries and as to persons without a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States, is impermissibly overbroad;
[This is a difficult and unresolved legal question — just what is the scope of authority of a district court, for a single region and with specific plaintiffs before it, when the issue in the case is one of national policy with unspecified individuals who may be subject to it?  See the discussion here.]

(4) whether the proclamation violates the establishment clause of the Constitution.
[Here, the Court will take up the argument that the order reflects unconstitutional discrimination on the basis of religion. See this amicus brief from a collection of civil rights organizations arguing that the order should be seen as an act of religious discrimination.]

There are also an extraordinary number of amicus briefs filed in this case, and you may wish to see if any are from organizations you would like to hear from.

Expect the arguments to run long.  So far, the Court has not ordered additional time (although it denied the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s request to participate in oral arguments), but it is the only case on the docket today.

People will begin lining up to see the arguments very early, and I wouldn’t be surprised if  no one gets in from the public line who wasn’t in line (or paying a line-stander) for at least 24 hours.  Even if that’s not possible for you, there will be much to see and do on the sidewalk in front of the Court — multiple and competing demonstrations before and during arguments, followed by press conferences as soon as the arguing lawyers leave the building.

March cases

In the last two weeks of March, the Court will hear an extremely important case involving First Amendment claims in the abortion context, another gerrymandering case, and other cases.

Tuesday, March 20

[Monday’s cases involve technical issues of limited interest or accessibility for the casual observer.]

Abortion is before the Court today, and this always draws a large line for the arguments and a spirited set of crowds out front.  National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra involves the California Reproductive FACT Act, which, briefly, requires licensed medical clinics to post information regarding free and low-cost abortion services available through the state and requires pregnancy counseling services that are not licensed medical centers to state in all advertising that they are not healthcare providers. The clinics claim this is a form of compelled speech that violates the First Amendment. California asserts that this falls within the scope of constitutionally permissible regulation of professional services, and is needed to inform women of available services and to prevent women from being confused as to the nature of the “clinic.”

Interestingly, in a number of states, the mandated speech goes the other way, requiring abortion clinics to post information designed to dissuade women from choosing to abort. There’s an interesting article in Slate exploring the problems that could arise for such laws if the clinics were to win this case.  Scotusblog also offers a symposium of competing views.  And, of course, there are a huge number of amici briefs.

The Solicitor General submitted an amicus brief supporting neither side.  It then sought (and was granted) leave to participate in oral arguments, and both sides agreed to give up 5 minutes each.  Very unusual!

The case is scheduled for the usual hour, but it is the only case on the docket today and will probably run a little long. Lines will form early–probably days early… But there will also be protests and press conferences happening out front, which are interesting to observe or join.

Wednesday, March 21

Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren is a technical issue of state court jurisdiction and tribal sovereignty.  Briefly, both the Lundgrens and the tribe assert ownership over a strip of land.  The Lundgrens brought suit to “quiet title” (have a court decide who has ownership) and the tribe asserted the state court had no jurisdiction over the dispute.

These arguments will be difficult to follow, but it is worth reading up on the case and attending if these issues interest you. A key concept is “in rem” jurisdiction — not jurisdiction over the party, but over a thing (in this case, not the tribe but a piece of land).  Start with the overview here, then read the Washington Supreme Court decision, and then select some briefs to read as well.

Wednesday, March 28

[Monday’s and Tuesday’s cases are not recommended.  However, Tuesday’s cases involve sentencing guidelines (Hughes and Koons); specific and technical issues regarding them, but still may be of interest to some.]

Partisan gerrymandering is once again before the court this morning.  Benisek v. Lamone has been before the Supreme Court before; in 2015, the plaintiff won the right to a 3-judge panel, and now, the decision of that panel is up for review. The case involves the Maryland 6th, which had been a “safe” Republican seat until redistricting rendered it a “likely” Democratic seat.  (Oyez overview; Common Cause fact sheet.) In addition to the links above, read at least a couple of the many briefs filed in the case before attending.

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.