April 2023 Arguments

The last set of regularly scheduled arguments will be April 17-26 (Mondays to Wednesdays). There is one case that was granted cert. and has not yet been scheduled for argument, but it probably will be re-listed for argument next term. It’s also possible the Court will add an argument day (that would be extremely unusual, but so is the looming circuit split over Mifepristone….) but in all likelihood the Court will not hear cases after April 26 but will issue decisions roughly weekly until the end of June and then be on summer recess until First Monday in October.

Most of the April cases are on procedural issues or otherwise not ones I’d recommend for the casual observer, but there are a few important and interesting cases that deserve mention and your attention. I have also updated the information on attending in-person, and these cases should be particularly good choices for anyone looking for that experience!

Tuesday, April 18

A very important issue involving the scope of an employer’s Title VII obligation to accommodate religious observances is up first today, in Groff v. DeJoy. The text of Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), and defines that to include failure to accommodate an employee’s religious observance or practice unless the employer can demonstrate that it cannot do so “without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business,” 42 U.S.C. 2000e( j). What that means, in turn, is the issue for today. In a seminal case in 1977, Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977), the Supreme Court held that an employer did not have to accommodate an employee’s observance of the Sabbath where the employer showed it would either have to operate shorthanded or pay other employees overtime. That holding is not as seriously questioned as the reason the Court gave for that holding — that an undue burden is one requiring the employer to bear “more than a de minimis cost.” In the years since, the lower courts have generally — but not universally — adopted the EEOC’s position that things like being shorthanded or having to pay premium wages are hallmarks of an undue burden, while largely ignoring the “more than a de minimis cost” line. The US Department of Justice has taken the position that “[l]ower courts have sometimes been led astray by Hardison’sde minimis‘ language, and the Court can and should clarify that the EEOC has correctly interpreted Hardison to be consistent with substantial protection for religious observance and practice” while otherwise leaving the precedent in tact. The Court has also accepted cert. on the question of whether an accommodation that “burdens the employee’s coworkers rather than the business itself” meets the Title VII requirement, and the AFL-CIO has an amicus brief that focuses on that question, arguing that “[t]he fact that a proposed accommodation would interfere with an agreed-upon method of ensuring seven-day-per week coverage and fairly allocating undesirable shifts among employees is relevant to whether the accommodation would burden the ‘conduct’ of the employer’s business, regardless of whether an employer can prove it would cause any determinate level of economic harm. That is particularly true when the arrangement is embodied in a collective bargaining agreement.”

The second argument is on a pair of consolidated cases concerning the False Claims Act and its requirement that the false claim was submitted “knowingly.” It’s not one I would ordinarily recommend to a casual observer, but if you’re going to the above argument in person, it definitely would be worth staying for. In United States ex rel. Schutte v. SuperValu Inc., (a note on the name: Schutte is the “relator” (pronounced re-lay-tor), bringing a qui tam action in place of the US; the relator gets a portion of the funds recovered if they prove the government was defrauded under the FCA) the issue is whether “SuperValu knowingly filed false reports of its pharmacies’ ‘usual and customary’ (‘U&C’) drug prices when it sought reimbursements under Medicare and Medicaid.” The Seventh Circuit found that the filings were false, but also that they were based on an “objectively reasonable understanding of the regulatory definition of U&C price.”

It also held that the FCA requires a level of intent to defraud. The dissent characterized the issue as “whether the Act can reach businesses that submit false claims for government payment but claim there is some legal ambiguity that kept them from ‘knowing’ for certain that their claims were false.” Sen. Chuck Grassley has an interesting amicus brief arguing that the Seventh Circuit’s test “puts on the government a nearly impossible burden to anticipate and warn off future fraudsters from every colorable misinterpretation of the law” and that “[i]f it is not set right, it will not be long before the centerpiece of the government’s anti-fraud arsenal becomes unusable.” The Court has accepted cert. on “[w]hether and when a defendant’s contemporaneous subjective understanding or beliefs about the lawfulness of its conduct are relevant to whether it ‘knowingly’ violated the False Claims Act.”

Wednesday, April 19

The only argument today concerns what constitutes a “true threat” (rather than speech protected by the First Amendment) in the context of social media. In Counterman v. Colorado, Counterman began following musician C.W. on Facebook, was blocked when she found his posts “creepy” but kept following under new accounts, and ultimately sent her “messages [that] alluded to making ‘physical sightings’ of C.W. in public” (as found by the Colorado Supreme Court). He was prosecuted under a Colorado stalking statute that criminalizes repeatedly sending messages “that would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress.” Colo. R.S. 18-3-602. The messages presumably are “speech” within the meaning of the First Amendment, so the question is whether it falls into a category of speech that may be criminalized consistent with those free speech protections; the Colorado Supreme Court held that this was a “true threat” and upheld the conviction. Courts are split on how to determine if something is a true threat. Some require a subjective intent to threaten, while others apply an “objective test” and ask only if a reasonable person would feel threatened in the “totality of the circumstances.” Some advocates suggest that an objective test is unworkable in the online context because those communications so frequently lack context to be able to objectively assess the totality of the circumstances.

The University of Miami Law Review has a useful backgrounder on all these legal issues. Notably, the ACLU argues that “a subjective intent requirement is critical to ensure breathing room for robust public debate,” while the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argues that “[r]equiring subjective intent to establish a true threat would vitiate anti-intimidation laws, especially voter intimidation laws.” Meanwhile, one group of “First Amendment Scholars” emphasizes that “Mr. Counterman was convicted for the crime of stalking, not threats” and therefore urges the Court to “affirm [the conviction] rather than announcing a rule that would require all communication-based stalking prosecutions to prove a ‘true threat, ‘” while another group of “First Amendment Scholars” including Erwin Chemerinsky argues that a “specific-intent requirement for stalking and other threats undermines, rather than protects, First Amendment values, including by depleting the marketplace of ideas, inhibiting counter-speech, and interfering with individual autonomy and association.” Those are just some of the 22 amici briefs filed in this case — it should be a really interesting argument (but expect it to run long!).

Wednesday, April 26

My final recommendation for a case to take in this term is the only one scheduled for the last day of the regular calendar this term, involving the takings clause in the context of foreclosures where the government keeps the surplus value beyond the back taxes that were owed. Tyler v. Hennepin County has so much interest that it already has its own Wikipedia page and has generated some 46 amici briefs! Briefly, as the 8th Circuit explained, “Tyler accumulated a tax debt of $15,000. To satisfy the debt, Hennepin County foreclosed on Tyler’s property and sold it for $40,000. The county retained the net proceeds from the sale.” The courts below all held that this was not an unconstitutional taking because the property was lawfully seized after reasonable notice and opportunities for Tyler to avoid that consequence; at that point, the entirety of the property was the government’s, and it was free to sell it for full value. At the point of sale, as the 8th Circuit held, “[w]here state law recognizes no property interest in surplus proceeds from a tax-foreclosure sale conducted after adequate notice to the owner, there is no unconstitutional taking.” Specifically in this case, Tyler “could have recovered the surplus by redeeming the property [paying back taxes prior to foreclosure] and selling the condominium, or by confessing judgment, arranging a payment plan for the taxes due, and then selling the property. Only after she declined to avail herself of these opportunities did ‘absolute title’ pass to the State.” Public Citizen has a useful amicus brief that walks through the taking clause analysis it believes should apply and argues that “[p]ermitting the government to take property to collect a tax debt without compensating the owner for the value exceeding the debt creates skewed incentives that disproportionately harm vulnerable people.”

Decision Days in May and June

The Court used to sit for decision days (mostly on Mondays) between the end of arguments and the end of June. The Court would take the bench and the author of the majority opinion would announce it (briefly summarize the holding), and sometimes a dissenter would also announce their dissenting opinion. All that was suspended during the pandemic, with the opinions simply posted to the website. But in January, they restarted the practice of announcing opinions from the bench. So hopefully there will be opportunities to be in the courtroom and hear decisions announced in May and June this year. We never know which opinions will be issued until it happens (except when we know it’s the last decision day on the calendar and there are just a few cases left!) but it can feel quite meaningful to be there for the announcement in a big case. You also typically don’t have to get in line nearly as early as for arguments. So something to consider if you’re in town in May and June (especially June, since there’s a trend of the most high-profile cases being decided last).

Wednesday, March 22 – Jack Daniel’s / Bad Spaniels

My apologies that I have been too overwhelmed with other work to keep the blog updated for March cases. There was an important tribal sovereignty and water rights case argued this morning and a number of criminal cases this week and next, which I must leave to others to preview. (As always, Scotusblog does a great job of that.)

I was unlikely to recommend any of this block’s cases to the casual observer anyway — with the exception of Wednesday’s argument, which one really should not miss if only for a little comic relief (in the context of a serious intellectual property dispute)! Here’s a screenshot from the petitioner’s brief:

Jack Daniel’s Properties v. VIP Products LLC, is the only case being argued on March 22. Lots of fun to be had with this one, but also consider the serious arguments from EFF and a group of 1st Amendment professors, who are of course on the other side of trade groups. The New York Intellectual Property Law Association has an interesting brief “in support of neither party” focused on what the legal test should be when analyzing parody products.

February 20 & 21 — Online speech liability

February arguments start off with two of the most high-profile cases this term, concerning liability of social media companies for the content posted on their platforms and their relationship it. (Preview of the following week’s arguments to be posted later.) Scotusblog has a useful introduction and context for this and tomorrow’s case.

70 minutes have been allotted for arguments on both days, but expect them to run quite long and for there to be a substantial line for public (and bar member) seating. (See the page about attending in-person or listening in online.)

Tuesday, Feb 21 — Gonzalez v. Google LLC

Today’s arguments will focus on the scope of the Section 230 immunity for corporations that host user content. The case was filed by family members of victims of terrorist acts, alleging, according to the 9th Circuit ruling, that “social media platforms allowed ISIS to post videos and other content to communicate the terrorist group’s message, to radicalize new recruits, and to generally further its mission. Plaintiffs also claim that Google placed paid advertisements in proximity to ISIS-created content and shared the resulting ad revenue with ISIS.” In the case against Google, which is being reviewed today, the lower courts held that Google was immune by operation of 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1), which provides that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

A great deal has been written about Section 230 generally and this case specifically, but I would like to call your attention to an amici brief from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other civil rights organizations, arguing, among other things, that “[w]hen a publisher materially contributes to a civil rights violation, it loses Section 230 immunity.” I also commend the EPIC amicus brief, which argues for distinguishing between liability for mere re-publishing and active acts of the platform:

Social media sites employ sophisticated algorithms that segment, target, and control users in often harmful ways. The allegations in this case—that Google matches ISIS content to users who are profiled to be most susceptible to the group’s messaging—represent one subset of these algorithmic harms. Many internet companies that deploy harmful products use Section 230 as a shield instead of making their products safer, exactly the opposite of what Section 230’s drafters in- tended. Other companies collect and publish people’s personal information without a care for the accuracy of the information or for individual privacy rights be- cause they believe Section 230 protects them. Unless Section 230 is returned to its original meaning and courts are given a clear way to apply immunity, inter- net companies will continue to act with impunity—to all our detriment.


Wednesday, Feb 22 – Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh

The Ninth Circuit decision relevant yesterday also concerned a suit against Twitter, Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh. But the lower court there did not dismiss the case based on a Section 230 defense but because it held that the allegations were not sufficient to give rise to liability under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA)18 U.S.C. § 2333. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, carefully reviewing each of the liability factors and noting that the complaint alleges that the platform “allowed ISIS accounts and content to remain public even after receiving complaints about ISIS’s use of their platforms,” ultimately holding that “the Taamneh Plaintiffs adequately state a claim for aiding-and-abetting liability.”

And so today’s case concerns: “(1) Whether a defendant that provides generic, widely available services to all its numerous users and ‘regularly’ works to detect and prevent terrorists from using those services ‘knowingly’ provided substantial assistance under 18 U.S.C. § 2333 merely because it allegedly could have taken more ‘meaningful’ or ‘aggressive’ action to prevent such use; and (2) whether a defendant whose generic, widely available services were not used in connection with the specific ‘act of international terrorism’ that injured the plaintiff may be liable for aiding and abetting under Section 2333.”

January cases

There are some interesting cases this month — involving attorney-client privilege, the status of national guard employees and union rights, another union issue, the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board, and practical obstacles for enforcing the rights of students with disabilities — but in cases that have not received much public attention. So this might be a good month to attend arguments in person (although you can still listen in online live or later)!

Monday, January 9

Fans of unusual and amorphous legal structures and categories will enjoy today’s cases. We start with attorney-client privilege for communications that also (perhaps predominantly) cover subjects that are not privileged. In re Grand Jury, “Whether a communication involving both legal and non-legal advice is protected by attorney-client privilege when obtaining or providing legal advice was one of the significant purposes behind the communication.” See the useful summary and context from NAAG. The ABA also has an amicus brief celebrating the importance of the attorney-client privilege.

The next case gets more byzantine, involving technicians with the Ohio National Guard, who are “dual-status employees because their employment is ‘a hybrid, both of federal and state, and of civilian and military strains.'” Ohio Adjutant General’s Department v. Federal Labor Relations Authority (6th Cir. 2021), quoting Ill. Nat’l Guard v. FLRA, 854 F.2d 1396, 1398 (D.C. Cir. 1988). Past cases have found that although National Guards are state agencies, their role is largely controlled by federal law and, therefore, certain guard employees have rights under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, the guards are executive agencies for purposes of that law when acting as such employers, and the Federal Labor Relations Authority has jurisdiction. Nevertheless, when Ohio attempted to end the union contract, it objected to FLRA jurisdiction when the union filed a series of Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges. Hence the intriguing question presented (although it’s about national guards specifically): “Whether the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which empowers the Federal Labor Relations Authority to regulate the labor practices of federal agencies only, empower it to regulate the labor practices of state militias.” See the link above for the 6th Circuit’s decision, or for interesting historical (and other) arguments, see this amicus brief from military law scholars.

Tuesday, January 10

Continuing the trend of intriguing questions presented is Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters: “Whether the National Labor Relations Act impliedly preempts a state tort claim against a union for intentionally destroying an employer’s property in the course of a labor dispute.” Essentially, the union initiated a strike while concrete was in mixing trucks, which … caused some difficulties for management. The Washington State Supreme Court held, in part, that “the NLRA preempts Glacier’s tort claims related to the loss of its concrete product because that loss was incidental to a strike arguably protected by federal law.” A group of NYU and Yale tort law professors have sided with the union in their amicus brief.

(Just one case is scheduled for today)

Wednesday, January 11

Again just one case scheduled today, Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico v. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, Inc. The Board is refusing to produce financial records requested by a media organization (CPI), and argues that it is exempt from suit under the 11th Amendment and the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (“PROMESA”). The Court has granted cert. on a broad question: “Whether the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act’s general grant of jurisdiction to the federal courts over claims against the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico and claims otherwise arising under PROMESA abrogate the Board’s sovereign immunity with respect to all federal and territorial claims.” See the interesting and useful amicus brief from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Monday, January 16 is Dr. King Day

Tuesday, January 17

An important but technical and procedurally complex immigration case is up first today, in Santos-Zacaria v. Garland. See the NAAG overview.

The second case involves Turkey and a major bank. After Halkbank was indicted for money laundering, it argued it was immune from prosecution under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act because the bank is majority-owned by Turkey. The Second Circuit held that the activity falls within the FSIA exception for commercial activity. The question is “Whether U.S. district courts may exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over criminal prosecutions against foreign sovereigns and their instrumentalities under 18 U.S.C. § 3231 and in light of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.” Turkiye Halk Bankasi A.S. v. United States.

Wednesday, January 18

The case today is under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). According to Ed Week, the case “involves Miguel Luna Perez, who is deaf and communicates through sign language. . . . His legal papers say that the district assigned a classroom aide to him who did not know sign language and who would sometimes abandon Perez for hours a day. Perez’s parents contend the district led them to believe their son was proceeding toward high school graduation, but they were informed that he only qualified for a certificate of completion.”

However, the arguments will focus on procedural issues, specifically the requirement to exhaust administrative remedies, as more fully explained by NAAG. An interesting amicus brief was filed by Sen. Tom Harkin and Cong. Tony Coelho and George Miller.

February (& March 1-2) cases

This month’s oral arguments have not received the attention of some earlier abortion and other high-profile cases, but involve a range of interesting and important issues. The case involving the EPA’s climate change authority, especially, deserves careful attention.

Tuesday, February 22

The cases today are two variations on Native American sovereignty issues. (Not consolidated; separate one-hour arguments.)

First up is Ysleta del Sur Pueblo v. Texas, involving the tribe’s authority to conduct bingo and other gambling, notwithstanding Texas law. The Fifth Circuit described the dispute as centered on “which federal law governs the legality of the Pueblo’s gaming operations—the Restoration Act (which bars gaming that violates Texas law) or the more permissive Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (which ‘establish[es] … Federal standards for gaming on Indian lands’).” It held that because the “Restoration Act controls, the Pueblo’s gaming is prohibited.” But the Supreme Court’s characterization of the question presented is perhaps a bit revealing: “Whether the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Indian Tribes of Texas Restoration Act provides the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo with sovereign authority to regulate non-prohibited gaming activities on its lands (including bingo), as set forth in the plain language of Section 107(b), the act’s legislative history and the Supreme Court’s holding in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, or whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit’s decision affirming Ysleta del Sur Pueblo v. Texas (Ysleta I) correctly subjects the Pueblo to all Texas gaming regulations.”

The second case, Denezpi v. United States, involves tribal sovereignty in the context of criminal law, and specifically double jeopardy. The Court has long held (and recently reaffirmed) that the Constitution’s prohibition on double jeopardy does not restrict prosecutions by different “sovereigns” — so the federal government is free to prosecute a person for the same conduct that already resulted in a state conviction (or acquittal). Thus the importance of the status of tribal courts, and the question presented in this case: “Whether the Court of Indian Offenses of Ute Mountain Ute Agency is a federal agency such that Merle Denezpi’s conviction in that court barred his subsequent prosecution in a United States district court for a crime arising out of the same incident.”

Both cases are nicely summarized here. There’s also an interesting amici brief on the criminal courts case from a group of “federal Indian law scholars and historians.”

Wednesday, February 23

An important administrative procedure case today, in the context of immigration law. Arizona v. City and County of San Francisco. Immigrants may be turned away, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, if they are likely to become a “public charge.” That term had long been understood to describe receipt of cash welfare benefits. The Trump Administration adopted a formal regulation that expanded “public charge” to include receipt of certain non-cash benefits, like Section 8 housing and SNAP benefits. Lawsuits challenged that rule, there were various provisional wins and losses for both sides at early stages of the litigation (the full history is set out here), but ultimately the Biden Administration came to power and announced that it would no longer defend the rule. It is not uncommon for new administrations to both decline to defend lawsuits and to embark on the process of formally rescinding or replacing regulations — which is a long and quite involved process. But in this case, according to the 9th Circuit:

the new administration didn’t just stop defending the prior administration’s rule and ask the courts to stay the legal challenges while it promulgated a new rule through the ordinary (and invariably time- and resource-consuming) process envisioned by the APA. Instead, together with the plaintiffs challenging the rule, it implemented a plan to instantly terminate the rule with extreme prejudice—ensuring not only that the rule was gone faster than toilet paper in a pandemic, but that it could effectively never, ever be resurrected, even by a future administration. All while avoiding the normal messy public participation generally required to change a federal rule. Not bad for a day’s work.

9th Cir.

Now, other states want to join the lawsuit to defend the Trump Administration rule. The Court has accepted cert. only on the question of “Whether states with interests should be permitted to intervene to defend a rule when the United States ceases to defend.”

This is the only case scheduled for today. Expect the arguments to run long.

Monday, February 28 — EPA climate change authority

An important set of cases today concerning EPA’s authority, which has largely slipped under the mainstream radar. The Court has consolidated four cases against the EPA, brought by West Virginia, North Dakota, North American Coal Corp., and Westmoreland Mining Holdings.

Briefly, the issues began when Obama Administration enacted the Clean Power Plan, perhaps the country’s most ambitious effort to reduce carbon emissions. The regulations were immediately challenged as unconstitutional and beyond EPA’s authority. While the litigation was ongoing, the Trump Administration rescinded the plan and replaced it with the “Affordable Clean Energy” rule, but litigation continued. Then the Biden Administration has said it will not reinstate the Obama plan but rather will issue a new plan; it asked the Court to decline to hear this case and to instead address any challenges to the new rule after if is announced. However, the Court instead accepted cert. on “Whether, in 42 U.S.C. § 7411(d), an ancillary provision of the Clean Air Act, Congress constitutionally authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to issue significant rules — including those capable of reshaping the nation’s electricity grids and unilaterally decarbonizing virtually any sector of the economy — without any limits on what the agency can require so long as it considers cost, nonair impacts and energy requirements.”

This is an exceedingly important case but the legal issues will be hard to follow. Start with this thorough and readable summary. Then take a look at the DC Circuit ruling and one or more of the vast array of amici briefs that have been filed in this case.

Tuesday, March 1

First up is a pair of consolidated cases (one hour total), Ruan v. United States and Kahn v. United States, involving the Controlled Substances Act and “pain management” practices. Doctors in both cases were convicted of prescribing opiates and other drugs in violation of the CSA (and sometimes for personal gain), but they assert the drugs were prescribed in a good faith belief that the prescriptions were appropriate. More here. Not the most sympathetic defendants, at least as described in the 11th Circuit decision, but some conservative and libertarian groups (e.g. Cato’s amicus brief) are lining up with others to defend the idea of a good faith defense.

The second case today, Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. Davita, is a complex case involving “the scope of the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSPA) as it relates to the treatment of patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD).” The arguments won’t be easy to follow, so see the explanation here.

Wednesday, March 2 — Scope of Bivens

Scotusblog offers a useful intro to the case today, Egbert v. Boule:

Fifty years ago, in Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, the Supreme Court ruled that a private individual could sue a federal agent for violating his Fourth Amendment rights, even when there was not a specific law authorizing a claim for damages. In the nine years after Bivens, the court recognized Bivens claims for damages for violations of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments, but in 2017 it stressed that “expanding the Bivens remedy is now a disfavored activity.”

On Friday, the justices agreed to decide whether a Bivens remedy should be available to the owner of an inn on the U.S.-Canada border who alleges that a U.S. Border Patrol agent violated both his Fourth Amendment rights and his First Amendment rights. But the justices declined a request to reconsider Bivensitself. 


According to the 9th Circuit decision, Mr. Boule “operates and lives in a bed and breakfast in the state of Washington, on land which touches the United States-Canada border. Plaintiff alleged that a border patrol agent entered the driveway of plaintiff’s property to question arriving guests; used excessive force against plaintiff, and then, in response to plaintiff’s complaints, retaliated against plaintiff by, among other things, contacting the Internal Revenue Service, asking the agency to look into plaintiff’s tax status.”

It should be a very interesting argument. Take a look at the range of amicus briefs filed in this case — it’s not often we see the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and CAIR on the same side as libertarian groups like Institute for Justice and FIRE.

January 2022 Cases

A very unusual Friday oral argument has been scheduled for January 7, in cases concerning the federal vaccine mandate. Plus cases concerning Medicaid, immigration law, a religious flag on a City Hall flagpole, FEC v. Ted Cruz for Senate, and the Court’s first consideration of the First Step Act.

The Court will continue with last fall’s practice of in-person arguments with Justices, arguing counsel, and reporters only (at least through February cases). The rest of us can listen in live online. Arguments start quite promptly at 10:00 and the easiest way to listen is to go to https://www.supremecourt.gov and click the “live audio” icon. I’ve noticed that if you try to launch the audio early, you’ll get an error right about 9:59; just refresh the page then. See this page for non-live options.

Friday, Jan 7 – Vaccine Mandate

A group of states and a group of employers have challenged the federal OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard. In essence, employers of 100 or more employees are to require proof of Covid-19 vaccination by January 10 and are to begin requiring weekly testing by February 9 for any employee who elects that option in lieu of vaccination. There have been a series of decisions that have blocked implementation in about half of the states, and the Court will decide whether the rule can be enforced pending resolution of those challenges. There’s a good summary here. Since then, the states and the employer groups have asked for divided argument, so each will get 15 minutes (with the federal government allotted 30). But, of course, expect this day to run very long. Filings for both National Federation of Independent Business v. Dept of Labor and Ohio v. Dept of Labor are here.

Monday, Jan 10

Just one case today, an unusual case involving Medicaid and private lawsuits. A 13-year old girl suffered severe injuries, the medical expenses of which were mostly paid for by Florida’s Medicaid program, after she was hit by a truck after exiting a school bus. Eventually, the family obtained a settlement for $800,000 against the truck driver, in part to cover both future and past medical expenses. Florida then filed a lien, seeking reimbursement of expenses it had covered. The family sued to block enforcement of that lien, won in the trial court (which found that the federal Medicaid Act preempted such state actions), but lost at the 11th Circuit. More details about Gallardo v. Marstiller here.

Tuesday, Jan 11

Two related (but not consolidated; separate 1-hour arguments) immigration law cases today, Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez and Garland v. Gonzalez. As Scotusblog explains, “Both cases involve noncitizens who have been ordered deported but claim they are entitled to ‘withholding’ protection – a form of humanitarian relief in which noncitizens cannot be deported to their home country because they may be tortured or persecuted there. The noncitizens argue that, after spending more than six months in immigration detention awaiting the resolution of their withholding claims, they are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge to determine whether they can be released on bond.” The Court has accepted cert. in both cases on the question “[w]hether an alien who is detained under 8 U.S.C. § 1231 is entitled by statute, after six months of detention, to a bond hearing at which the government must prove to an immigration judge that the alien is a flight risk or a danger to the community,” but the second argument, Garland v. Gonzalez, adds “whether, under 8 U.S.C. § 1252(f)(1), the courts below had jurisdiction to grant classwide injunctive relief.”

[The Court is closed on Monday, Jan 17, in observance of MLK Day]

Tuesday, Jan 18

First up is an interesting case combining government speech and religion issues, Shurtleff v. Boston. The three flag poles in front of Boston City Hall fly the US flag, the Massachusetts flag, and typically the Boston City flag — but at a rate of about twice a month, that third pole instead flies a flag requested by a private organization. A regligious organization sought to fly a flag with a Latin cross, but was denied because the City said that would constitute endorsement of religion. The First Circuit held that the display of flags on the City’s flagpole constituted government speech, which is not constrained by the First Amendment in the way that private speech is: “Because the City engages in government speech when it raises a third-party flag on the third flagpole at City Hall, that speech is not circumscribed by the Free Speech Clause. . . . The City is therefore ‘entitled’ to ‘select the views that it wants to express.'” In this instance, the court explained, “the City exercised those rights by choosing not to fly the plaintiffs’ third-party flag. . . . Should the citizenry object to the City’s secular-flag policy or to its ideas about diversity, the voters may elect new officials who share their concerns. . . . After all, it is the electorate and the political process that constrains the City’s speech, not the Free Speech Clause.” That decision is quite accessible, but there is also NY Times coverage for more plain-language discussion. The array of amici briefs filed in this case is also worth a look, if only to note the strange bedfellows — the ACLU is arguing for the religious group petitioner, while the National Council of the Churches of Christ, representing “more than 100,000 local congregations and 40 million adherents,” has joined with other religious and civil rights organizations to argue that “that an official governmental display of the Christian Flag in front of a city hall is exclusionary to the countless Americans not represented by that religious symbol. . . . And it elevates the sacred symbol of one faith in ways that many denominations and individuals who adhere to the favored religion also find intrusive on and corrosive of their beliefs and fundamental religious freedom.”

Today’s second argument, in Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, is a technical procedural issue arising out of an incredibly loaded context. The official question presented is “Whether a federal court hearing state law claims brought under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act must apply the forum state’s choice-of-law rules to determine what substantive law governs the claims at issue, or whether it may apply federal common law.” But the case concerns attempts to recover a painting that “was stolen from the family of Holocaust survivor Lilly Cassirer by the Nazi regime in 1939. The painting was illegally transferred from Germany into California after World War II and traded privately in the United States between 1951 and 1976. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, a subsidiary of the Kingdom of Spain, purchased the painting from Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1993.” Take a glance at some of the filings; the US has filed a brief in support of the family, sticking to the technical FSIA issue, while B’Nai B’rith has highlighted the context.

Wednesday, Jan 19

FEC v. Ted Cruz for Senate is the first case today. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), in an attempt to limit corruption and appearances of corruption, requires campaigns to repay personal loans from candidates with pre-election funds and within 20 days of the election. In an apparent attempt to challenge that law, Ted Cruz loaned his campaign $260,000 on the day before the election, with $5,000 in personal funds and a $255,000 loan secured by his personal assets, and then the campaign failed to repay Cruz as required by BCRA. A three-judge panel in DC held “that the loan-repayment limit burdens political speech and thus implicates the protection of the First Amendment. Because the government has failed to demonstrate that the loan-repayment limit serves an interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption, or that the limit is sufficiently tailored to serve this purpose, the loan-repayment limit runs afoul of the First Amendment.” Take a look at that ruling and the amicus brief from the Brennan Center arguing that the panel got it wrong.

The last case this month is the Court’s first consideration of the First Step Act. In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act addressed disparities in sentences for crack versus powder cocaine, but those changes were not retroactive. Then the 2018 First Step Act provided that a court “may … impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act … were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.” This particular case has a number of complications, but it appears the Court wants to address a “Circuit split,” in which the Circuit courts have disagreed as to the level of resentencing consideration that is required (versus discretionary) under the First Step Act. It accepted cert. on “Whether, when deciding if it should ‘impose a reduced sentence’ on an individual under Section 404(b) of the First Step Act of 2018, a district court must or may consider intervening legal and factual developments.” I recommend reading the First Circuit decision and this interesting amicus brief from DC and 16 other states and territories arguing for an expansive reading of the First Step Act.

Nov 29 – Dec 8

All attention is on Wednesday, December 1, for Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. But this next block of arguments includes important Civil Rights Act and other issues as well, including a major religion clauses case the following Wednesday.

• Arguments start quite promptly at 10:00 and the easiest way to listen is to go to https://www.supremecourt.gov and click the “live audio” icon. I’ve noticed that if you try to launch the audio early, you’ll get an error right about 9:59; just refresh the page then. See this page for non-live options.

Monday, Nov 29

This is a technical issue involving calculations of medicare payments for hospitals with a large number of low-income patients. It won’t be easy to follow, so if interested, see Cornell Law’s thorough write-up here.

Tuesday, Nov 30

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act provides for damages in cases of unlawful discrimination by an entity that receives federal funds, and various other laws that prohibit discrimination incorporate that “remedies provision.” There is an open question about whether victims of discrimination can sue for emotional distress (or only other forms of damages) under that law. So the question presented today in Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C.: “Whether the compensatory damages available under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the statutes that incorporate its remedies for victims of discrimination, such as the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act, include compensation for emotional distress.”

The second case today, American Hospital Association v. Becerra, is a big one for people who care about judicial deference to administrative agencies — “1) Whether deference under Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council permits the Department of Health and Human Services to set reimbursement rates based on acquisition cost and vary such rates by hospital group if it has not collected adequate hospital acquisition cost survey data; and (2) whether petitioners’ suit challenging HHS’s adjustments is precluded by 42 U.S.C. § 1395l(t)(12).” If that’s you, then see this overview.

Wednesday, Dec 1 — abortion

This is the most high-profile case in this block of arguments — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involving Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks. There’s been so much attention to this case that there’s no sense in me trying to add anything, but I recommend reviewing the SCOTUSBlog overview before arguments. It’s the only case today, and scheduled for 70 minutes (but I’d expect well over 90).

Monday, Dec 6

Two technical issues today, not recommended for the casual observer. Hughes v. Northwestern University is an ERISA issue. Patel v. Garland involves federal court jurisdiction.

Tuesday, Dec 7

Just one case today, US v. Taylor, involving the federal law covering “interference with commerce by threats or violence.” “Whether 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(A)’s definition of ‘crime of violence’ excludes attempted Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a).” There are extremely important issues of how to interpret criminal statutes, but it won’t be easy for a casual observer to follow. If interested in these issues, take some time with the NACDL amicus brief.

Wednesday, Dec 8

An extremely important religion clauses case today, in Carson v. Makin. Over half the school districts in Maine do not operate a high school but instead provide funding for students to attend either public or private schools outside the state, but only at “nonsectarian” schools. You may recall that last year, the Court held that states that choose to subsidize private education cannot exclude religious schools from receiving funding simply because they are religious institutions. In upholding Maine’s system, the First Circuit distinguished that ruling (Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue), finding that Maine’s restriction was use-based rather than identity-based: the Maine law “does not bar schools from receiving funding simply based on their religious identity — a status that in and of itself does not determine how a school would use the funds that it receives to provide educational instruction.” The question presented today is “Whether a state violates the religion clauses or equal protection clause of the United States Constitution by prohibiting students participating in an otherwise generally available student-aid program from choosing to use their aid to attend schools that provide religious, or ‘sectarian,’ instruction.”

The final case in calendar year 2021 involves federal habeas appeals: Shinn v. Ramirez, “Whether application of the equitable rule the Supreme Court announced in Martinez v. Ryan renders the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which precludes a federal court from considering evidence outside the state-court record when reviewing the merits of a claim for habeas relief if a prisoner or his attorney has failed to diligently develop the claim’s factual basis in state court, inapplicable to a federal court’s merits review of a claim for habeas relief.”

October 2021 Arguments

The Court has not yet said how arguments will be conducted when it returns from summer recess on “First Monday,” October 4, for its 2021 term. There had been considerable speculation that it would return to in-person arguments, but that was before we saw the full impact of the Delta variant. I’ll update this page when I can, or check the Court’s page on covid announcements. edit: has now announced that although the public will not be allowed in the courtroom this calendar year, the arguments will be in-person with counsel and Justices in the courtroom, so presumably following the old style of questioning.

On the substance of argument options, Scotusblog has an interesting symposium; I fully agree with Lyle Dennison’s critique of the way arguments had been conducted by phone, although others at that symposium feel differently. See the link at the top of this page for “online access.”

Regardless of how the arguments will be conducted, there are some interesting and important cases in the first block of arguments. Highlights include the CIA state secrets privilege, an abortion case (although a preliminary procedural issue this month), and the Boston Marathon bomber’s death penalty appeal.

First Monday, October 4

The first case this term is the unusual case in which the Court has original jurisdiction — a dispute between states. That gives it a certain interest, but I’m afraid that anyone not invested in the dispute (or hydrogeology in general) might find it a bit less compelling than the typical Supreme Court argument. Mississippi v. Tennessee involves groundwater contained in the Middle Claiborne Aquifer; “Mississippi believes the City of Memphis is stealing its groundwater.” That’s the opening line from the Special Master’s report, which is a good place to start if you want to understand the dispute.

Next up is a criminal law case, Wooden v. U.S. The Armed Career Criminal Act provides for enhanced penalties for someone in illegal possession of a gun if they had “three previous convictions . . . committed on occasions different from one another.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). In this case, the defendant committed theft from 10 different units in a mini-storage facility. The Court has accepted cert. on “Whether offenses that were committed as part of a single criminal spree, but sequentially in time, were ‘committed on occasions different from one another’ for purposes of a sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act.” NACDL has an interesting amicus brief arguing that whether individual criminal acts are committed on the same “occasion” or not is a factual question that should be resolved by a jury rather than the judge.

Tuesday, October 5

Today’s first case involves federal habeas review of criminal convictions. Two important concepts for this case: “harmless error” and AEDPA’s “clearly established Federal law” standard. Harmless error means the trial court allowed something legally wrong to occur but the outcome would have been the same regardless. In this case, the defendant was shackled during trial, which the Michigan state courts agree was unconstitutional but found to be “harmless error.” The federal courts disagreed, noting that the defendant was claiming self-defense and being shackled might have made a juror less likely to believe that claim (so it was not harmless but rather may have prejudiced the jury). Michigan now says, even if the state court was wrong about harmless error, there needs to be a separate finding that the reasoning was contrary to clearly established Federal law. The Sixth Circuit says that question was “subsumed” in the harmless error analysis (failing to recognize prejudice to the defendant is, necessarily, contrary to clearly established law). There is a “circuit split” on this — several other federal courts of appeal have held that there needs to be a further finding beyond what the 6th Circuit said was sufficient to require a new trial. I’d suggest reading the 6th Circuit’s opinion.

Today’s second case, Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, is an interesting factual context: “Servotronics, which manufactured a valve used in a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 jet engine installed on a Boeing 787 aircraft, was a defendant in an arbitration proceeding that Rolls-Royce brought in London, England, seeking damages for an engine fire that occurred during a test flight of a Boeing 787 in the United States.” (That’s from the helpful scotusblog preview, which is a good place to start.) However, the legal question is one of technical civil procedure. There’s a federal statute that empowers federal courts to authorize subpoenas to support discovery in foreign “tribunal” proceedings; the question is whether that extends to foreign arbitration.

Wednesday, October 6

Just one case today, but it’s a big one — the CIA state-secrets privilege case, United States v. Zubaydah. Zubaydah currently is being held in Guantanamo, as an alleged former associate of bin Laden. Previously, he says he was tortured at a CIA dark site in Poland, and he “intervened” (became a party to) a criminal investigation by Polish authorities into the CIA operations there. Zubaydah wants to subpoena two CIA contractors. The CIA claimed “state secrets” as to all information he was seeking. The 9th Circuit held that some information was properly classified a state secret, but that certain information was subject to disclosure. This is definitely the shorthand version of all this — see this useful article for the full story, as well as the 9th Cir decision.

[The Court is closed on Monday, Oct. 11 for Columbus / Indigenous Peoples Day]

Tuesday, October 12

This is the first abortion case of the term, but on a preliminary procedural issue. Scotusblog has a succinct write-up:

The Kentucky dispute, Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, began as a challenge to a law that generally bans the use of the “dilation and evacuation” method to perform abortions, a procedure commonly employed during the second trimester of pregnancy. Kentucky’s health secretary initially defended the law in court, but declined to continue to do so after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit struck down the ban.

Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general, then asked the 6th Circuit for permission to join the case to defend the law, but the 6th Circuit rejected that request. Cameron appealed to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to weigh in on whether he should have been allowed to intervene. And if so, Cameron continued, the justices should also rule on whether the case should be sent back to the lower courts for another look after the Supreme Court’s decision last year in June Medical Services v. Russo, in which the justices struck down a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have the right to admit patients at a nearby hospital – but which, Cameron wrote, “undercuts” the 6th Circuit’s decision to invalidate the Kentucky law.

In a brief order on [March 29], the justices granted Cameron’s request to decide whether he should be allowed to join the case, but they turned down his request to weigh in on whether the case should go back to the 6th Circuit for reconsideration in light of June Medical. 

  • Amy Howe, Justices to decide whether Kentucky attorney general can defend abortion lawSCOTUSblog (Mar. 29, 2021)

The second case today, Hemphill v. New York, is factually complex and involves exceptions to the confrontation clause in a trial that resulted in a murder conviction. In general, the US Constitution’s confrontation clause requires that evidence against a defendant be introduced by a person who can be subjected to cross-examination. In this case, however, the defense counsel mentioned a prior proceeding against another individual in an attempt to suggest that someone else was the shooter. The trial judge ruled that this “opened the door” for the prosecution to introduce details of those proceedings that would otherwise be inadmissible (except through testimony of someone subject to cross-examination). See the NY Court of Appeals decision – and be sure to read the dissent – as well as this summary.

Wednesday, October 13

A big one today — the Boston Marathon bomber death penalty appeal, U.S. v. Tsarnaev. The Court’s cert. questions are clear enough:

Issue(s): (1) Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit erred in concluding that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capital sentences must be vacated on the ground that the district court, during its 21-day voir dire, did not ask each prospective juror for a specific accounting of the pretrial media coverage that he or she had read, heard or seen about Tsarnaev’s case; and (2) whether the district court committed reversible error at the penalty phase of Tsarnaev’s trial by excluding evidence that Tsarnaev’s older brother was allegedly involved in different crimes two years before the offenses for which Tsarnaev was convicted.

There will be a lot of attention on this case, and a lot of emotion. It’s worth reading the 1st Circuit opinion, which found that there were reversible errors in the death penalty proceedings and ordered a new trial on those counts only, noting “Because we are affirming the convictions (excluding the three § 924(c) convictions) and the many life sentences imposed on those remaining counts (which Dzhokhar has not challenged), Dzhokhar will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him.”

The last October argument is a complex question about Social Security benefit calculations, with an administrative deference kicker. I.e., it won’t be an easy one to follow for the casual observer…. Briefly, it has to do with workers who have some earnings that are “covered” (taxed and calculated in determining retirement benefits) and “uncovered.” The formula is set up so lower-income workers get a higher “return” on their SSA taxes when benefits are calculated. So someone with uncovered earnings as well might be treated as a low-wage worker even if they are not. The response is the “windfall elimination provision,” which in turn has various exceptions and complications. And this case asks “whether a civil service pension received for federal civilian employment as a ‘military technician (dual status)’ is ‘a payment based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service’ for the purposes of the Social Security Act’s windfall elimination provision.” See the 6th Cir. opinion for details.

Decision Days

With oral arguments concluded for the term, we can expect announcements of cases the Court will hear next term and decisions on the cases argued earlier this term. Orders granting or denying cert. are less predictable, but decisions will be announced beginning at 10am on Mondays (except cases that would be ready on Memorial Day will instead be announced on Tuesday) until the end of June. Edit: The Court has now designated Thursdays as decision days, in addition to Monday releases.

Before the pandemic, the Justices would take the bench on decision days. The author of the majority opinion would announce the holding, and sometimes a dissenting Justice would make a statement as well. Sadly, that is not happening this summer; there is no conference call with an accessible live-stream of decision announcements like there was for arguments.

Instead, watch the Court’s website beginning at 10am Mondays and Thursdays (and Tuesday, June 1). Decisions get posted on the front page, but if you’re actively watching for decisions, then it’s better to monitor this page. The decisions get posted 10 minutes apart and we don’t know in advance how many there will be. But when the “R number” column gets filled in on that page, you know they’re done for the day. (See the scotusblog blurb on R numbers for the details on why this works as an unofficial sign.)

There is no way to predict which cases will be released on any given decision day. Predictably, almost all cases heard in March or later are still unresolved as of this post (May 21), while we have decisions on nearly all the cases argued early in the term.

So it’s worth noting the outliers — a few important cases that were argued back in 2020 but have not been resolved yet. We might expect to see some of these decisions announced fairly soon. But on the other hand, sometimes the most high-profile cases don’t get released until the very last day of the term, perhaps because Justices are taking extra time to craft opinions and dissents. Still:

Of course, many significant and highly watched cases were not argued until the past few months, and some of those could well be decided before the above cases. I’m especially interested in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., involving student First Amendment rights, but it wasn’t argued until April 28. And the decision on the Voting Rights Act cases, argued March 2, could be extraordinarily significant. Lots of reasons to watch!

When all decisions are in, the Court will be in summer recess until the first Monday in October. I may make one more post next month, but this blog will largely go on break until it’s time for a post about the October 2021 calendar.

April cases

Several important SCOTUS cases in the next block — beginning Monday with a case about Native Alaskan Corporations and the CARES Act and closing the following week with big questions about student free speech.

Monday, April 19

First up are cases questioning whether Alaskan Native Corporations are “tribal governments” eligible for CARES Act funding. There’s a complicated history concerning Alaskan Native Americans. Briefly, the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act extinguished all land claims, eliminated all but one reservation, and established “corporations” that were eligible to receive federal and state funds and land. The DC Circuit observed that this was “an experimental model initially calculated to speed assimilation of Alaska Natives into corporate America.” Jumping ahead, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) set aside $8 billion “for making payments to Tribal governments.” 42 U.S.C. § 801(a)(2)(B). When Treasury began a process that would allow Alaskan Native Corporations to receive those funds, tribes in Alaska and the lower 48 sued to block disbursements. The DC Circuit agreed with the tribes, and that opinion is a good starting point to understand the details. Also see the various amici briefs from the Corporations, various tribes and tribal associations, Alaska, Sen. Murkowski, and a group of historians – all collected here. There are two cases, Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation and Alaska Native Village Corporation Association v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, consolidated for one hour of argument total.

Next up is Sanchez v. Mayorkas, an immigration case involving the relationship between Temporary Protective Status (TPS) and Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR) (sometimes called a “green card”). A prerequisite to LPR status is that the applicant was “inspected and admitted” into the U.S. 8 U.S.C. § 1255(a). The applicants here entered undocumented but a few years later obtained TPS after a series of earthquakes in El Salvador, and now argue that being granted TPS constitutes being “inspected and admitted.” The Third Circuit disagreed, which created a split with other circuits that had considered this question.

Tuesday, April 20

Two criminal procedure cases today, both involving the federal “felon in possession of a firearm” law (but not consolidated; separate arguments). In both U.S. v. Gary and Greer v. U.S., the plaintiffs pled guilty. When accepting a plea, the judge is required to explain what the prosecution would have to prove (the “elements” of the crime). The judge listed knowing possession of the firearm and previous conviction for a felony. But two years later, the Supreme Court in Rehaif v. United States clarified that conviction under this law requires knowledge that they were a felon. The cases raise issues concerning whether Rehaif announced a rule that is so fundamental as to require reversal of prior convictions as “plain error” and whether the court can look to evidence beyond the trial record in making those determinations.

[Wednesday’s cases involve technical patent law and appellate costs and are not recommended for the casual observer]

Monday, April 26

Important cases today bringing First Amendment challenges to laws that require charities to disclose their major donors on tax filings: Thomas More Law Center v. Rodriquez and Americans for Prosperity v. Rodriquez. See the Public Citizen summary and then the 9th Circuit decision.

Guam v. U.S. involves a fascinating factual context but will largely revolve around technical legal issues. In the 1940s, the U.S. Navy operated the Ordot Dump in Guam, and allegedly disposed of Agent Orange, DDT, and munitions there. In 1950, the Guam Organic Act formally transferred power from the United States to Guam’s newly formed civilian government. In the 1980s, the EPA focused on the Ordot Dump, initially involving the Navy but ultimately ordering Guam to clean it up. There was eventually a court settlement and, several years later, a lawsuit by Guam against the Navy under CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which creates the ability to sue for “cost-recovery” and “contribution.” The statute of limitations for “cost-recovery” and “contribution” are different, and which one Guam must rely on determines whether its case can proceed or is time-barred. The DC Circuit decision is probably the best place to start.

Tuesday, April 27

The second case today involves immigration law and procedural issues, which are nicely summed up by the opening of the 9th Circuit decision:

Refugio Palomar-Santiago is a Mexican national who was granted permanent resident status in the United States in 1990. In 1991, he was convicted of a felony DUI in California. In 1998, he received an Notice to Appear from the Immigration and Naturalization Service informing him that he was subject to removal because the DUI offense was classified as a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 16 and thus considered an aggravated felony for purposes of 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43). After a hearing before an IJ, Palomar-Santiago was deported on that basis. Three years later, the Ninth Circuit determined that the crime Palomar-Santiago was convicted of was not a crime of violence. United States v. Trinidad-Aquino, 259 F.3d 1140, 1146-47 (9th Cir. 2001). This determination applied retroactively. United States v. Aguilera-Rios, 769 F.3d 626, 633 (9th Cir. 2013).

By 2017, Palomar-Santiago was again living in the United States, this time without authorization. That year, a grand jury indicted him for illegal reentry after deportation under 8 U.S.C. § 1326. Palomar-Santiago moved to dismiss the indictment under 8 U.S.C. § 1326(d). Under § 1326(d), a district court must dismiss a § 1326 indictment if the defendant proves (1) he exhausted any administrative remedies that may have been available to seek relief against the order; (2) he was deprived of the opportunity for judicial review at the deportation hearing; and (3) that the deportation order was fundamentally unfair. 8 U.S.C. § 1326(d). However, a defendant need not prove the first two elements if he can show the crime underlying the original removal was improperly characterized as an aggravated felony and need not show the third element if he can show the removal should not have occurred.

Wednesday, April 28

An interesting and critically important case about student First Amendment rights is first, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. After making the JV instead of the varsity cheerleading team, a student posted a snapchat picture of herself captioned “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” She was suspended from the team, and sued. The Third Circuit noted that schools traditionally have had significant disciplinary discretion for on-campus activities only, with greater constitutional limits on control over off-campus activity; “[t]he digital revolution, however, has complicated that distinction.” That decision offers a useful survey of student speech cases, from Tinker through Morse (the “bong hits for Jesus” case). I’d also recommend the Student Press Law Center’s amicus brief. Really important questions about just what, if anything, is beyond the reach of school disciplinary policies.

[The last case this month is about FERC’s authority and not recommended to the casual observer.]