Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Supreme Court Preview Part Three — December (?) Arguments

As noted in Part One of this series, the Supreme Court has not yet announced its December argument schedule.  However, they have eleven cases that they have accepted for review and six argument dates in December.  While it is possible that the Supreme Court might postpone some of these cases to January, there are enough available argument slots in December to hear all of the cases currently on the argument docket.

Looking at the cases accepted, there are the three cases from last January that have been postponed to December (discussed more below).  In addition from the cases accepted in June, there are two re-districting cases, an intellectual property case, a bankruptcy case, a capital punishment case, an anti-trust case involving credit cards, an immigration case, and a federal criminal case.   The contentiousness of these eleven cases might result in some of these cases being pushed even further back in the hope that a ninth justice might arrive this term.

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Supreme Court Preview Part Two: October and November Arguments

Officially, the annual term of the Supreme Court begins on the first Monday in October.  This year, due to Rosh Hashanah falling on that date, arguments for the year will begin on October 4.  Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court released the argument calendar for October (eight cases over three days) and November (ten arguments over six days).  As noted in Part One, the Supreme Court seems to be postponing the cases most likely to be decided 4-4 for as long as possible in the hopes of getting a ninth Justice soon.  That does not mean, however, that there are no cases of potential significance in these two months.

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Supreme Court Preview (Part One): Eight is Not Enough

Time for the annual Supreme Court preview.  When we last left the eight, they had punted several significant cases on a 4-4 tie or with very narrow decisions that avoided the main issue in the case.  They had also only granted review on twenty-nine cases for the fall.   The delay in filling the vacancy was clearly causing problems.

Summer at the Supreme Court tends to be quiet.  Most of the summer work is internal.  Parties file the briefs for the fall cases and petitions for review on new cases and responses to those petitions.  The justices and law clerks spend most of their time reading these materials with the clerks writing memorandums summarizing the petitions for the justices and discussing the cases to be heard in the fall with their own justice.  The big actions during the summer are decisions on stay applications and the release of the argument schedule for the fall.

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Supreme Court — End of Term

The Supreme Court recessed for the summer after their last conference (the wrap-up conference) on Monday afternoon.  After the order from that conference was issued on Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court has filled twenty-nine of the thirty argument slots for the fall.  (A little below average as they normally have some carry-over for the January argument session. )

Monday featured three significant opinions — the Texas abortion case, Governor McDonnell’s corruption case, and an interesting case involving gun control and domestic violence.  These cases saw some interesting combinations of Justices as very different judicial philosophies combine to reach the same result.

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Affirmative Action Survives — Barely

On Thursday, in a rather surprising turn of events, the Supreme Court upheld the admission policy of the University of Texas at Austin against a complaint that it unconstitutionally favored African-Americans.  This decision is surprising both because of the outcome, but also because of who wrote the opinion.

The basics of admission at UT is that the first cut of admissions comes from the “top 10%” program.  If you go to high school in Texas and finish in the top 10% of your school and want to go to UT, you are automatically accepted (actually due to the cap on the number of admissions under this program, it is now closer to a top 7% program).  This part of the admissions process fills about 75% of the slots.  If you are home schooled, or out-of-state, or finish outside the top ten percent (whether that is 4th out of a graduation class of 30 or 150th out of a graduating class of 160), you have to compete based on a combination of your academic index (your GPA plus SAT score) and your “personal achievement index” (a score based on the admission essay, extracurricular activities, demonstrated leadership, and other factors with race being one of the other factors).    Because race can impact the personal achievement factor, a white student who did not qualify under the top 10% program challenged her failure to make it under this second admissions process, claiming that it violated the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment.

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Supreme Court — 2015-16 Term — Two Weeks to Go (Updated 6-20)

While the Supreme Court does not have a hard and fast rule on when it recesses for the summer, traditionally the Supreme Court tries to issue opinions in all the outstanding cases before July 4.  As a result, the last part of June typically sees the media remembering that we have a Supreme Court as major decisions pour out of the court in a flood during this time of year.  It’s not that the Justices intentionally save the major cases until the end, but rather that these cases are the ones that are most likely to go back and forth with drafts and counter-drafts until the deadline for resolving the cases hits.

This year, there are thirteen cases left to be decided.  The Supreme Court has actually been making decent progress over the past month — having gone to two opinion days per week two weeks ago and issuing eleven opinions over the past two weeks.  While the Supreme Court will not announce additional opinion days for this week until after issuing opinions on Monday, it is likely that there will be at least one more opinion day (and maybe two more opinion days) later this week.  Of the remaining thirteen cases, three or four of them have major political implications.

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A Divided Court(?)

This week at the United States Supreme Court saw eight opinions in the argued cases (leaving 28 cases still to be decided).  The actual opinions raise questions about the ability of the Supreme Court to function with only eight justices.   Since the actual discussions between justices occur in private, it is hard to tell whether the decisions reflect divisions on the merits or just a tendency to only decide what absolutely needs to be decided.  However, in several cases this week, the Supreme Court — having taken review on a broad issue — issued a very narrow decision sending the case back to the lower court to re-examine the broad issue.

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Supreme Court: First Amendment and Politics

The Supreme Court ended the argument portion of its term this week.  After taking its last two week recess, the remainder of this term will be about attempting to issue opinions in the argued cases.  The question remains how many of these cases will end up in 4-4 split or be rescheduled for reargument in 2017.   Both this week’s one opinion and the last argument of the term had a strong First Amendment component.

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Supreme Court — Immigration and Redistricting

This past week was the first week of the April argument session — the third since the death of Justice Scalia and the last of this term.  Next week will be the last three argument days of the term (with the last argument concerning the conviction of Former Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia — with the primary issue being which type of  “favors” by a government official will support a conviction under the statutes involved).  After Wednesday, the remainder of the term will be issuing opinions and accepting cases for next term.  This week was bookended by two cases of interest to the issues covered by this site.  On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on President Obama’s decision to defer deportation of certain unauthorized immigrants.  On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued its opinion on the Arizona redistricting plan.

The issues in the case challenging the President’s immigration policy falls into three categories:  1) do the States have “standing” (the right to bring the case); 2) was the policy guidance the type of the decision that had to go through the formal notice and comment procedures of the Administrative Procedure Act (the rules governing the issuance of formal regulations); and 3) are some elements of the policy so contrary to immigration law as to constitute a violation of those laws rather than the operation of executive discretion in the enforcement of the law).  As shown by the transcript of the argument, the majority of the argument focused on the issue of standing.

Standing is a key concept in the law tied to the constitutional requirement that courts only decide “cases and controversies.”  The basic principle is that a person can only file a law suit if they are in some way “injured” by the action that they are challenging.  Thus, while you might not like the microbrewery in your town selling out to a big conglomerate, you do not have standing to challenge that merger unless you own stock in one of the two or can somehow demonstrate how that sale effects a legally-recognized interest that you have.  Traditionally, states have a right to sue on things that adversely impact their governmental interests, but do not have the right to sue because the voters of their state disagree with a decision.  When multiple parties join together in a case, the case can continue as long as one of them has standing.  In recent years, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court have taken a narrow view of standing — one of the many doctrines that conservatives have used to keep cases out of court. Continue Reading...

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Redistricting & Equal Protection

Today, before taking the next to last recess of the term, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Evanwel vs. Abbott.  This case involved an attempt by some Texas Republicans to challenge the use of total population in redistricting.  Instead, the petitioners wanted the Supreme Court to hold that the Equal Protection Clause required states to use some measure of voting population (a measure that would presumably exclude children, non-citizens, and those ineligible to vote for some other reason).

All eight justices rejected this attempt to change the law, but the three opinions in this case were vastly different.  Six justices — in an opinion written by Justice Ginsburg — held that total population was a permissible measure while suggesting that other measures were, at the very least, questionable.  Justice Alito (joined in part by Justice Thomas) while acknowledging that a state could choose to use total population questioned any suggestion that total population was a legally preferred measurement.  Finally, Justice Thomas (writing only for himself) questioned the last fifty years of case law holding that courts had any right to require states to draw districts in roughly equal size in the absence of evidence of discriminatory intent.

The positive side from this opinion is that the attempt of Texas Republicans to exclude large segments of the minority community from counting in the drawing of district lines failed.  The negative side is that there were not five justices to say that the alternative measures proposed by Republicans were not constitutionally permissible.  It is almost certain that some Republicans around the country will attempt to amend state laws to allow them to use these alternative measures.  Hopefully, by that time, we will have a majority on the Supreme Court willing to enforce all of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act and to look behind this facially race-neutral proposal to see the actual discriminatory intent.

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