Unanimous Juries (and So Much More): Ramos v. Louisiana

In Ramos v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment requires a jury that convicts a defendant to do so unanimously—and that this requirement applies to the states. In the process, the Court struck down non-unanimous jury statutes in Louisiana and Oregon, and overruled Apodaca v. Oregon (1972). But Ramos was not your typical incorporation-doctrine case. References to Jim Crow and racial segregation were sprinkled throughout the case’s opinions; Justice Clarence Thomas wrote extensively on his incorporation philosophy; and, most interestingly, Justice Brett Kavanaugh penned a long, solo concurrence in which he laid out his opinion on stare decisis and when to overrule precedent. Here’s my analysis of Ramos v. Louisiana.

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Congress Walks the Plank: Allen v. Cooper

This past Monday, the Supreme Court in Allen v. Cooper struck down a 1990 Congressional statute that had allowed citizens to sue a state in federal court for copyright infringement. The case arose after a marine salvage company discovered the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s famous pirate ship, off the coast of North Carolina and recorded documentary footage of the discovery. When North Carolina published some of the footage in various media, the company sued the state for copyright infringement. The question before the Court was whether the Constitution gives Congress the power to rescind the states’ sovereign immunity from copyright infringement claims. Justice Kagan answered “no” with a 7:2 majority, leaving the company marooned. (For lovers of wordplay and maritime puns, this piece is for you.)

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The 2020 Census: Department of Commerce v. New York

In March of 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced his intention to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. A collective group of eighteen states, the District of Columbia, cities and local governments, and several non-governmental organizations filed suit, claiming that the Secretary’s decision violated the Enumeration Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, and certain provisions of the Census Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. On Thursday, June 27, on the final day of its October Term of 2018, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in the case. Here is my discussion of Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the Court in Department of Commerce v. New York.

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Crosses on Public Land: American Legion v. American Humanist Association

Only a few blocks from downtown Bladensburg, Maryland, towers a 32-foot-tall Latin cross. The “Peace Cross,” as it is called, has stood there since 1918, when residents of Prince George’s County sought to build a memorial commemorating the soldiers from that area who died in World War I. From 1925–1961, the local American Legion owned the cross, emblazoning its emblem on the cross’ center and placing a plaque at its base with the words “Valor,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” and “Devotion,” as well as the names of 49 fallen soldiers and a quote from President Woodrow Wilson. Since 1961, the Peace Cross has been under the ownership of the State of Maryland, who has used public funds for maintenance and upkeep when necessary. But in 2014, the American Humanist Association (among others) challenged the constitutionality of the Peace Cross, arguing it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The question must then be asked: Are they right?

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Double Jeopardy: Gamble v. United States

The Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause protects us against being charged and convicted of the same crime twice. But the Clause’s dual-sovereignty doctrine allows for successive prosecutions if conduct violates the laws of two separate sovereigns (i.e., state law and federal law). This term, in Gamble v. United States, the Supreme Court considered whether to jettison the dual-sovereignty doctrine as contrary to the Double Jeopardy Clause. On Monday, June 17, it declined to do so, a now-familiar decision in the Court’s 170-year-old Double Jeopardy Clause jurisprudence. Here is my review of Gamble v. United States.

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State Sovereign Immunity: Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt

There is a principle in the legal field called “stare decisis.” From Latin, it translates literally to “stand by what is decided.” In layman’s terms—and in law—it means that a court ought to apply the same reasoning as it did in a prior case, and ought to rule analogously to its earlier decisions in similar cases. It is not a set-in-stone policy that entertains no deviation; the Supreme Court has, throughout its history, overruled a few dozen of its decisions. Think of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, in which the Court held that racial segregation was constitutional, versus Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954, in which it held that racial segregation was unconstitutional. On Monday, the Court added one to that list, overruling one of its cases from 1979. While the subject matter of the case (state sovereign immunity) may sound anemic and technical, this Court’s demonstration—that it is not averse to overruling an earlier case—is anything but. For the ardent Court-watcher, you may remember that the question of whether the Court will overrule Roe v. Wade (the case in which the Court recognized a woman’s right to privacy in her desire to obtain an abortion) was omnipresent during the confirmation hearing of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. And while state sovereign immunity has virtually nothing to do with abortion, the five-member conservative bloc of the Court has now hinted that it is open to deviating from stare decisis. Here is my analysis of the Court’s decision on Monday in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt.

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The “Travel Ban”: Trump v. Hawaii

Entering the week of June 24, the Justices had yet to release decisions in six argued cases. With the release of only two such cases Monday morning (in which the Court left three highly-charged cases out to dry), it was evident that the Court would not conclude its term with a whimper. Indeed, the Justices did not fail to deliver on this notion, releasing opinions yesterday morning in National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra (No. 16-1140), a First Amendment challenge to California’s Reproductive FACT Act, and perhaps the most anticipated ruling of the term, Trump v. Hawaii (No. 17-965), the multi-faced challenge to President Trump’s “travel ban” proclamation from September of 2017.

After the Court’s release of its decision in National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra (see my review of the opinion here), Chief Justice Roberts announced that he had the decision in Trump v. Hawaii. By a 5:4 tally, the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s Proclamation No. 9645 of September 27, 2017, which restricted immigration of certain aliens from eight specific countries. This was the third iteration of the immigration order. For the Court, Roberts was joined by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch.Read More »

Compelled Speech: NIFLA v. Becerra

The Supreme Court is finishing its last dregs of this term’s coffee cup. In a (perhaps) somewhat overlooked case, the Court began yesterday morning’s session by issuing its decision in National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra (No. 16-1440), a “compelled speech” First Amendment case involving a challenge to California’s Reproductive FACT Act.

Beginning shortly after 10:00am EDT, the Court announced that, by a 5:4 margin, it had ruled for the plaintiffs in NIFLA v. Becerra, thus striking down the recent California law that required anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to prominently display notices on-site that give information about attaining, inter alia, low-cost or free abortions.Read More »