The Supreme Court’s term has now come to a close. The Court decided its last seven cases this week, capturing headlines and filling margins across the country. It handed President Trump an 0-1-1 record on his tax returns, ruling against him on the New York subpoena and sending the Congressional subpoena back to the lower court. It ruled that, for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act, the vast majority of eastern Oklahoma is Creek “Indian country” (yes, you read that right). It ruled against “faithless electors.” It rejected a procedural challenge to the Trump administration’s new religious exemptions to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. And it struck down an exception to the federal ban on robocalls. At the center of it all was Chief Justice John Roberts, now the Court’s anchor and swing Justice, who voted with the majority in 58 of the term’s 60 cases (a 97% clip). Here is your final weekly brief for O.T. 2019.
For the first time since 1996, the Supreme Court’s term has officially extended into the month of July. The Court decided five cases this week, touching on abortion, free speech, religious liberty, administrative agencies, and copyright law. It also added four cases to next term’s docket, one of which concerns the release of grand jury materials from Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Here’s a recap of the Court’s busy week.
This week was relatively quiet, especially as the Court nears the end of its term. The Justices decided just two cases: Liu v. SEC (an arcane securities law case) and DHS v. Thuraissigiam (challenging asylum denials in court). They didn’t grant any new cases. Court-watchers enjoyed a brief lull after the tumultuous Title VII and DACA decisions last week, but that lull won’t last long. We’re the unguarded tree in the photo above, facing an impending deluge of 13 major decisions to be handed down over the next few weeks. So as we await the Court’s decisions in matters concerning abortion, Trump’s tax returns, religious liberty, Obamacare, free speech, and the Electoral College (among others), there’s just one thing to say: I hope you enjoyed the calm before the storm.
“Oyez, oyez, oyez!“That is the Marshal’s call, signaling to all that the Supreme Court is in session. Even though the Court is not meeting in person, the Oyezs this week rang loud and clear. The Court handed down two of the term’s biggest decisions. On Monday, Justice Neil Gorsuch held for a six-Justice majority that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlaws workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And on Thursday, Chief Justice Roberts held for a five-Justice majority that the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it sought to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “DACA.” Beyond these firecrackers, the Court also set off some streamers in its Monday orders list, denying a host of high-profile petitions concerning gun rights, qualified immunity, and “sanctuary” laws. In an ordinary week, the Supreme Court’s presence is not felt around the country. But this was no ordinary week. The Court made its mark—starting with Justice Gorsuch.
Disclaimer: No, none of the Supreme Court’s proceedings this week had anything to do with baseball. However, the Court did decide a civil procedure case involving a certain provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act called the “three strikes” rule. Hence the image and title. Additionally, the Court added an immigration case to next term’s docket, and Justice Sotomayor wrote a short statement expressing alarm at the Eleventh Circuit’s habeas proceedings. Here’s your weekly brief about the Supreme Court.
Pop quiz: Can U.S. citizens sue other countries in U.S. courts? Answer: Yes. There are a few exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which otherwise shields foreign countries from suits in state or federal court. Next question: Which of these exceptions did Congress create in 1996? Answer: The terrorism exception. U.S. citizens who are victims of terrorist attacks can sue a foreign state that (1) participated in or assisted the perpetrators of the attack and (2) has been designated a state-sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department. Third question: Can a plaintiff suing under the terrorism exception seek punitive damages against the foreign country? Answer: Yes. Congress in 2008 listed punitive damages as a possible award for such plaintiffs. Final question: Can plaintiffs who brought a terrorism suit before 2008 still seek punitive damages? In other words, did Congress intend the punitive-damages provision to apply retroactively? Well, this was the very question the Supreme Court answered this week in Opati v. Republic of Sudan. Read on to find out.
The Supreme Court handed down three decisions this week, each one consequential in its own regard. In the only Second Amendment case of the term, six Justices found the case to be, well, no longer a case—in other words, they dismissed it as moot and didn’t opine on the Second Amendment implications (see my in-depth analysis of the decision here [forthcoming]). Next, the Court slapped Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services on the wrist—along with a $12 billion tab due private insurers. Finally, a 5:4 majority barred legislators from copyrighting annotations they write to state laws. Here’s your brief for the week of April 27.
Editor’s Note: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court remains closed to the public. The building is open for official business only. Some March and April oral arguments have been rescheduled for teleconference in May, and filing deadlines for petitions have been extended. The Justices are conducting their private conferences remotely. Orders and opinions continue to be issued as scheduled, but the Justices will not take the bench.
The Supreme Court is entering a Brave New World (putting aside Aldous Huxley’s unnerving depictions of a utopian future). On Monday, the Court announced that it will hear oral arguments via teleconference in ten cases that had originally been postponed due to COVID-19. In the process, the Court will make the argument’s audio live to the entire American public for the first time in history. This week’s brief is short, but it details the Court’s symbolic gesture.
The Justices returned from their holiday break for a busy week on the bench. The Court issued two opinions: a unanimous one from Justice Ginsburg in a bankruptcy case, and a unanimous per curiam one in an ERISA case. The Court added eight cases to this term’s docket and another case for next term. And the Justices heard five hours of oral argument, including in the high-profile “Bridge-gate” case from 2013. Here’s your brief for the Week of January 13.
Thanksgiving came early this week at the Supreme Court. The Justices issued their first decision of the term, a per curiam opinion in a campaign finance case. We also saw three opinions relating to Monday’s orders list: Justice Alito dissented from a denial of cert in a First Amendment defamation case, Justice Kavanaugh called for a revisitation of the Court’s nondelegation doctrine, and Justice Sotomayor seemed unnerved by a bizarre case of judicial bias out of Arkansas. The Justices also issued a temporary stay in one of President Trump’s tax returns cases. All this to start off the week of the best meal of the year—perhaps the Justices wanted to get their official work done in order to focus on food prep. At any rate, here’s a recap of what happened at the Supreme Court this week.