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.
At the outset, this week looked as if it’d be a quiet one; no opinions were expected, and oral arguments wrapped up a few weeks ago. Even this week’s orders list turned out as unremarkable as any. But a series of emergency, coronavirus-related petitions wound up in the Court’s hands. All told, the Court issued rulings on four such petitions, culminating in a 1:00am, Saturday morning decision to reject a California church’s assertion that the state’s stay-at-home orders discriminate against houses of worship (a decision made on a 5:4 vote). So while Court-watchers expected this to be the last “dead-week” before the Court’s term concludes in July, it turned out to be anything but.
President Trump’s tax returns? Check. “Faithless” members of the Electoral College? Yep. Whether half of Oklahoma is actually Native American land? Check that one too. And the Establishment Clause’s “ministerial” exception? You got it. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week on all of these issues, rounding out what was perhaps the biggest argument week of the term (and also the Court’s last). Given the stature of these cases, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice the Court also released one decision this week (it was pretty innocuous). Here’s a recap of the action at our nation’s highest court this past week.
The Supreme Court generated a bevy of headlines this week, all for very different reasons. The Court issued two unanimous decisions: In Kelly v. United States, it vacated the fraud convictions of two state officials in the 2013 Bridgegate scandal who caused a traffic fubar by shutting down two lanes of the George Washington Bridge for a few days. And in United States v. Sineneng-Smith, the Court rebuked the Ninth Circuit for abusing its judicial discretion after it wrested control of a criminal case from the parties involved. Meanwhile, the Court heard its first-ever telephonic oral arguments this week. Surprisingly, the project went down quite swimmingly—save for a few mic snafus and the distinctive sound of a toilet flush. Here’s your brief for the week of May 4.
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. March and April oral arguments have been postponed, 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.
This week saw a lighter load for the Justices. They issued one opinion (from Justice Sotomayor) in a case that blends maritime and contract law and released an orders list in which they added one case to next term’s docket. Oral arguments that had been scheduled for this week did not take place, postponed out of caution for the health and safety of the Court’s employees. The Court also announced further changes in light of COVID-19: Oral arguments scheduled for the April sitting have been postponed too. The Court stated it will consider rescheduling some cases from the March and April sittings toward the end of June, but only “if circumstances permit in light of public health and safety guidance at that time.” Otherwise, it will be looking at a stunted oral argument calendar and a lengthy layover until O.T. 2020. Here’s your brief for the week of March 30.
Editor’s Note: In light of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Supreme Court is closed to the public. The building will remain open for official business only. March oral arguments are postponed indefinitely, and filing deadlines for petitions are extended. The Justices are conducting their private conferences remotely. Orders and Opinions are still being issued as scheduled, but the Justices will not take the bench.
Regrettably, the headlines from the Supreme Court this week did not come from opinions or cert grants; they came from the Court’s adjustments in response to the spread of COVID-19. The Justices announced that oral arguments scheduled for the next two weeks are postponed indefinitely. Some of the cases affected include the two over President Trump’s tax records, a blockbuster copyright dispute, and a First Amendment and a Fourth Amendment case. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court building has been closed to the public; the Justices are holding their conferences over the phone; and filing deadlines for attorneys have been extended sizably. In these unprecedented circumstances, here is a recap of the Court’s response this week to the worsening public health crisis.