Fides et ratio, or “faith and reason,” was the penultimate encyclical of Pope John Paul II. He argued that faith and reason do—and must—go hand in hand. Doubtless, among those who would agree with this principle are the Montana parents who sued in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue to send their children to parochial schools after winning tax-credit-funded scholarships. At first, the parents lost; the Montana Supreme Court invalidated the entire scholarship program. Last week, however, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision by a 5:4 vote, concluding that it violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to strike down the program under a version of the Blaine Amendment in the Montana state constitution. Here’s my analysis.
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.
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.
Earth Day was Wednesday, April 22. So it was only fitting that the Supreme Court decided its first environmental law cases of the term—two of them, in fact. One dealt with the process for cleaning up “Superfund” sites, and the other with point source pollution permits under the Clean Water Act. But the Court didn’t stop there; four more decisions were handed down: a landmark Sixth Amendment case, for which I wrote an in-depth analysis here; a complex immigration law case, for which you might need multiple cups of coffee and an abacus; and two intellectual property law cases, which, with all due respect, might be best read if you’re trying to fall asleep. Here’s your recap for the week of April 20.
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.
Another busy, routine week for the Nine. The Justices decided two, admittedly-soporific cases. One concerned the statute of limitations in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and the other required interpreting the attorney’s fees provision in the federal Patent Act. The Court concluded its December sitting by hearing oral argument in six cases, including a momentous Affordable Care Act case with nearly $12 billion at stake. The Justices also granted all three of President Trump’s tax returns cases, and Justice Sotomayor penned two opinions relating to denials of cert. Here’s your recap for the week of December 9.
With no cases scheduled for oral argument this week and no decisions yet, I almost expected the Court’s week to be relatively placid. Wrong prediction. President Trump has now steered both of his tax returns cases to the Supreme Court. (I’ll be writing a little post about these cases in the next few days.) Chief Justice Roberts temporarily stayed a mandate from the D.C. Circuit—which had directed Mazars, LLP to turn over Trump’s tax documents to two committees of the U.S. House of Representatives—to allow the full Court time to read both parties’ briefs and consider ways to deal with the tax return cases. In addition, we saw an opinion from Justice Sotomayor dissenting from a denial of cert, a cert grant for a lawsuit between three Muslim men and a number of FBI agents, and a press release about Justice Ginsburg’s health. Here’s your brief for the week of November 18.
After the furor of the first two weeks of the Court’s term, the week of October 21 was markedly more placid. The Justices did not hear oral argument in any merits cases and predictably did not issue any decisions yet in argued cases. We do have the first opinion of the term, but it’s only an opinion relating to one of the Court’s orders on Monday. On a separate note, while the Justices didn’t garner many headlines in the courtroom, Justice Ginsburg grabbed the spotlight on Wednesday night for being awarded a very prestigious prize by the Berggruen Institute. So after a quiet week for the Justices (or for eight of them, at least), here’s your quick brief for the week of October 21.