A 6-3 Court, sharply divided along conservative and liberal jurisprudential lines, has decided the two headlining cases involving affirmative action in university admissions: Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College gets top billing, perhaps relating to the alumni status of several Justices, but the decision also resolves the case of Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina.
June 30th is the nominal last day of the Supreme Court's current term. The Court began the day with the long-awaited decision in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, another 6-3 jurisprudentially ideological split in which, per Justice Gorsuch, the Court holds that the First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees. As was the situation with yesterday's affirmative action cases, it is hard to tell whether the majority and the dissenters (Justice Sotomayor writing their opinion) are speaking about the same case. The majority views this as a clear case of forced speech. To the dissenters, this is no more than a matter of requiring conduct—the sale of services—on the basis of equality. Thus, Justice Gorsuch opines, “Colorado seeks to force an individual to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience about a matter of major significance.” As Justice Sotomayor sees it, ”[t]oday, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.”
Of the four cases decided today, the one that likely pertains to the largest number of this blog’s readers is Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice Kavanaugh, who wrote for himself, the Chief Justice, and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Barrett. Interestingly, Justice Thomas largely joined Justice Jackson’s dissenting opinion.
With four decisions today, the Court has now cut its backlog down to the mid-teens. And with decisions likely tomorrow as well, the Court is well on its way to clearing the docket as the term ends.
Continuing the issuance of opinions as to which the Justices are largely of one mind, the Court today handed down three decisions. Each gives important guidance to litigators on both sides of the ball. The first of these is a unanimous opinion settling the hotly debated question of whether intent under the federal False Claims Act (FCA) is a subjective or objective matter. It is the former. The second decision, also unanimous, clarified what a plaintiff must plead and prove to establish securities fraud regarding a stock offering through a direct listing. The third case offers a lone dissent over a majority and concurring opinions rejecting a labor union’s argument that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) preempts a state court tort action concerning workers sabotaging a company’s concrete trucks.
The Supreme Court issued no fewer than six opinions on Thursday, May 18, addressing questions including whether an internet platform might be held liable as an aider and abettor of terrorist activity, and whether Andy Warhol’s famous alterations of photos of the artist known as Prince violated the copyright of an almost-as-famous photographer.
On Wednesday, April 19, the Court decided three cases that are interesting and instructive in following how the Justices, both nominal liberals and conservatives, attempt to apply textual methodology in assessing jurisdictional prerequisites, though not always reaching unanimous results.
The Court has now delivered its final two decisions of the term, one of them of great consequence to administrative law. With adjournment comes the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer and the swearing-in of his successor, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, his former clerk, who is expected to be a dependable member of the Court’s liberal jurisprudential wing. All in all, a day of significance.
With his retirement to begin on June 30 at noon, Justice Breyer leads a 5-4 split in Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, with the Chief Justice and Justice Kavanaugh, along with Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, joining him in holding that, by virtue of the states having ratified the Constitution, they agreed that their sovereignty would yield to the national power to raise and support the Armed Forces. Accordingly, Congress may exercise this national power to authorize private damages suits against nonconsenting states. Congress did just that when it passed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which gives returning servicemembers the right to reclaim their prior jobs with state employers, and authorizes suit if those employers refuse to accommodate veterans’ service-related disabilities. See 38 U. S. C. § §4301 et seq.
The day after the Gallup organization reported that public confidence in the Supreme Court has reached new lows, the Court has added what, to many, will be more fuel to that fire. The long-awaited, hotly contested, and divisive opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization has officially come down and, given reactions to the premature release of a draft of Justice Alito's majority opinion, the public's expectations on both sides of the abortion debate have been realized.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen is the long-awaited New York gun licensing decision that has been hotly debated since its filing. Especially in light of recent school shootings, that debate is likely to intensify now that the case has been decided. As many predicted, the decision, overturning the state’s statute, provides a stark split between the Court’s predominant conservatives and its liberals.
I'm currently in the wilds of Alaska, learning about the training of sled dogs. Nevertheless, word of the Supreme Court's five most recent decisions has traveled northward. While none of these decisions is earthshaking, they are not uninteresting or unimportant, especially to those like health care and employee benefits lawyers.
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