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.
Coming off the decisions in the landmark Dobbs and Bruen cases, the rest of the term might seem anticlimactic. Nevertheless, as the shelf is being cleared of the remaining cases, there are still rulings of significance to come. As the week opened, one of them—a religious freedom case—likely didn't surprise anyone who listened to the oral argument or, indeed, who has been paying attention to the conservative Justices having changed the valences in religious liberty cases. The other two cases decided on the opening day of the week were both criminal cases of limited interest, but important nevertheless.
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.
The Court has started the week with three decisions emphasizing textual readings, two of them unanimous and a third drawing Justice Kagan into the majority with the Court’s six nominal jurisprudential conservatives.
Further evidencing an ongoing shift from more absolutist thinking about the intersection between the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and an individual's or group's right of free speech, we find this morning's unanimous decision in Shurtleff v. Boston in which the Court, reversing the First Circuit, held that the city of Boston violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment when it refused to let a group fly a Christian flag outside city hall. As Justice Breyer explained, in what will be among the last of his opinions:
Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C. is a very important case for employment and benefits practitioners. The Court, divided 6-3 along conservative/liberal lines, has held that emotional distress damages are not recoverable in a private action to enforce either the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Affordable Care Act. In fact, the case affects potential results under four statutes that Congress has enacted pursuant to its Spending Clause authority that prohibit recipients of federal funds from discriminating with respect to matters including race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age. See Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI, 42 U. S. C. §2000d; Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title IX, 20 U. S. C. §1681; Rehabilitation Act of 1973, §504, 29 U. S. C. §794; Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), §1557, 42 U. S. C. §18116. The Court previously held that victims of intentional violations of these statutes may bring private lawsuits seeking to recover, among other things, compensatory damages. Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U. S. 60, 76 (1992). Today, the Court holds that the damages available under these statutes cannot include compensation for emotional suffering.
There has been a good deal of recent attention given to the Supreme Court's so-called "shadow docket," a term that refers generally to the Court's (conservative majority's) issuing brief orders and unsigned opinions resolving procedural motions in a way that effectively disposes of cases, but without their having been fully briefed and argued.
I write this from London on the eve of the announcement that the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed Justice Breyer is about to go to the full Senate for confirmation. Those who follow my writings will know that I am among a group of right-of-center former public officials in Republican administrations who are on record as supporting this nomination of an experienced and well-qualified federal judge.
The Court has decided the latest in a series of important cases interpreting the reach of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U. S. C. §§ 1 et seq.
On March 31, in Badgerow v. Walters, by an 8-1 majority (opinion written by Justice Kagan, and a lone dissent by Justice Breyer), the Court reversed an order of the Fifth Circuit and held that the federal courts do not have authority to “look through” an arbitration dispute for a federal question that would establish jurisdiction to confirm or deny an arbitral award.
Our colleague Stuart Gerson of Epstein Becker Green has a new post on SCOTUS Today that will be of interest to our readers: "The Justices Show Again That They Are Not Politicians in Robes."
The following is an excerpt:
A short note about the Supreme Court’s decision today in Borden v. United States, in which it considered whether a felon-in-possession gun charge qualified as a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“Act”), 18 U. S. C. §924, which provides enhanced penalties for criminals convicted of certain firearms offenses who have at least ...
- Inconsistent Verdicts Don’t Negate Double Jeopardy in Blocking Murder Case Retrial - SCOTUS Today
- Uniform Law Commission to Draft Uniform or Model Act Addressing Disclosure Requirements in Commercial Financing Transactions
- A Big Day at the Court, with a Few Small, Unanimous Decisions - SCOTUS Today
- New Jersey Becomes Most Recent State to Sign a Comprehensive Consumer Privacy Law
- New York’s Highest Court Clarifies Law on “Relation Back” and Statute of Limitations