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.”
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 Supreme Court issued a single opinion today. Wilkins v. United States concerns a property rights dispute between the federal government and two owners of land near the Bitterroot National Forest in rural Montana to which the government claims an easement that, it argues, includes public access, which the petitioners dispute. They, therefore, sued the government under the Quiet Title Act (the “Act”), which allows challenges to the United States’ rights in real property. The government moved to dismiss on the ground that the petitioners’ claim is barred by the Act’s 12-year statute of limitations. See 28 U. S. C. §2409a(g). The issue before the Court was whether the time bar is jurisdictional or, as the Court held in a 6-3 decision, a nonjurisdictional claims-processing rule.
The Supreme Court decided two cases today, and though neither of them presents the sort of widely consequential matter that, say, the President's student loan forgiveness plan that was argued this morning does, each has interesting aspects. Both are decided on the now-vogueish doctrine of textualism, though each shows divisions among the Justices that prove again that not only can Justices who have differing jurisprudential philosophies agree with one another as to statutory meaning, but that Justices with the same jurisprudential philosophy can disagree with one another on text as well. Thus, while there are cases, like Dobbs, where one might accurately predict the outcome on the basis of philosophy or alignment with the preferences of the President who nominated various Justices, there is a host of cases where labels don't hold up at all.
The Court has broken the logjam of pending opinions, rendering three decisions today, one of which, dealing with the issue of when overtime pay is mandated under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), might have a broader effect. So, let's start with that one: Helix Energy Solutions Group, Inc. v. Hewitt.
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.
On June 15, the Court decided five cases and dismissed a sixth. A case of great importance to health care lawyers, regarding the availability of judicial review of Medicare rates for pharmaceuticals, and another of great importance to labor and employment lawyers, holding that a significant portion of the California Private Attorneys General Act's (PAGA’s) delegation of state enforcement power is preempted by federal law, lead the pack.
The Court has had a busy day, having decided cases of significance to litigators and interest groups, but none is the blockbuster decision in societally divisive matters that the general public has been awaiting. In short, this is a business-as-usual day, with opinions sometimes showing broad consensus on the Court, but with some not-unexpected dissents.
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.
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.
On a single evening, William Dale Wooden went on a spree, burglarizing 10 units in the same storage facility. The question resolved in the Supreme Court’s somewhat unanimous decision in Wooden v. United States is whether, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(1) (ACCA), Wooden’s prior convictions were for offenses occurring on different “occasions,” because the burglary of each unit happened at a distinct point in time, rather than simultaneously. All of the Justices (Kagan, J., writing the definitive majority opinion) agreed that the answer is “no.” Convictions arising from a single criminal episode can only count once under ACCA.
The Court has decided two important cases today, United States v. Zubaydah, upholding the government’s assertion of the state secrets privilege and rejecting the al Qaeda terrorist leader’s discovery request for information concerning his torture by the CIA, and Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C., allowing the intervention of the Kentucky attorney general to assume the defense of the state’s abortion law after the official who had been defending the law decided not to seek further review. Both cases are, at root, about significant issues of public interest and policy—the torture of terrorists and restrictive abortion policies—but neither opinion resolves any such question. Indeed, the lessons learned from each of these cases are essentially procedural, and though the outcomes are determined by significant margins, the alliances of Justices on the multiple opinions published are also instructive.
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 ...
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