Faithless no more! said the Supreme Court in Chiafalo v. Washington on Monday. The Court unanimously held that the Constitution allows a state to force its members of the Electoral College to vote according to that state’s popular vote. The case arose during the 2016 presidential election when three of Washington’s electors voted “faithlessly.” Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won Washington’s 12 electoral votes, and each of Washington’s 12 electors had pledged to cast their votes for Clinton. But when the time came, three of the twelve violated their pledges, casting their votes for Colin Powell. Washington promptly removed the three electors from their posts and find each $1,000. The electors challenged their fines, claiming that the Constitution allows them to vote however they please. The Court rejected that claim, giving us all a bit more faith in our constitutional republic.
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.
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.
“Oyez, oyez, oyez!“That is the Marshal’s call, signaling to all that the Supreme Court is in session. Even though the Court is not meeting in person, the Oyezs this week rang loud and clear. The Court handed down two of the term’s biggest decisions. On Monday, Justice Neil Gorsuch held for a six-Justice majority that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlaws workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And on Thursday, Chief Justice Roberts held for a five-Justice majority that the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it sought to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “DACA.” Beyond these firecrackers, the Court also set off some streamers in its Monday orders list, denying a host of high-profile petitions concerning gun rights, qualified immunity, and “sanctuary” laws. In an ordinary week, the Supreme Court’s presence is not felt around the country. But this was no ordinary week. The Court made its mark—starting with Justice Gorsuch.
Disclaimer: No, none of the Supreme Court’s proceedings this week had anything to do with baseball. However, the Court did decide a civil procedure case involving a certain provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act called the “three strikes” rule. Hence the image and title. Additionally, the Court added an immigration case to next term’s docket, and Justice Sotomayor wrote a short statement expressing alarm at the Eleventh Circuit’s habeas proceedings. Here’s your weekly brief about the Supreme Court.
This week, the Supreme Court decided five cases. In Financial Oversight & Mgmt. Bd. for Puerto Rico v. Aurelius Investment, it held that appointments to the board overseeing Puerto Rico’s financial recovery were constitutional. In Banister v. Davis, it concluded that a defendant’s motion under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not count as a “second or successive” habeas petition. In Nasrallah v. Barr, it determined that 8 U.S.C. §1252(a)(2)(C) does not cabin federal appellate courts’ jurisdiction over factual challenges to a finding of removal under the Convention Against Torture. In Thole v. U.S. Bank, it ruled that a certain participant in U.S. Bank’s defined-benefit pension plan lacks standing to sue U.S. Bank for fiduciary misconduct. And in GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS, Corp. v. Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC, the Court held that the New York Convention does not conflict with equitable estoppel doctrines permitting a nonsignatory to compel arbitration. Here’s your recap of this past week at the Supreme Court.
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.
Pop quiz: Can U.S. citizens sue other countries in U.S. courts? Answer: Yes. There are a few exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which otherwise shields foreign countries from suits in state or federal court. Next question: Which of these exceptions did Congress create in 1996? Answer: The terrorism exception. U.S. citizens who are victims of terrorist attacks can sue a foreign state that (1) participated in or assisted the perpetrators of the attack and (2) has been designated a state-sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department. Third question: Can a plaintiff suing under the terrorism exception seek punitive damages against the foreign country? Answer: Yes. Congress in 2008 listed punitive damages as a possible award for such plaintiffs. Final question: Can plaintiffs who brought a terrorism suit before 2008 still seek punitive damages? In other words, did Congress intend the punitive-damages provision to apply retroactively? Well, this was the very question the Supreme Court answered this week in Opati v. Republic of Sudan. Read on to find out.
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.