I have two objectives here on SCOTUS Predictions: to cover what the Supreme Court does on a daily basis and to try my hand at what the Supreme Court does in general. This latter task is by far the more intellectually-taxing one, and I do it by selecting one case each term for which I write my own opinion before the Court releases its decision. Last term, I selected Madison v. Alabama, for which I authored a 49-page opinion holding that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of a prisoner who does not rationally understand the circumstances of his execution and the reasons for which he is being put to death.
The time has come to select my next case, this time for O.T. 2019. That case—perhaps the most closely-watched case thus far of any before the Supreme Court next term—is Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. I will decide whether discrimination against an LGBTQ+ employee because of their sexual orientation qualifies as discrimination “because of . . . sex” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Remember when I remarked in my final brief for O.T. 2018 that the Supreme Court is unlikely to grant any cases or issue any decisions until it is back in session in October? Oops. To quote Daniel Day-Lewis’ character in Lincoln: “I’ve found that prophesying is one of life’s less-profitable occupations.” I should have listened.
Late Friday night, by a 5:4 majority, the Supreme Court stayed a June ruling issued by a federal district court in California. The district court had issued a permanent injunction against the Trump administration, barring it from using any of the nearly $2.5 billion that had been transferred to the Department of Defense’s counternarcotics fund to pay for the construction of the border wall between the United States and Mexico. The Administration appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but also sought a stay of the district court’s injunction. The Supreme Court’s order permits the Administration to use those funds for border wall construction unless or until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the Administration’s appeal of the full case. For more on the Supreme Court’s decision, here’s a quick brief.
And thus ends the Supreme Court’s October Term of 2018. As I suspected last week, the finale came with a bang. This week, the Court issued decisions in some of its most high-profile cases all term—decisions in cases concerning the 2020 census; partisan gerrymandering; the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Twenty-First Amendments; federal criminal law; and Auer deference under administrative law. It also released two sets of orders, in which it added a whopping 21 cases to its docket for next term. So as the curtain falls on O.T. 2018, we anxiously await the first Monday in October and the beginning of O.T. 2019. Here is your brief for the week of June 24.
Partisan gerrymandering refers to the redrawing of a state’s congressional districts with the objective of catering to the interests of one political party over another. Often, the party doing the redistricting purposefully redraws the districts in such a way as to ensure that more of their members get elected to Congress than in an otherwise fairly-drawn map. The result is either a “cracked” district—a bizarre, jagged-looking district in which the other party’s members are divided among multiple other districts, so that they do not constitute a majority in any—or a “packed” district—a small, normally urban district in which the opposing party’s members are crammed so that they win by a landslide and “waste” many votes that could have been useful elsewhere. A number of these districts have been the subject of lawsuits, which have percolated their way through the federal courts. After punting on several such cases in recent years, the Supreme Court on Thursday finally answered the question of whether federal courts can strike down partisan gerrymandering—and gave what many might say is a profoundly surprising answer.
In March of 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced his intention to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. A collective group of eighteen states, the District of Columbia, cities and local governments, and several non-governmental organizations filed suit, claiming that the Secretary’s decision violated the Enumeration Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, and certain provisions of the Census Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. On Thursday, June 27, on the final day of its October Term of 2018, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in the case. Here is my discussion of Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the Court in Department of Commerce v. New York.
(Note:Please excuse this almost-late, sometimes-technicality-filled post; the Court—I admit, as was expected—went bonkers with opinions this week, meaning my undergraduate brain was ground to a pulp late-night after late-night as I read 577 pages of law and wrote over 7500 words here to summarize. But all in the spirit of learning, though—right? Plus, we get to look forward to this again next week. Yippee!)
Cue the commentator’s announcement: “On the final lap, here they come into turn four, all bunched up!” Indeed. We are into the final two weeks of O.T. 2018, and the Court released a dozen—yes, a dozen—opinions this week, grouped into fours on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. In addition, the Court sent back to the lower court a hot-button, LGBTQ vs. religious liberty case from Oregon; granted and consolidated five cases concerning President Barack Obama’s appointments to Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board; and denied a petition for a stay of execution. All told, I will do my level best to briefly canvass the bevy of activity that took place this week at 1 First St. NE, Washington D.C. But—forgive the pun—don’t bet on this week’s “brief” to be very brief. Here’s your brief for the week of June 17.
Only a few blocks from downtown Bladensburg, Maryland, towers a 32-foot-tall Latin cross. The “Peace Cross,” as it is called, has stood there since 1918, when residents of Prince George’s County sought to build a memorial commemorating the soldiers from that area who died in World War I. From 1925–1961, the local American Legion owned the cross, emblazoning its emblem on the cross’ center and placing a plaque at its base with the words “Valor,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” and “Devotion,” as well as the names of 49 fallen soldiers and a quote from President Woodrow Wilson. Since 1961, the Peace Cross has been under the ownership of the State of Maryland, who has used public funds for maintenance and upkeep when necessary. But in 2014, the American Humanist Association (among others) challenged the constitutionality of the Peace Cross, arguing it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The question must then be asked: Are they right?
The Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause protects us against being charged and convicted of the same crime twice. But the Clause’s dual-sovereignty doctrine allows for successive prosecutions if conduct violates the laws of two separate sovereigns (i.e., state law and federal law). This term, in Gamble v. United States, the Supreme Court considered whether to jettison the dual-sovereignty doctrine as contrary to the Double Jeopardy Clause. On Monday, June 17, it declined to do so, a now-familiar decision in the Court’s 170-year-old Double Jeopardy Clause jurisprudence. Here is my review of Gamble v. United States.
Last week, I noted that the Court hardly grabbed a headline (despite four decisions in argued cases and three certiorari grants), since its proceedings concerned less-contentious and more-technical matters. Was this week any different? Well, no. Again, Court nuts like myself may enjoy this week’s brief, which covers three more decisions and five cert. grants, a smidgen more than the lay reader. But on the bright side, with twenty-four cases in O.T. 2018 still yet to be decided, the Court is teeing up an action-packed, blow-the-doors-off finale to end its term here in the next fourteen days. At any rate, here is your brief for the week of June 10.
This week, the Supreme Court published decisions in four argued cases and added three cases to its docket for next term. But despite this high number of actions on cases, the Court barely grabbed a headline all week. This is because those four decisions and three certiorari grants all concern more-technical matters: administrative law, bankruptcy, civil procedure, among others. So, for Court nuts like myself and for those looking to take a deep dive into a jargon-filled legal discussion, here’s your brief for the week of June 3 (I’ll try to use as little legalese as possible; key word: “try“).