Suing Sudan: Weekly Brief for May 18

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.

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Unanimous Juries (and So Much More): Ramos v. Louisiana

In Ramos v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment requires a jury that convicts a defendant to do so unanimously—and that this requirement applies to the states. In the process, the Court struck down non-unanimous jury statutes in Louisiana and Oregon, and overruled Apodaca v. Oregon (1972). But Ramos was not your typical incorporation-doctrine case. References to Jim Crow and racial segregation were sprinkled throughout the case’s opinions; Justice Clarence Thomas wrote extensively on his incorporation philosophy; and, most interestingly, Justice Brett Kavanaugh penned a long, solo concurrence in which he laid out his opinion on stare decisis and when to overrule precedent. Here’s my analysis of Ramos v. Louisiana.

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An Earth Day Extravaganza: Weekly Brief for April 20

Earth Day was Wednesday, April 22. So it was only fitting that the Supreme Court decided its first environmental law cases of the term—two of them, in fact. One dealt with the process for cleaning up “Superfund” sites, and the other with point source pollution permits under the Clean Water Act. But the Court didn’t stop there; four more decisions were handed down: a landmark Sixth Amendment case, for which I wrote an in-depth analysis here; a complex immigration law case, for which you might need multiple cups of coffee and an abacus; and two intellectual property law cases, which, with all due respect, might be best read if you’re trying to fall asleep. Here’s your recap for the week of April 20.

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This Week’s Brief: April 6

Editor’s Note: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court remains closed to the public. The building is open for official business only. March and April oral arguments have been postponed, and filing deadlines for petitions have been extended. The Justices are conducting their private conferences remotely. Orders and opinions continue to be issued as scheduled, but the Justices will not take the bench.

This week, the Justices released opinions in two argued cases. One was a win for older federal employees who allege age discrimination in the workplace. The other was a narrow win for police officers in a Fourth Amendment case. But what really made headlines this week was the Court’s wading into the furor surrounding the Wisconsin state primary election. The five conservative Justices voted to overturn a lower court judge’s order to extend the deadline for mailing absentee ballots. This decision may raise some eyebrows—or perhaps even the stomach contents—of some readers. But I would advise you to read before delivering judgment; don’t be so quick to blame the Court.

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This Week’s Brief: March 23

Editor’s Note: In light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court remains closed to the public. The building is open for official business only. March oral arguments have been postponed indefinitely, and filing deadlines for petitions have been extended. The Justices are conducting their private conferences remotely. Orders and Opinions are still being issued as scheduled, but the Justices will not take the bench.

Another somber week followed the last. What was supposed to be the start of the March oral argument session was instead marked by empty gallery seats and closed doors. In response to the ongoing spread of COVID-19, the Court postponed oral arguments, issued orders and opinions in private, and conducted its own weekly conference over the phone. As for its opinions, the Court released four of them. The opinions came in cases ranging from one that interestingly blends copyright infringement, state sovereign immunity, and a pirate ship (I reviewed the case for the blog here); to Kansas’ adoption of a specific kind of insanity defense (or lack thereof); to a race discrimination claim; to a jurisdictional question in immigration procedure. The Court also released a per curiam decision, and Justice Kavanaugh responded to a denial of cert. Here’s your brief for the week of March 23.

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This Week’s Brief: March 2

This week, the Justices heard oral argument in what is likely the most explosive case of the term: June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, a challenge to a Louisiana law that requires physicians who perform abortions to have “admitting privileges” at area hospitals. Another high-profile case that was argued this week is Seila Law, LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the constitutional challenge to the structure of the CFPB. Next, the Court decided Kansas v. Garcia, a case that asked whether the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 preempts certain Kansas identity-theft statutes (the answer is no). More nuggets came in the Court’s cert grant in California v. Texas, the latest lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act’s “individual mandate”; and from a statement by Justice Gorsuch following Monday’s orders list. Here’s another packed summary of the Supreme Court’s proceedings for the week of March 2.

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This Week’s Brief: January 27

As the January sitting came to a close, the Court made headlines in its orders list on Monday. Five Justices voted to allow the Trump Administration to temporarily enforce its new “public charge” immigration rule. Four Justices dissented. Justice Gorsuch (joined by Thomas) wrote an opinion supplementing his yea vote. Beyond this, the Court added an original jurisdiction, water-rights case to its docket and denied an application for a stay of execution. Here’s your brief for the Week of January 27.

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This Week’s Brief: October 21

After the furor of the first two weeks of the Court’s term, the week of October 21 was markedly more placid. The Justices did not hear oral argument in any merits cases and predictably did not issue any decisions yet in argued cases. We do have the first opinion of the term, but it’s only an opinion relating to one of the Court’s orders on Monday. On a separate note, while the Justices didn’t garner many headlines in the courtroom, Justice Ginsburg grabbed the spotlight on Wednesday night for being awarded a very prestigious prize by the Berggruen Institute. So after a quiet week for the Justices (or for eight of them, at least), here’s your quick brief for the week of October 21.

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