Traffic Fails and Flushing Tales: Weekly Brief for May 4

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.

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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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Congress Walks the Plank: Allen v. Cooper

This past Monday, the Supreme Court in Allen v. Cooper struck down a 1990 Congressional statute that had allowed citizens to sue a state in federal court for copyright infringement. The case arose after a marine salvage company discovered the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s famous pirate ship, off the coast of North Carolina and recorded documentary footage of the discovery. When North Carolina published some of the footage in various media, the company sued the state for copyright infringement. The question before the Court was whether the Constitution gives Congress the power to rescind the states’ sovereign immunity from copyright infringement claims. Justice Kagan answered “no” with a 7:2 majority, leaving the company marooned. (For lovers of wordplay and maritime puns, this piece is for you.)

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