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.
On April 27, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in its only Second Amendment case of the term. But what some thought would be a blockbuster decision instead landed with a dull thud; six Justices voted to dismiss the case as “moot” (i.e., no longer presenting a live controversy). Why? Well, after the Court agreed to decide the case, the gun law at issue was repealed. Since the Court cannot adjudge the constitutionality of a law that is no longer on the books, the case was dead. Justice Kavanaugh penned a short concurrence, and Justice Alito authored a long, curious, and (at times) odd dissent. Here’s an in-depth analysis of the Court’s decision and the doctrine of “mootness.”
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.
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.
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.
Thanksgiving came early this week at the Supreme Court. The Justices issued their first decision of the term, a per curiam opinion in a campaign finance case. We also saw three opinions relating to Monday’s orders list: Justice Alito dissented from a denial of cert in a First Amendment defamation case, Justice Kavanaugh called for a revisitation of the Court’s nondelegation doctrine, and Justice Sotomayor seemed unnerved by a bizarre case of judicial bias out of Arkansas. The Justices also issued a temporary stay in one of President Trump’s tax returns cases. All this to start off the week of the best meal of the year—perhaps the Justices wanted to get their official work done in order to focus on food prep. At any rate, here’s a recap of what happened at the Supreme Court this week.
The last week of oral arguments for the November sitting was one that certainly should grab your attention. The Justices heard arguments about the Trump administration’s push to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; a case involving a U.S. Border Patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican teenager across the U.S.–Mexico border; a civil rights case between Comcast and an African-American who owns Entertainment Studios Network; and a case that could have significant ramifications in the world of bankruptcy law. In addition, the Court added three cases to its docket, including a blockbuster copyright dispute between Google and Oracle; declined a petition for a stay of execution; saw its newest Justice (Brett Kavanaugh) give his first public speech since a disputatious confirmation process; and received an appeal from President Trump concerning a subpoena for his personal tax returns. With all that, here’s your brief for the week of November 11.