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.
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.
This was the third and final week of the Court’s inter-sitting recess. Headlines this week came from the Court’s decision to allow the Trump Administration to enforce its new “public charge” immigration rule nationwide—over the dissent of four Justices (including a seven-page dissenting opinion from Justice Sotomayor). Here’s your brief for the week of February 17.
The Justices are now on a recess between their January and February sittings. As a result, all was quiet at the Court—though the same cannot be said across the street, where the impeachment trial for President Trump wrapped up on Wednesday. With its conclusion, Chief Justice Roberts can get back to focusing solely on Supreme Court matters. Here’s your very brief summary of what little happened this week for the nine Justices.
Editor’s Note: Following this post’s publication Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court issued a press release stating that Justice Ginsburg has completed a three-work course of radiation therapy to treat a tumor on her pancreas. The tumor was found on July 31 after routine blood tests, and a biopsy confirmed it was a malignant, but localized growth. The release noted that Ginsburg “tolerated treatment well,” that there is “no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body,” and that she needs “no further treatment . . . at this time.”
We are just past the halfway point in the Court’s summer recess. Late last night, the Supreme Court denied a Florida inmate’s petition for a stay of execution. While there were no noted dissents, Justice Sotomayor penned a brief opinion respecting the denial. Here’s a quick brief about the case to get you up to speed.