Editor’s Note: In light of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Supreme Court is closed to the public. The building will remain open for official business only. March oral arguments are postponed indefinitely, and filing deadlines for petitions are 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.
Regrettably, the headlines from the Supreme Court this week did not come from opinions or cert grants; they came from the Court’s adjustments in response to the spread of COVID-19. The Justices announced that oral arguments scheduled for the next two weeks are postponed indefinitely. Some of the cases affected include the two over President Trump’s tax records, a blockbuster copyright dispute, and a First Amendment and a Fourth Amendment case. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court building has been closed to the public; the Justices are holding their conferences over the phone; and filing deadlines for attorneys have been extended sizably. In these unprecedented circumstances, here is a recap of the Court’s response this week to the worsening public health crisis.
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.
Another busy, routine week for the Nine. The Justices decided two, admittedly-soporific cases. One concerned the statute of limitations in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and the other required interpreting the attorney’s fees provision in the federal Patent Act. The Court concluded its December sitting by hearing oral argument in six cases, including a momentous Affordable Care Act case with nearly $12 billion at stake. The Justices also granted all three of President Trump’s tax returns cases, and Justice Sotomayor penned two opinions relating to denials of cert. Here’s your recap for the week of December 9.
The Supreme Court’s December sitting began this week with oral arguments in six cases. One of those cases concerns the first Second Amendment challenge to reach the Court in ten years. However, much of the discussion at oral argument pertained to mootness—that is, whether the case should be dismissed since it’s no longer really a live case. The Court also denied a stay of execution, added to its docket an intriguing First Amendment case out of Delaware, and declined to grant the Trump administration’s request to resume executing federal prisoners. Finally, Justice Ginsburg entered a one-week administrative stay in one of President Trump’s tax returns cases—the third one to reach the Supreme Court. Here’s your recap of what happened at the Supreme Court this past week.
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.
Over the past few months, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Manhattan District Attorney have issued subpoenas for President Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns. Trump has fought the subpoenas vigourously, filing lawsuits to block the release of his tax returns and arguing that the subpoenas are unconstitutional. Those lawsuits have percolated through the federal courts; the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the congressional subpoena, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Attorney’s subpoena. Now Trump has appealed both decisions. Both lawsuits now sit before the Supreme Court and await action from the nine Justices. This article gives a comprehensive overview of both of Trump’s tax returns cases. I analyze the D.C. Circuit and Second Circuit’s opinions, issued before Trump’s appeal to the Supreme Court. I assess each parties’ arguments as they are now laid out in briefs filed with the Supreme Court. I lay out timelines for both cases and explain what the Supreme Court might do and when. Finally, I give my own thoughts on some of the critical legal questions the cases present.
With no cases scheduled for oral argument this week and no decisions yet, I almost expected the Court’s week to be relatively placid. Wrong prediction. President Trump has now steered both of his tax returns cases to the Supreme Court. (I’ll be writing a little post about these cases in the next few days.) Chief Justice Roberts temporarily stayed a mandate from the D.C. Circuit—which had directed Mazars, LLP to turn over Trump’s tax documents to two committees of the U.S. House of Representatives—to allow the full Court time to read both parties’ briefs and consider ways to deal with the tax return cases. In addition, we saw an opinion from Justice Sotomayor dissenting from a denial of cert, a cert grant for a lawsuit between three Muslim men and a number of FBI agents, and a press release about Justice Ginsburg’s health. Here’s your brief for the week of November 18.
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.
Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court stayed an injunction against the Trump Administration, which had barred it from using nearly $2.5 billion in interdepartmental transfer funds for construction of the border wall. Tonight was Part II. The high court lifted another injunction that had been issued against the Administration, this one concerning the latest asylum rule promulgated in July. Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissented. With less than a month until the Court is back in session, it seems clear the Justices are not shy of acting on their summer shadow docket. Here’s a summary of the case, the Court’s order, and Justice Sotomayor’s dissent.
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.