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.
The Supreme Court handed down three decisions this week, each one consequential in its own regard. In the only Second Amendment case of the term, six Justices found the case to be, well, no longer a case—in other words, they dismissed it as moot and didn’t opine on the Second Amendment implications (see my in-depth analysis of the decision here [forthcoming]). Next, the Court slapped Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services on the wrist—along with a $12 billion tab due private insurers. Finally, a 5:4 majority barred legislators from copyrighting annotations they write to state laws. Here’s your brief for the week of April 27.
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. Some March and April oral arguments have been rescheduled for teleconference in May, 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.
The Supreme Court is entering a Brave New World (putting aside Aldous Huxley’s unnerving depictions of a utopian future). On Monday, the Court announced that it will hear oral arguments via teleconference in ten cases that had originally been postponed due to COVID-19. In the process, the Court will make the argument’s audio live to the entire American public for the first time in history. This week’s brief is short, but it details the Court’s symbolic gesture.
The Justices returned from their holiday break for a busy week on the bench. The Court issued two opinions: a unanimous one from Justice Ginsburg in a bankruptcy case, and a unanimous per curiam one in an ERISA case. The Court added eight cases to this term’s docket and another case for next term. And the Justices heard five hours of oral argument, including in the high-profile “Bridge-gate” case from 2013. Here’s your brief for the Week of January 13.
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 Justices heard arguments in six cases this week: a wildly complicated case that blends statutory interpretation with federal immigration law; a Fourth Amendment search and seizure case about traffic stops; two maritime cases, one of which actually concerns admiralty law while the other stems from the discovery of Blackbeard’s pirate ship (yes, you could say Blackbeard’s ship charted a course to the U.S. Supreme Court); a showstopper of an environmental law case; and an ERISA statutory interpretation case that, I admit, nearly put me to sleep. As an added bonus, the Court added a copyright case to its docket and denied a petition for a stay of execution. All in a week’s work for the Nine! Here’s your brief for the week of November 4.
Another very quiet week for the Justices: no decisions, no oral arguments, a few miscellaneous orders, and just one cert grant in a securities-law case. But have no fear—with the November sitting beginning next week, the Supreme (Court) machine will soon awaken from its quiet idle and roar into its normal, high gear. For now, here’s a short rundown of the little drummings of action this week at 1 First St. NE.
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.
The Justices met for their second full week of the term. The Court added four cases to its merits docket, heard oral arguments in another four cases, and gave us all a couple interesting nuggets in its orders lists (including a dismissal of a case that might already win the award for the “Strangest Cert Petition of the Term”). For your weekly recap of the action at 1 First St. NE, here’s your brief for the week of October 14.
Congratulations: 1 week of the Court’s term is down, three dozen (or more) to go. Though its first full day in session was relatively quiet, Tuesday landed with a bang. Garnering headlines throughout the nation were oral arguments in three cases concerning LGBTQ+ and transgender rights in the workplace. Transcripts and full audio recordings of these cases (as well as the three heard on Monday) are linked here. After a three-month summer sabbatical, your weekly briefings on the action at the U.S. Supreme Court are back. Here’s your brief for the week of October 7—the first week of the Court’s O.T. 2019.