On February 25, the Supreme Court of the United States issued opinions for four cases: McKinney v. Arizona, Rodriguez v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Hernandez v. Mesa, and Monasky v. Taglieri.
In the case McKinney v. Arizona, James McKinney was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1993. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the sentence after an independent review. A federal district court denied McKinney’s petition for habeas corpus. On appeal, the 9th Circuit instructed the district court to grant the habeas corpus petition. After another independent review, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the death sentences.
In a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling, holding that a state appellate court, rather than a jury, may conduct a reweighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances on habeas corpus review in cases concerning the death penalty. Justice Brett Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
In the case Rodriguez v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, United Western Bank closed after suffering $35.4 million in losses in 2011. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was appointed as the bank’s receiver. Also in 2011, the parent company, United Western Bancorp, Inc. (UWBI), filed a tax refund request of $4.8 million to recover a portion of United Western Bank’s 2008 taxes. In 2012, UWBI filed for bankruptcy. Both the FDIC and UWBI argued in bankruptcy court that the tax refund belonged to them. The bankruptcy court ruled the refund belonged to UWBI. On appeal, the District of Colorado reversed the bankruptcy court’s decision. Simon Rodriguez, the Chapter 7 Trustee for UWBI’s bankruptcy estate, appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the district court’s ruling and remanded the case to the bankruptcy court. Rodriguez petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 10th Circuit’s decision, arguing circuit courts were divided on the question of tax refund ownership.
The U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded the 10th Circuit’s decision in a 9-0 ruling, holding the Bob Richards rule “is not a legitimate exercise of federal common lawmaking,” in which federal judges—instead of Congress, agencies, or states—make laws. Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the court.
In the case Hernandez v. Mesa, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa shot and killed 15-year-old Mexican national Sergio Hernandez in 2010. The Hernandez family filed charges against Mesa. The Western District of Texas dismissed the case. After several appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Hernandez v. Mesa in 2016. At that time, SCOTUS vacated the 5th Circuit’s judgment and remanded the case so the 5th Circuit might reconsider its ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Ziglar v. Abbasi (2017). On remand, the 5th Circuit ruled the Hernandez family could not rely on Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (Bivens) to file charges and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case.
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the 5th Circuit in a 5-4 ruling, holding that the plaintiffs cannot sue the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent for damages under the U.S. Constitution and that the Bivens holding does not extend to claims based on a cross-border shooting. Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
In the case Monasky v. Taglieri, Italian citizen Domenico Taglieri and American citizen Michelle Monasky were a married couple living in Italy when they had a daughter, A.M.T. Both parents began applications for Italian and U.S. passports for their daughter. In 2015, Taglieri revoked his permission for A.M.T.’s U.S. passport. Two weeks later, Monasky took A.M.T. to the United States. Taglieri petitioned the Northern District of Ohio for A.M.T’s return to Italy under the Hague Convention. The district court granted Taglieri’s petition. On appeal, the 6th Circuit sitting en banc affirmed the district court’s ruling.
The Supreme Court affirmed the 6th Circuit’s decision in a unanimous ruling, holding (1) an actual agreement between the parents on where to raise a child is not necessary to establish the child’s habitual residence and (2) a district court should use clear-error review to determine habitual residence under the Hague Convention. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas joined as to Parts I, III, and IV, and filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Samuel Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
As of February 25, 2020, the court had issued decisions in eight cases this term. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 850 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.
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