U.S. Supreme Court to hear cases via teleconference

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in five cases on May 4, 5, and 6. The court announced new procedures for conducting oral arguments via conference call. The cases had been previously postponed in March and April. The Court will use a teleconferencing system to hear oral arguments. Several new procedures were announced, including rules for which justices will ask questions based on seniority.

1. United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V., a case concerning trademark law, originated from the 4th Circuit and will be argued on May 4.

  • The case: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) denied Booking.com‘s four applications to trademark the name Booking.com. The USPTO said the name was generic and not a protectable mark. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board upheld the USPTO’s decision.
    • On further appeal, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ordered the USPTO to accept two of Booking.com’s trademark applications, and remanded the case for further proceedings on the remaining two applications. The USPTO filed a motion to remand all four trademark applications and to require Booking.com to pay the USPTO’s attorneys’ fees.
    • The district court denied the motion to remand all four applications, but accepted the motion to pay attorneys’ fees. Both Booking.com and the USPTO appealed the district court’s ruling. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. The USPTO petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
  • The issue: “Whether the addition by an online business of a generic top-level domain (“.com”) to an otherwise generic term can create a protectable trademark.”

2. USAID v. Alliance for Open Society International, a case concerning the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003, originated in the 2nd Circuit and will be argued on May 5.

  • The case: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provides federal funds to U.S.-based organizations like the Alliance for Open Society International, Inc. (AOSI). The United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 barred AOSI from receiving the funds unless they adopted “a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking,” known as the policy requirement.
    • In 2005, AOSI sought to prohibit the policy requirement’s enforcement, which the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and subsequently the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. SCOTUS upheld these decisions in Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc. (2013), holding the policy requirement violated the 1st Amendment.
    • AOSI challenged the government’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s opinion and obtained a permanent injunction in the Southern District of New York. USAID petitioned the Supreme Court, asking if its 2013 decision applied to “legally distinct foreign entities operating overseas that are affiliated with” U.S.-based organizations like AOSI.
  • The issue: “Whether—considering SCOTUS’ 2013 decision in Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International Inc., in which the court held the First Amendment bars enforcement of Congress’ policy requirement—the First Amendment further bars enforcement of that requirement with respect to legally distinct foreign entities operating overseas that are affiliated with U.S.-based organizations that receive federal funds to fight HIV/AIDS abroad.”

3. Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania (consolidated with Trump v. Pennsylvania) concerns the legality of agency rules providing a religious or moral exemption to the contraception mandate created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It originated in the 3rd Circuit and will be heard on May 6.

  • The case: After several years of litigation, including two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, surrounding regulatory accommodations for religious and moral objections to contraception under the ACA, the Trump administration issued regulations allowing for exceptions to the federal contraceptive mandate.
    • The 3rd Circuit upheld a nationwide injunction that kept the rules from going into effect holding that the states challenging the rules were likely to succeed in proving that the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), that the ACA did not allow the regulations, and that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) did not require them.
  • The issues:
    • “(1) Whether a litigant who is directly protected by an administrative rule and has been allowed to intervene to defend it lacks standing to appeal a decision invalidating the rule if the litigant is also protected by an injunction from a different court?
    • (2) Whether the federal government lawfully exempted religious objectors from the regulatory requirement to provide health plans that include contraceptive coverage?”

4. Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc., a case concerning the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), originated in the 4th Circuit and will be heard on May 6.

  • The case: In May 2016, the American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. and three other plaintiffs initiated litigation in district court, claiming that one of the statutory exemptions to the TCPA violated the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment. The exemption—otherwise known as the government-debt exception or debt-collection exemption—allows automated calls relating to collecting debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government.
    • The plaintiffs and the U.S. Government each filed motions for summary judgment in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The court denied the motion for summary judgment by the plaintiffs and granted summary judgment to the U.S. Government. Concurrently, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ free speech clause challenge. On appeal, the 4th Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment in favor of the U.S. Government, directed the severance of the debt-collection exemption from the remainder of the automated call ban, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
  • The issue: “Whether the government-debt exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991’s automated-call restriction violates the First Amendment, and whether the proper remedy for any constitutional violation is to sever the exception from the remainder of the statute.”



About the author

Sara Reynolds

Sara Reynolds is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at sara.reynolds@ballotpedia.org

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