Welcome to the May 11 edition of Bold Justice, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S. Stay up-to-date on the latest news by following us on Twitter or subscribing to the Daily Brew.
The Supreme Court will hear six hours of argument this week in cases it had postponed in March and April. The court will use a teleconferencing system to hear oral arguments. Several procedures were announced in a press release on April 28, including rules for which Justices will ask questions, based on seniority.
The court has agreed to hear arguments in 73 cases this term. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ current term.
Click the links below to read more about the specific cases SCOTUS will hear this week:
McGirt v. Oklahoma concerns the Indian Major Crimes Act. A jury in Oklahoma’s Wagoner County District Court found Jimcy McGirt guilty of three counts of sex crimes. He was sentenced to 500 years in prison and life in prison without parole.
McGirt appealed to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s court of last resort for criminal matters. The court denied his petition for review. McGirt appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Oklahoma courts lacked jurisdiction to hear his case because of his membership in the Seminole/Creek Nations of Oklahoma and because the alleged crimes occurred in Indian Country.
The issue (from SCOTUSblog): “Whether the prosecution of an enrolled member of the Creek Tribe for crimes committed within the historical Creek boundaries is subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru concerns how courts should decide when an employee is a “minister” for purposes of the “ministerial exception” recognized under Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012). It is consolidated with St. James School v. Biel.
In both cases, two teachers at Catholic schools were not offered contract renewals. Both teachers filed discrimination claims in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against their former employers. The district court ruled that the claims were barred by the ministerial exception to the First Amendment, meaning both schools were protected religious organizations exempted from anti-discrimination employment laws.
Both teachers appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and denied petition for rehearing and for rehearing en banc in St. James School v. Biel.
The issue: “Whether the First Amendment’s religion clauses prevent civil courts from adjudicating employment-discrimination claims brought by an employee against her religious employer, when the employee carried out important religious functions.”
Trump v. Mazars USA concerns Congress’ right to issue subpoenas to the president’s accountants and creditors. It is consolidated with Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG.
In both cases, certain U.S. House committees issued subpoenas requesting financial documents. One subpoena was issued to President Donald Trump’s (R) accounting firm, Mazars USA, LLP (“Mazars”). Two others were each issued to Deutsche Bank and the Capital One Financial Corporation.
The president, acting in his individual capacity, challenged the subpoenas’ validity in U.S. district court. In each case, the district court ruled in favor of the U.S. House committees. The president appealed the lower court rulings, both of which were upheld.
The issue: “Whether the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, Financial Services Committee, and Intelligence Committee have the ‘constitutional and statutory authority to issue’ subpoenas to President Trump’s accountant and to the president’s creditors ‘demanding private financial records belonging to the president.'”
- Trump v. Vance concerns the question of presidential immunity. In 2019, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance (D) opened an investigation into President Trump’s business dealings. Vance issued a subpoena to the president’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, LLP (“Mazars”). The president challenged the subpoena in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, arguing the subpoena violated presidential immunity. The district court dismissed the president’s complaint.
On appeal, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s dismissal of the complaint and affirmed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction. The president appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The issue: “Whether a grand-jury subpoena served on a custodian of the president’s personal records, demanding production of nearly 10 years’ worth of the president’s financial papers and his tax returns, violates Article II and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.”
Article II of the U.S. Constitution details the executive branch of the government. The Supremacy Clause (Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution) provides that the Constitution and federal law take precedence over state constitutions and laws.
In Chiafalo v. Washington, Levi Guerra, Esther John, and Peter Chiafalo were nominated as presidential electors for the Washington State Democratic Party in the 2016 presidential election. The electors were required by Washington law to vote for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, but the electors voted contrary to that law. The Washington secretary of state fined the appellants $1,000 each for failure to vote for the nominee of their party.
The electors appealed the penalties, challenging their constitutionality. After litigation in state courts, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling upholding the fines.
The issue (from SCOTUSblog): “Whether enforcement of a Washington state law that threatens a fine for presidential electors who vote contrary to how the law directs is unconstitutional because a state has no power to legally enforce how a presidential elector casts his or her ballot and a state penalizing an elector for exercising his or her constitutional discretion to vote violates the First Amendment.”
In Colorado Department of State v. Baca, Micheal Baca, Polly Baca, and Robert Nemanich were state-appointed presidential electors for the Democratic Party in the 2016 presidential election. Colorado law requires the state’s presidential electors to cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in the state for the offices of president and vice president.
After Micheal Baca cast his vote for John Kasich, Colorado’s secretary of state removed him as an elector, discarded his vote, and replaced him with an elector who cast her vote for Hillary Clinton. According to the lower court opinion, “After witnessing Mr. Baca’s removal from office, Ms. Baca and Mr. Nemanich voted for Hillary Clinton despite their desire to vote for John Kasich.”
The electors filed a civil action against the Colorado Department of State. The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado dismissed the suit. On appeal, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Polly Baca and Robert Nemanich’s claims but reversed the district court’s decision related to Michael Baca. The court determined that the nullification of Baca’s vote and his removal from office were unconstitutional.
The issues: (1) Whether a presidential elector who isn’t allowed to cast an Electoral College ballot contrary to state law has the right to sue their appointing state.
(2) Does Article II or the 12th Amendment forbid a state from requiring its presidential electors to follow the state’s popular vote when casting their Electoral College ballots?
SCOTUS has ruled on two cases since our May 4 issue. The court has issued rulings in 31 cases so far this term.
Click the links below to read more about the specific cases SCOTUS ruled on since May 4:
Kelly v. United States was argued before the court on January 14, 2020.
The case: William Baroni and Bridget Kelly were convicted of defrauding federally funded programs, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, and conspiracy against civil rights.
Baroni and Kelly allegedly participated in a scheme to reduce traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge, which spans Fort Lee, New Jersey, and New York City, to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for refusing to endorse Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) 2013 re-election bid. The alleged scheme became known as “Bridgegate.”
Baroni and Kelly appealed their convictions to the 3rd Circuit, which affirmed the fraud convictions but reversed and vacated the civil rights convictions. Kelly appealed the 3rd Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The outcome: In a unanimous ruling, the court reversed the 3rd Circuit’s decision, overturning Kelly’s and Baroni’s wire fraud and fraud from federally funded programs convictions. The court held Kelly and Baroni could not have violated the federal program fraud or wire fraud laws because their actions were regulatory in nature and did not seek to obtain money or property. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion.
- United States v. Sineneng-Smith was argued before the court on February 25, 2020.
The case: Evelyn Sineneng-Smith was convicted on two counts of encouraging or inducing illegal immigration for financial gain, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) and 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(B)(i). The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California sentenced Sineneng-Smith to one and a half years in prison and three years of supervised release.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the convictions, vacated the sentence, and remanded the case for resentencing. The 9th Circuit panel ruled 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) was “unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.”
The government petitioned SCOTUS for review, arguing the 9th Circuit “invalidated an Act of Congress on its face.”
The outcome: The court vacated the judgment of the 9th Circuit and remanded the case in a 9-0 ruling. The court held that the 9th Circuit’s departure from the principle of party presentation, as set forth by Greenlaw v. United States (2008), by reaching to decide a question that was not raised by the respondent in the case, was an abuse of discretion.
The party presentation principle is where parties frame the issues for decision and courts generally serve as neutral arbiters of matters the parties present.
Upcoming SCOTUS dates
Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest, pending further notice:
May 12: SCOTUS will hear two hours of oral argument.
May 13: SCOTUS will hear two hours of oral argument.
May 15: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices.
May 18: SCOTUS will release orders.
May 21: SCOTUS will conference.
May 26: SCOTUS will release orders.
May 28: SCOTUS will conference.
How does the U.S. Supreme Court issue decisions?
The Senate has not confirmed any new nominees since our May 4 issue.
Since January 2017, the Senate has confirmed 193 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—138 district court judges, 51 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices.
President Trump announced two new Article III nominees since our May 4 edition.
The president has announced 257 Article III judicial nominations since taking office January 20, 2017. The president named 69 judicial nominees in 2017, 92 in 2018, and 77 in 2019. For more information on the president’s judicial nominees, click here.
The federal judiciary currently has 83 vacancies. As of publication, there were 47 pending nominations.
According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, an additional six judges have announced their intention to leave active judicial status during Trump’s first term.
For more information on judicial vacancies during Trump’s first term, click here.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has not reported any new nominees out of committee since our May 4 edition.
Do you love judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? We figured you might. Our monthly Federal Vacancy Count, published at the start of each month, monitors all the faces and places moving in, moving out, and moving on in the federal judiciary. Click here for our most current count.
Need a daily fix of judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? Click here for continuing updates on the status of all federal judicial nominees.
Or, if you prefer, we also maintain a list of individuals President Trump has nominated.
We’ll be back on June 8 with a new edition of Bold Justice.