Bold Justice: SCOTUS begins January sitting

Bold Justice by Ballotpedia

Welcome to the January 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.

New year, new court business: SCOTUS ushers in its 2021 sittings to hear arguments and Congress has begun its 117th session. With all of these updates, Ballotpedia’s got you covered. Click here to subscribe to Ballotpedia’s Daily and Weekly Transition Trackers.

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We #SCOTUS, so you don’t have to

The Supreme Court will hear three hours of arguments the week of January 11 via teleconference with live audio. The court is conducting proceedings this way in accordance with public health guidance in response to COVID-19.

SCOTUS has agreed to hear 48 cases during its 2020-2021 term. Twelve of those were originally scheduled for the 2019-2020 term but were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ current term.

In its October 2019 term, SCOTUS heard arguments in 61 cases. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ previous term.

Click the links below to read more about the specific cases before SCOTUS during its January sitting.

January 11

  • Albence v. Guzman Chavez concerns the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and the federal government’s statutory authority to detain immigrants who are seeking to overturn a deportation order issued after a reinstated removal order. 
  • A reinstated removal order is when an immigrant enters the United States without lawful permission, is deported, and then re-enters the United States without lawful permission, the original deportation order, known as a removal order, is reinstated.
  • The case originated in a dispute over whether the respondents, a group of immigrants detained by the U.S. government pending deportation proceedings, could seek release in bond hearings before immigration judges. The government argued they could not seek release, because 8 U.S.C. 1231 subjected the immigrants to mandatory detention. The immigrants argued that 8 U.S.C. 1226 allowed them to seek release via bond hearings. The U.S. District Court held the respondents were detained under 8 U.S.C. 1226 and ordered the government to provide bond hearings. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling. Matthew Albence, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), petitioned the Supreme Court for review.
  • The issue: “Whether the detention of an alien who is subject to a reinstated removal order and who is pursuing withholding or deferral of removal is governed by 8 U.S.C. 1231, or instead by 8 U.S.C. 1226.”

January 12

  • Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski concerns mootness of nominal damages claims. 
  • Nominal damages claims are when a judge or jury rules in favor of one party to a lawsuit but finds that the damages incurred were of no real harm and awards a small, or nominal, amount of money.
  • Mootness is when further legal proceedings will have no effect on the matter at issue.
  • A student at Georgia Gwinnett College, Chike Uzuegbunam, was distributing religious literature on campus. Uzuegbunam was stopped by campus police and informed he was subject to disciplinary action if he continued handing out information under the school’s code of conduct. Uzuegbunam and fellow student James Bradford sued multiple school officials in U.S. district court, challenging the school’s policies constitutionality and seeking nominal damages. While the case was pending, the school revised its policies and Uzuegbunam graduated. Counsel for the school officials moved for dismissal, claiming the appellants’ arguments were now moot because of the policy changes. The district court dismissed the case. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. Uzuegbunam and Bradford petitioned the Supreme Court for review, citing a circuit split, or differing rulings from different federal circuit courts, on the subject of mootness related to nominal damages claims.
  • The issue: Whether a government’s post-filing change of an unconstitutional policy moots nominal damages claims that vindicate the government’s past, completed violation of a plaintiff’s constitutional right.

January 13

  • AMG Capital Management, LLC v. Federal Trade Commission concerns the Federal Trade Commission Act and whether it authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to demand restitution.
  • In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) sued Scott Tucker and his credit monitoring companies in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada for violating consumer-protection statutes in the Federal Trade Commission Act. The court granted the FTC’s motion for summary judgment and ordered the defendant to pay restitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the District of Nevada’s ruling. AMG Capital Management, LLC petitioned the Supreme Court for review.
  • The issue: Whether §13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, by authorizing the FTC to seek preliminary and permanent injunctions where applicable, also authorizes the FTC to demand relief in the form of money including restitution, and if it does, what the scope of the limits or requirements for the equitable monetary relief would be.

Upcoming SCOTUS dates

Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest:

  • January 11: 
    • SCOTUS will release orders. 
    • SCOTUS will hear arguments in one case.
  • January 12: SCOTUS will hear arguments in one case.
  • January 13: SCOTUS will hear arguments in one case.
  • January 15: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices.
  • January 19: 
    • SCOTUS will release orders. 
    • SCOTUS will hear arguments in three cases.

The Federal Vacancy Count

The Federal Vacancy Count tracks vacancies, nominations, and confirmations to all United States Article III federal courts in a one-month period. This month’s edition includes nominations, confirmations, and vacancies from December 1 to December 31.


  • Vacancies: There have been no new judicial vacancies since the November 2020 report. As of December 31, 46 out of 870 (5.3%) active Article III judicial positions on the courts covered in this report were vacant.

    Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 49 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.
  • Nominations: There were no new nominations since the November 2020 report.
  • Confirmations: There have been seven new confirmations since the November 2020 report.

Vacancy count for December 31, 2020

A breakdown of the vacancies at each level can be found in the table below. For a more detailed look at the vacancies on the federal courts, click here.

*Though the United States territorial courts are named as district courts, they are not Article III courts. They are created in accordance with the power granted under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. Click here for more information.

New vacancies

No judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies, since the previous vacancy count. A presidential nomination is required to fill an Article III vacancy. Nominations are subject to the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

The chart below shows the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals from the inauguration of President Donald Trump (R) on January 20, 2017, to December 31, 2020.

U.S. District Court vacancies

The following map displays U.S. District Court vacancies as of December 31.

New nominations

President Trump has not announced any new nominations since the November 2020 report. 

The president has announced 274 Article III judicial nominations since taking office on 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.

New confirmations

Between December 1 and December 31, 2020, the Senate confirmed seven of the president’s nominees to Article III courts.

Between January 2017 and December 31, 2020, the Senate confirmed 234 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—174 district court judges, 54 appeals court judges, three Court of International Trade judges, and three Supreme Court justices.

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, check out our list of individuals the president has nominated.

Justice on center stage

In the next several Bold Justice editions, we’re taking a closer look at the U.S. Supreme Court justices. Today, we’re learning about Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch

Gorsuch has been an associate justice since April 10, 2017. President Donald Trump (R) nominated Gorsuch on January 31, 2017, to succeed Antonin Scalia. The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Gorsuch 54-45 on April 7, 2017.

Image of Elena Kagan
Before joining the U.S. Supreme Court, Gorsuch was a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit (2006-2017). Before that, he was a principal deputy, associate attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice (2005-2006), and a partner and associate with  a private practice, Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans, and Figel (1995-2005). Click here to learn more about Gorsuch’s professional career.

Gorsuch was born on August 29, 1967, in Denver, Colorado. He earned his B.A. from Columbia University in 1988, his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1991, and his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in 2004.

In the 2019-2020 term, Gorsuch wrote the following opinions:

Looking ahead

We’ll be back on January 18 with a new edition of Bold Justice. Until then, gaveling out! 


Kate Carsella compiled and edited this newsletter, with contributions from Sara Reynolds and Jace Lington.