The Daily Brew: One year ago this week, SCOTUS postponed oral arguments

Welcome to the Monday, March 29, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. COVID-19 policy changes and events – one year ago this week
  2. SCOTUS grants review to two more cases for 2021-2022 term
  3. Ohio governor appoints new utility commission chair

COVID-19 policy changes and events – one year ago this week

One year ago as of this week, the U.S. Supreme Court postponed oral arguments for eight cases scheduled for its April sitting in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, we kicked off a series looking back at policy changes and other significant events related to the coronavirus pandemic from one year ago that week. We’re following suit today, highlighting stay-at-home orders, school closures, travel restrictions, changed election dates, and more from a year ago.

On April 3, the U.S. Supreme Court postponed oral arguments scheduled for its April sitting. The court was scheduled to hear eight cases from April 20 to April 29. The court resumed hearing arguments on May 4 via telephone conference call and is still meeting virtually in 2021.

Here’s a collection of other coronavirus-related responses from one year ago.

The specifics of each stay-at-home (SAH) order varied from state to state, but generally, a SAH order closed certain categories of businesses and required people to stay home unless doing activities designated as essential. 

  • On March 30, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) issued a stay-at-home order. North Carolina‘s order, issued March 27, went into effect.
  • Tennessee‘s and Arizona‘s stay-at-home orders, both issued March 30, went into effect on March 31.
  • Travel restrictions
    • On March 30, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) issued an order requiring residents to self-quarantine for any out-of-state travel, unless they traveled for specific reasons including caring for a person in need or working. 
    • The same day, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued an executive order requiring residents and non-residents traveling to Montana, except those traveling for work, to self-quarantine for two weeks. The order also instructed the Montana National Guard to conduct temperature checks and exposure risk inquiries at airports and rail stations in the state.
  • School closures:
    • On March 30, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced schools would be closed for the remainder of the academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools were scheduled to reopen on April 13. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced the statewide school closure would last indefinitely. It was previously scheduled to end on April 8.
    • On March 31, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) extended the statewide school closure from April 7 to April 30. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) extended the statewide school closure from April 3 to May 4.
    • Nebraska and Maine became the last states to close schools statewide on April 1 and April 2, respectively.
  • Election changes:
    • On March 30, Gov. Brad Little (R) and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney (R) announced that Idaho‘s May 19 primary election would be conducted entirely by mail. Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) signed H0681 into law, making a series of temporary changes to the state’s election laws.
    • On March 31, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) announced that his office would send absentee ballot applications to all active registered voters in the state in advance of the June 2, 2020, primary election.
  • Federal government responses:
    • On April 1, the Bureau of Prisons announced it was instituting a 14-day lockdown of all prison inmates.

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SCOTUS grants review to two more cases for 2021-2022 term

Speaking of SCOTUS, on March 22, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted two cases for review during its 2021-2022 term. The court has agreed to hear 10 cases during the term, scheduled to begin on Oct. 4, 2021. Here is a summary of those two new cases.

United States v. Tsarnaev concerns sentencing for the Boston Marathon bombings. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated two homemade bombs at the marathon on April 15, 2013. Three people died and more than 250 people were injured. Tamerlan died in a confrontation with police officers on April 18.

  • In 2015, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was indicted on and convicted of 30 criminal charges related to the bombings. He received the death sentence for several offenses. On July 31, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit vacated Tsarnaev’s death sentences. Acting solicitor general on behalf of the United States Jeffrey B. Wall appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. 
  • The questions before the court in this case are:
  • “1. Whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that respondent’s capital sentences must be vacated on the ground that the district court, during its 21-day voir dire, did not ask each prospective juror for a specific accounting of the pretrial media coverage that he or she had read, heard, or seen about respondent’s case;” 
  • “2. Whether the district court committed reversible error at the penalty phase of respondent’s trial by excluding evidence that respondent’s older brother was allegedly involved in different crimes two years before the offenses for which respondent was convicted.”

The second case the court recently agreed to hear, Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, concerns whether current federal law gives U.S. district courts subpoena power in private foreign commercial arbitration tribunals. Federal law allows district courts to assist with evidence gathering in foreign or international tribunals.

  • After a monetary settlement with Boeing, Rolls-Royce sought compensation from Servotronics for a valve that allegedly contributed to an engine fire on a Boeing aircraft. The dispute went to binding arbitration in Birmingham, England. Servotronics petitioned a U.S. district court to subpoena relevant documents from Boeing, but after objections from Rolls-Royce and Boeing, the district judge held that federal law does not grant district courts jurisdiction in private foreign commercial arbitration tribunals.
  • Circuit courts have split on the matter. The 2nd, 5th, and 7th Circuits have held in different cases that a private foreign tribunal is not a foreign or international tribunal within the meaning of federal law. The 4th and 6th Circuits found the opposite.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing oral arguments as part of its 2020-2021 term. Forty-two cases have been argued this term through March 22. Nineteen more cases are currently scheduled to be argued starting March 29.

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Ohio governor appoints new utility commission chair

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) appointed former county judge Jenifer French as chairwoman of the state’s public utilities commission on March 19. If the state Senate confirms her appointment, French’s term will run through April 10, 2024. The position has been vacant since former Chairman Sam Randazzo resigned in November. 

French was a judge on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas from 2015 to 2021. She lost her re-election bid on Nov. 3 after running unopposed in the Republican primary. Although the general election for the court was nonpartisan, candidates ran in partisan primaries. The public utilities commission office is officially nonpartisan.

The Ohio Public Utilities Commission is a five-person state executive board that regulates electric and gas utilities, water and wastewater companies, telecommunication companies, and railroads.

Ohio is one of 37 states in which the governor appoints utility commission members. The position is elected in 11 other states. In two—South Carolina and Virginia—the legislature appoints members.

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About the author

Dave Beaudoin

Dave Beaudoin is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.