Robe & Gavel: SCOTUS begins second week of January sitting

Welcome to the Jan. 18 edition of Robe & Gavel, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S.

This week, we commemorate the life and acts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by reading his speeches, sermons, and engaging in acts of service. We thank you for spending some of your time with us as we gavel in and catch up on the federal judiciary.

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Noteworthy court announcements

Court schedules oral arguments in COVID vaccine-related emergency appeals

On Jan. 13, the court issued per curiam opinions on both of the Biden administration’s COVID-19-related vaccine policies that came to the court on emergency appeals on Dec. 22. SCOTUS blocked enforcement of one mandate and allowed enforcement of the other while litigation continues in lower courts. 

In National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor (consolidated with Ohio v. Department of Labor), the court blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) COVID-19 vaccination-or-test mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees. Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented from the order.

In Biden v. Missouri (consolidated with Becerra v. Louisiana), the court allowed the administration’s mandate requiring health care employees who work in Medicare and Medicaid-funded programs to go into effect. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett dissented.


SCOTUS has accepted eight new cases to its merits docket since our Jan. 10 issue. 

Click the links below to learn more about these cases:

  • United States v. Washington concerns state workers’ compensation laws and intergovernmental immunity. 
  • Siegel v. Fitzgerald involves the constitutionality of a law imposing different fees on Chapter 11 debtors based on the district in which the bankruptcy is filed. 
  • Kemp v. United States concerns the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure governing court procedure in civil cases. 
  • George v. McDonough involves the administrative state and veteran’s benefits claims.
  • Kennedy v. Bremerton School District involves First Amendment protections of religious expression.
  • Vega v. Tekoh involves whether a plaintiff may sue a police officer for violating their federal civil rights based on the officer’s failure to provide Miranda warnings.
  • Nance v. Ward concerns the procedure by which an inmate may challenge the state’s method of execution for their sentencing.
  • Shoop v. Twyford concerns evidentiary determinations for habeas petitions. 

To date, the court has agreed to hear 59 cases for the 2021-2022 term. SCOTUS dismissed four cases after accepting them and removed one case from the argument calendar after both parties agreed to settle. Eleven cases have yet to be scheduled for arguments.


The Supreme Court will hear arguments in four cases this week. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ current term.

Click the links below to learn more about these cases: 

Jan. 18

Jan. 19

In its October 2020 term, SCOTUS heard arguments in 62 cases. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ previous term.


SCOTUS issued one opinion since our Jan. 10 edition. The court has issued rulings in six cases so far this term, two of which were decided without argument. 

Click the links below to read more about the case:

Jan. 13

Babcock v. Kijakazi originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and was argued before the court on Oct. 13, 2021.

The case: David Babcock was a dual-status technician with the National Guard who participated in the Civil Service Retirement System (“CSRS”) and paid Social Security taxes on qualifying income. Upon retiring, Babcock applied for Social Security retirement benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) granted Babcock’s application but reduced his benefits since he also received CSRS pension payments. Babcock asked the SSA to reconsider, citing the Social Security Act uniformed services exception and arguing that his pension plan was covered. The SSA did not change its determination and on appeal, the determination was upheld. Babcock sought judicial review with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The court ruled that his uniformed service did not qualify under the exception. On appeal, the 6th Circuit affirmed the decision. Click here to learn more about the case’s background.

The outcome: The U.S. Supreme Court court affirmed the 6th Circuit in an 8-1 ruling, holding that Babcock’s civil-service pension payments were not based on his service as a member of a uniformed service. Justice Barrett delivered the majority opinion of the court. Justice Gorsuch filed a dissenting opinion.

Between 2007 and 2020, SCOTUS issued opinions in 1,062 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 decided cases per year.

Upcoming SCOTUS dates

Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest:

  • Jan. 18: 
    • SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
    • SCOTUS will release orders.
  • Jan. 19: SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
  • Jan. 21: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices. 
  • Jan. 24: SCOTUS will release orders.

Federal court action


President Joe Biden (D) has announced no new Article III nominees since our Jan. 10 edition.

The president has announced 73 Article III judicial nominations since taking office on Jan. 20, 2021. For more information on the president’s judicial nominees, click here.

Committee action

The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported five new nominees out of committee since our Jan. 10 edition.


The Senate has confirmed one new nominee since our Jan. 10 issue.


The federal judiciary currently has 78 vacancies, 76 of which are for lifetime Article III judgeships. As of publication, there were 26 pending nominations.

According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, there were 34 upcoming vacancies in the federal judiciary, where judges have announced their intention to leave active judicial status.

For more information on judicial vacancies during the Biden administration, click here.

Note: This chart is updated at the start of each month with the latest vacancy data from U.S. Courts

Do you love judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? We figured you might. Our monthly Federal Vacancy Count 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, keep an eye on our list for updates on federal judicial nominations.

Spotlight: Presidential nominations to federal courts

Hello, gentle readers! Welcome back to our journey through federal judicial history. Today, we make a stop in the Gilded Age to highlight President Benjamin Harrison’s (R) judicial nominees from 1889 to 1893.

During his time in office, the U.S. Senate confirmed 43 of President Harrison’s judicial nominees. The Senate did not vote on two of Harrison’s nominees.

Among the most notable appointees were four Supreme Court Justices:

By the end of his first year in office, two of President Harrison’s nominees had been confirmed. One nominee was confirmed to a U.S. district court and one was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Looking ahead

We’ll be back next month on Feb. 7, 2022, with a new edition of Robe & Gavel. Until then, gaveling out! 


Kate Carsella compiled and edited this newsletter, with contributions from Brittony Maag and Jace Lington.