U.S. Supreme Court wraps up its January sitting

Welcome to the Friday, January 21, Brew. 

By: Douglas Kronaizl

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. U.S. Supreme Court accepts five more cases for its 2021-2022 term before concluding its January sitting
  2. Democratic U.S. Reps. Langevin and McNerney announce retirements
  3. Signatures submitted for Alaska initiative to formally recognize Alaska Native Tribes

U.S. Supreme Court accepts five more cases for its 2021-2022 term before concluding its January sitting

The week of Jan. 18 was the second and final week of the U.S. Supreme Court’s January argument sitting for its 2021-2022 term. During that time, the court heard oral arguments in four cases.

To date, the court has heard arguments in 36 of the 64 cases it accepted during its current term. 

Here’s a breakdown of those four most recent cases and look at what’s next for the court this year.

Jan. 18:

Jan. 19:

The court heard these arguments in person, though the building remains closed to the public in accordance with its policies related to the coronavirus pandemic. The next round of oral arguments will take place during the February sitting, which is scheduled to begin on Feb. 22.

Looking ahead, on Jan. 14 the court accepted five more cases for argument during this 2021-2022 term. These cases have not yet been scheduled for argument. Here’s a closer look:

  • George v. McDonough: concerning whether a veteran has the right to appeal after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs denies a disability benefits claim.
  •  Kennedy v. Bremerton School District: concerning religious expression and government speech at a public school as well as the Constitution’s establishment clause.
  • Vega v. Tekoh: concerning Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination, specifically related to the court’s previous ruling in Miranda v. Arizona (1966).
  • Nance v. Ward: concerning the federal legal procedure for a convicted inmate to challenge a state’s method of execution.
  • Shoop v. Twyford: concerning a U.S. district court’s authority to order the transport of a state prisoner involved in a federal habeas corpus proceeding.

Of the 64 cases the court has agreed to hear during its current term, four were dismissed and one was removed from the argument calendar. Sixteen cases have not yet been scheduled for argument. The court has issued decisions in six cases. Between 2007 and 2020, the court released opinions in 1,054 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.

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Democratic U.S. Reps. Langevin and McNerney announce retirements

On Jan. 18, two Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives announced they would not seek re-election: U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.). 

McNerney was first elected to the House in 2006. Langevin was first elected in 2000. During our current cycle, retiring Democratic incumbents have been in the House for an average of 13 years compared to an average of 11 years for retiring Republicans.

This announcement brings the total number of U.S. House incumbents foregoing re-election to 41—28 Democrats and 13 Republicans—a higher number than the 36 retirements during the 2020 election cycle, but lower than the 52 ahead of elections in 2018.

This is the first election cycle since 2012 where the number of outgoing Democratic incumbents in the House was greater than that of outgoing Republicans. Similar to 2012, this election cycle is the first following redistricting, the process whereby most states redraw congressional district lines.

California enacted its new congressional map at the end of last year. Under the new lines, McNerney’s 9th District was redrawn to include the home of Rep. Josh Harder (D), who currently represents the neighboring 10th District. After McNerney announced his retirement, Harder announced that he would seek re-election in the 9th District.

Rhode Island has not yet finished redrawing its two congressional districts though a recent proposal approved by the Special Commission on Reapportionment would essentially keep the district lines identical to their current shapes.

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Signatures submitted for Alaska initiative to formally recognize Alaska Native Tribes

On Jan. 13, Alaskans for Better Government submitted about 56,200 signatures for a ballot initiative that would provide for formal state recognition of federally-recognized Alaska Native Tribes.

To qualify for the ballot, 36,140 of the submitted signatures must be valid. If the lieutenant government certifies enough valid signatures, the legislature can approve the initiative or equivalent legislation, in which case the measure would not go to a public vote. If the legislature does not enact the initiative, it appears on the November ballot.

Alaskans for Better Government, the group supporting the initiative, said, “This would create a long overdue permanent government-to-government relationship between the State and our Alaska Native Tribes.”

Attorney General Treg Taylor (R) provided a review of the initiative, saying that “[i]t is not clear whether state recognition … would have any legal effect on the relationship between tribes and the State.” Taylor also said the U.S. and state supreme court have already ruled that federally-recognized tribes are sovereign.

Richard Peterson, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said, “[I]t’s about relationships. And so the fact that the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize us currently is kind of a barrier in the building blocks.”

According to campaign finance reports covering information through Jan. 7, 2022, Alaska for Better Government had raised $622,092 and has spent $485,759. The group’s top donors were the Sixteen Thirty Fund ($500,000) and Tides Advocacy ($100,000).

From 2000 to 2020, 45 statewide measures have been on the ballot in Alaska. Of those 45 measures, voters approved 22 and defeated 23.

Nationwide, 64 ballot measures have been certified to appear on the ballots in 30 states as of Jan. 19. Most of these measures—47—are constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the legislature. In most states, the deadlines to submit signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot have not yet passed.

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