Welcome to the April 25 edition of Robe & Gavel, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S.
In another installment of where has the time gone, we have reached the final week of SCOTUS’ April argument sitting—and the final argument week of its 2021-2022 term. This week also marks the end of Justice Stephen Breyer’s nearly three-decade career hearing arguments from the Supreme Court bench, with his retirement slated for the start of the court’s summer recess in late June or early July. Gavel in and read on for summaries of this week’s arguments and the court’s newly granted cases and released opinions.
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SCOTUS has accepted two cases since our April 18 issue. To date, the court has agreed to hear 11 cases during its 2022-2023 term. The court has not yet scheduled any of the cases for argument.
- Reed v. Goertz came to the court from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The case concerns a split between the U.S. circuit courts on when the statute of limitations begins to run for a state criminal defendant to file a federal claim for DNA testing of crime-scene evidence.
The court will consider the following question: “[W]hether the statute of limitations for a § 1983 claim seeking DNA testing of crime-scene evidence begins to run at the end of state court litigation denying DNA testing, including any appeals (as the Eleventh Circuit has held), or whether it begins to run at the moment the state trial court denies DNA testing, despite any subsequent appeal (as the Fifth Circuit, joining the Seventh Circuit, held below).”
- Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co. originated from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The case concerns the 14th Amendment and a state’s ability to condition a corporation doing business in that state on the corporation consenting to personal jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction refers to the power the court has over a party in a case.
The petitioner presented the court with this question: “Whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a state from requiring a corporation to consent to personal jurisdiction to do business in the state.”
In the current 2021-2022 term, the court agreed to hear 66 cases.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in five cases this week. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ current term.
Click the links below to learn more about these cases:
- Kennedy v. Bremerton School District concerns religious expression at a public school and the Constitution’s establishment clause.
- Nance v. Ward concerns the federal procedure for a convicted inmate to challenge a state’s method of execution.
- Biden v. Texas involves the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the constraints that federal immigration laws place on executive policy discretion. The case concerns whether the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ended the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program in a way that was consistent with federal immigration law and the APA. The MPP program required certain noncitizens who attempted to reside in the United States to wait in Mexico while immigration officials processed their cases.
- Shoop v. Twyford concerns federal district courts’ authority to issue transportation orders to state-run prisons for state prisoners involved in federal habeas corpus proceedings.
- Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta concerns state authority in Indian country and the scope of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020).
In its October 2020 term, SCOTUS heard arguments in 62 cases. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ previous term.
SCOTUS has issued five opinions since our April 18 edition. The court has ruled in 24 cases so far this term, three of which were decided without argument.
- In City of Austin, Texas v. Reagan National Advertising of Texas, Inc., SCOTUS reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit’s ruling. In a 6-3 opinion authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court found that the City of Austin’s regulation distinguishing between advertising signs that are on a business’s premises versus those that are off the premises does not violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.
- In Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, the court vacated—or voided—the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s ruling. The case involved a dispute over a Camille Pissarro painting the Nazis illegally took from the Cassirer family in 1939. The painting moved between private parties until the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation (TBC), a subsidiary of the Kingdom of Spain, obtained the painting in 1993. The Cassirer family subsequently sued TBC in U.S. district court for the painting’s return.
The question before the Supreme Court was procedural: What law should govern when a plaintiff brings a lawsuit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 against a foreign government or an entity related to the government? In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the court held that when such a case involves non-federal claims, trial courts should apply the same law as they would apply in a lawsuit against a private, non-governmental party. In this case, that meant the state’s choice-of-law rule, not a federal common law rule, governed.
Justice Elena Kagan delivered the court’s opinion.
- In Brown v. Davenport, the court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit’s ruling. A Michigan state court convicted Ervine Davenport of first degree murder after a trial in which he had been visibly shackled. He appealed his conviction based on the visible shackling. After getting no relief at the state-court level, Davenport filed a federal habeas corpus petition.
In a 6-3 opinion, SCOTUS ruled the 6th Circuit erred when it granted Davenport’s habeas corpus petition based solely on the test SCOTUS established in Brecht v. Abrahamson (1993). The court held that the circuit court should have applied both the Brecht test and the test Congress enacted in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sotomayor.
- In United States v. Vaello-Madero, SCOTUS reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit’s decision. In an 8-1 ruling, the court found that Congress did not violate the Constitution when it declined to extend Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to Puerto Rican residents.
Justice Kavanaugh delivered the court’s opinion. Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissent.
- In Boechler, P.C. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit’s holding in a 9-0 opinion. SCOTUS found that the Internal Revenue Code’s 30-day time limit for a plaintiff to file a petition for review in tax cases was subject to equitable tolling. This means that in certain circumstances a plaintiff’s case can go forward even if the plaintiff missed the time period to file.
Justice Barrett wrote the court’s opinion.
Upcoming SCOTUS dates
Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest:
- April 25: SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
- April 26: SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
- April 27: SCOTUS will hear arguments in one case.
- April 29: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices.
- May 2: SCOTUS will issue opinions.
Among the court’s current members, who is the longest-serving Supreme Court justice?
Choose an answer to find out!
Federal court action
President Joe Biden (D) has not announced any new Article III nominees since our April 18 edition.
To date, the president has announced 88 Article III judicial nominations since taking office on Jan. 20, 2021. For more information on the president’s judicial nominees, click here.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has not voted on any Article III nominees since our previous edition.
The Senate has not confirmed any new nominees since our previous edition. As of this writing, 59 of President Biden’s Article III nominees have been confirmed since he assumed office.
The federal judiciary currently has 77 vacancies, 75 of which are for lifetime Article III judgeships. As of this writing, there are 19 pending nominations.
According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, there were 35 upcoming vacancies in the federal judiciary, where judges have announced their intention to leave active 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.
We’ll be back on May 9 with a new edition of Robe & Gavel. Until then, gaveling out!
Brittony Maag compiled and edited this newsletter, with contributions from Kate Carsella and Sara Reynolds.