Author

Kate Carsella

Kate Carsella is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at kate.carsella@ballotpedia.org.

SCOTUS issues opinion in case concerning federal maritime law

On March 30, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling in the case CITGO Asphalt Refining Co. v. Frescati Shipping Co., Ltd. The case came on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.

The case: An abandoned anchor in the Delaware River pierced the hull of the Athos I, an oil tanker, causing an estimated 264,000 gallons of crude oil to spill into the river. The cost of cleanup was $143 million. Frescati, the shipowner, paid for the cleanup effort and was later reimbursed for $88 million by the U.S. federal government. Frescati and the U.S. sued CITGO, the intended oil recipient, for a portion of the costs.

The issue: Whether under federal maritime law a safe berth clause in a voyage charter contract is a guarantee of a ship’s safety, as the 3rd Circuit below and the 2nd Circuit have held, or a duty of due diligence, as the Fifth Circuit has held.

The outcome: In a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS affirmed the 3rd Circuit’s decision, holding that a safe berth clause in a voyage charter contract is a guarantee of a ship’s safety. Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the majority opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Samuel Alito.

In the opinion, Sotomayor wrote, “The charterer’s assurance of a safe berth is the entire root of the safe-berth clause, and crucially, it is not subject to qualifications or conditions.”

Additional reading:
Supreme Court cases, October term 2019-2020
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit



SCOTUS issues decision regarding insanity defense in criminal cases

On March 23, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its opinion in the case Kahler v. Kansas.

The case: James Kahler was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. On appeal, Kahler argued the prosecution violated his right to a fair trial. The Kansas Supreme Court rejected Kahler’s argument, affirming his conviction and sentence. Kahler appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Kansas law violates his constitutional rights under the Eighth and 14th Amendments.

The issue: Do the Eighth and 14th Amendments permit a state to abolish the insanity defense?

The outcome: In a 6-3 ruling, the court affirmed the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court, holding that due process does not require Kansas to adopt an insanity test that turns on a defendant’s ability to recognize that their crime was morally wrong. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

As of March 23, 2020, the court had issued decisions in 16 cases this term. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 924 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.



Missouri school board election date changed in response to COVID-19

On March 18, 2020, Gov. Mike Parson (R) released an official statement postponing all Missouri municipal elections until June 2, 2020, amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. These elections were originally scheduled to take place on April 7, 2020.

The following Missouri school boards within Ballotpedia’s coverage scope were impacted by this change:

  • Center School District
  • Grandview C-4 School District
  • Hickman Mills C-1 School District
  • Liberty Public Schools
  • North Kansas City Schools
  • Park Hill School District
  • Platte County R-III School District
  • Raytown C-2 School District
  • St. Joseph School District

Prior to Gov. Parson’s statement, five of these school districts—Grandview C-4, Liberty, Park Hill, Platte County R-III, and Raytown C-2—had cancelled their school board elections because the number of qualified candidates who filed to appear on the ballot was equal to the number of seats up for election.

Additional reading:


SCOTUS accepting new cases for 2020-2021 term

The Supreme Court of the United States has begun accepting cases for its 2020-2021 October term. As of March 12, 2020, the court had agreed to hear six cases during the term. The following list of the cases is sorted by the cases’ court of origination:

3rd Circuit
• Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

5th Circuit
• Salinas v. United States Railroad Retirement Board
• California v. Texas (Consolidated with Texas v. California)

6th Circuit
• Borden v. United States

9th Circuit
• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club

State and district courts
• Jones v. Mississippi

Parties petition SCOTUS to hear a case if they are not satisfied with a lower court’s decision. The parties petition the court to grant a writ of certiorari. A writ of certiorari is an “order issued by the U.S. Supreme Court directing the lower court to transmit records for a case it will hear on appeal.”

As of March 12, 2020, the court has not yet scheduled cases for argument.

Additional reading:
Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salinas v. United States Railroad Retirement Board
California v. Texas
Borden v. United States
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club
Jones v. Mississippi



SCOTUS issues opinion in case concerning the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)

On March 3, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling in Kansas v. Garcia, a case concerning the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).

In the case, Ramiro Garcia, Donaldo Morales, and Guadalupe Ochoa-Lara were each convicted of identity theft in Johnson County, Kansas. They each appealed their convictions to the Kansas Supreme Court, arguing the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) preempted their prosecution. On appeal, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed the three convictions. The State of Kansas appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The questions presented before the Supreme Court of the United States were:
1. Whether IRCA expressly preempts the States from using any information entered on or appended to a federal Form I-9, including common information such as name, date of birth, and social security number, in a prosecution of any person (citizen or alien) when that same, commonly used information also appears in non-IRCA documents, such as state tax forms, leases, and credit applications.
2. Whether the Immigration Reform and Control Act impliedly preempts Kansas’ prosecution of respondents.

In a 5-4 opinion, the court reversed and remanded the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision, holding that the Kansas statutes under which Garcia, Morales, and Ochoa-Lara were convicted are not expressly preempted.

Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Neil Gorsuch joined. Justice Stephen Breyer filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan joined.

Additional reading:



U.S. Supreme Court issues opinions in four cases

On February 25, the Supreme Court of the United States issued opinions for four cases: McKinney v. Arizona, Rodriguez v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Hernandez v. Mesa, and Monasky v. Taglieri.

In the case McKinney v. Arizona, James McKinney was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1993. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the sentence after an independent review. A federal district court denied McKinney’s petition for habeas corpus. On appeal, the 9th Circuit instructed the district court to grant the habeas corpus petition. After another independent review, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the death sentences.

In a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling, holding that a state appellate court, rather than a jury, may conduct a reweighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances on habeas corpus review in cases concerning the death penalty. Justice Brett Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In the case Rodriguez v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, United Western Bank closed after suffering $35.4 million in losses in 2011. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was appointed as the bank’s receiver. Also in 2011, the parent company, United Western Bancorp, Inc. (UWBI), filed a tax refund request of $4.8 million to recover a portion of United Western Bank’s 2008 taxes. In 2012, UWBI filed for bankruptcy. Both the FDIC and UWBI argued in bankruptcy court that the tax refund belonged to them. The bankruptcy court ruled the refund belonged to UWBI. On appeal, the District of Colorado reversed the bankruptcy court’s decision. Simon Rodriguez, the Chapter 7 Trustee for UWBI’s bankruptcy estate, appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the district court’s ruling and remanded the case to the bankruptcy court. Rodriguez petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 10th Circuit’s decision, arguing circuit courts were divided on the question of tax refund ownership.

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded the 10th Circuit’s decision in a 9-0 ruling, holding the Bob Richards rule “is not a legitimate exercise of federal common lawmaking,” in which federal judges—instead of Congress, agencies, or states—make laws. Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the court.

In the case Hernandez v. Mesa, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa shot and killed 15-year-old Mexican national Sergio Hernandez in 2010. The Hernandez family filed charges against Mesa. The Western District of Texas dismissed the case. After several appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Hernandez v. Mesa in 2016. At that time, SCOTUS vacated the 5th Circuit’s judgment and remanded the case so the 5th Circuit might reconsider its ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Ziglar v. Abbasi (2017). On remand, the 5th Circuit ruled the Hernandez family could not rely on Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (Bivens) to file charges and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the 5th Circuit in a 5-4 ruling, holding that the plaintiffs cannot sue the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent for damages under the U.S. Constitution and that the Bivens holding does not extend to claims based on a cross-border shooting. Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In the case Monasky v. Taglieri, Italian citizen Domenico Taglieri and American citizen Michelle Monasky were a married couple living in Italy when they had a daughter, A.M.T. Both parents began applications for Italian and U.S. passports for their daughter. In 2015, Taglieri revoked his permission for A.M.T.’s U.S. passport. Two weeks later, Monasky took A.M.T. to the United States. Taglieri petitioned the Northern District of Ohio for A.M.T’s return to Italy under the Hague Convention. The district court granted Taglieri’s petition. On appeal, the 6th Circuit sitting en banc affirmed the district court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court affirmed the 6th Circuit’s decision in a unanimous ruling, holding (1) an actual agreement between the parents on where to raise a child is not necessary to establish the child’s habitual residence and (2) a district court should use clear-error review to determine habitual residence under the Hague Convention. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas joined as to Parts I, III, and IV, and filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Samuel Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

As of February 25, 2020, the court had issued decisions in eight cases this term. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 850 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.

Click here to read more.

Additional reading:


Illinois Supreme Court Justice to retire on Leap Day

Illinois Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Thomas is retiring on February 29, 2020. Thomas announced plans to join law firm Powers Rogers following his retirement.

Justice Thomas joined the Second District of the Illinois Supreme Court after winning election in November 2000. Thomas served as the Chief Justice of the court from 2005 to 2008. He previously served as a judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Illinois from 1988 to 1994, and as a Justice of the Illinois Appellate Court from 1994 to 2000.

Thomas earned a B.A. in government from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. In 1981, he earned a J.D. from Loyola University School of Law. Prior to beginning his legal career, Thomas was a kicker for the Chicago Bears in the National Football League.

Under Illinois law, the Illinois Supreme Court is responsible for appointing an interim judge in the event of a midterm vacancy. The interim judge serves until the next primary election occurring at least 60 days after his or her appointment, at which point the judge must run in a partisan election to remain on the court. Illinois Supreme Court Justices are selected by popular vote in partisan elections and serve 10-year terms, after which they must compete in nonpartisan retention elections to remain on the court.

Because the vacancy from Thomas’ retirement is set to occur less than 60 days before the state’s next primary on March 3, his replacement was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court in a vote of the justices. The court appointed appellate Justice Michael J. Burke to serve from March 1, 2020, to December 5, 2022.

Unlike most states, supreme court justices in Illinois are elected to represent specific districts. The seven justices are divided among five districts (three allocated to Cook County and the others divided evenly among the other four districts across the state) and are voted into office by the residents of their respective regions. Three other states—Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi—use a similar system.

The Illinois Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. It currently includes the following justices:
• Mary Jane Theis — Elected in 2010
• Anne M. Burke — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2006; elected Chief Justice by her peers in 2019
• P. Scott Neville — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2018
• Thomas Kilbride — Elected in 2000
• Rita Garman — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001
• Lloyd Karmeier — Elected in 2004

The Illinois Supreme Court will see another retirement in 2020. Justice Lloyd Karmeier is retiring from the court on December 6, 2020. His seat will be filled via partisan election.

In 2020, there have been eight supreme court vacancies in seven of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Four vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Three are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

Click here to learn more about the Illinois Supreme Court justice vacancy.

Additional reading:
State supreme court vacancies, 2020
Illinois Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Illinois



President Trump announces intent to nominate two Article III judgeships in New York

On February 12, 2020, President Donald Trump (R) announced his intent to nominate Jennifer Rearden to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and Saritha Komatireddy to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Following nomination by the president, a federal judicial nominee completes a questionnaire that is reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee then holds a hearing to question the nominee regarding their judicial philosophy and their previous rulings. The committee also sends the nominee’s home state senators a blue slip, permitting them to express their approval or disapproval of the nominee.

After the hearing, the committee votes to approve or return the nominee. If approved, the nominee is reported to the full Senate for a vote. If returned, the president may renominate the person. If the Senate confirms the nomination, the individual receives commission to serve as a federal judge for a life term. If the individual is not confirmed, they do not become a judge.

The U.S. District Courts for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York are two of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system.

The president has announced 245 Article III judicial nominations since taking office on January 20, 2017. The president named 69 judicial nominees in 2017 and 92 in 2018.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:

 



Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for January

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies from January 3, 2020, to February 3, 2020. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Vacancies: There have been three new judicial vacancies since the December 2019 report. There are 75 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions on courts covered in this report. Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 81 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.
  • Nominations: There has been one new nomination since the December 2019 report.
  • Confirmations: There have not been any new confirmations since the December 2019 report.
New vacancies 

There were 75 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 8.6, which is .3 percentage points higher than the vacancy percentage in December 2019.

  • The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.
  • One (0.6%) of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.
  • 72 (10.6%) of the 677 U.S. District Court positions are vacant.
  • Two (22.2%) of the nine U.S. Court of International Trade positions are vacant.

A vacancy occurs when a judge resigns, retires, takes senior status, or passes away. Article III judges, who serve on courts authorized by Article III of the Constitution, are appointed for life terms.

Three judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies. As Article III judicial positions, these vacancies must be filled by a nomination from the president. Nominations are subject to confirmation on the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

  • Judge Christopher Boyko assumed senior status on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
  • Judge Dora Irizarry assumed senior status on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
  • Judge Lawrence O’Neill assumed senior status on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California.
U.S. Court of Appeals vacancies

The following chart tracks the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals from the inauguration of President Donald Trump (R) to the date indicated on the chart.

The following maps show the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals at the inauguration of President Donald Trump (R) and as of February 3, 2020.

New nominations

President Donald Trump (R) has announced one new nomination since the December 2019 report.

  • Drew Tipton, to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Since taking office in January 2017, President Trump has nominated 239 individuals to Article III positions.

New confirmations

Since January 3, 2020, the United States Senate did not confirm any of President Trump’s nominees to Article III seats. As of February 3, 2020, the Senate has confirmed 187 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—133 district court judges, 50 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices—since January 2017.

Click here to learn more.

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Indiana statewide filing deadline is February 7

Photo credit: Diego Delso

The filing deadline to run for elected office in Indiana is on February 7, 2020. In Indiana, prospective candidates may file for the following offices:

• All nine U.S. House seats
• Governor
• Lieutenant Governor
• Attorney General
• State Senate (25 seats)
• House of Representatives (100 seats)
• Supreme Court (one seat up for retention election)
• Court of Appeals (six seats up for retention election)

The primary is scheduled for May 5, and the general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020. The judicial retention elections are also on November 3.

Indiana’s statewide filing deadline is the 12th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on February 18 in Pennsylvania.

Indiana has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

Click here to read more about Indiana’s 2020 elections

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