On December 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States granted review in the consolidated cases National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) v. Alston and American Athletic Conference v. Alston for a total of one hour of oral argument during its 2020-2021 October Term. The cases originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and have not yet been scheduled for argument before SCOTUS.
The cases: In 2014, a class of Division 1 (“D1″) student-athletes, collectively referred to as “Alston” and as “student-athletes,” filed several antitrust complaints against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) and 11 D1 conferences in federal district court, challenging the NCAA’s compensation rules for student-athletes. The NCAA claimed that the challenge was settled in a previous case, O’Bannon v. NCAA. The Northern District of California ordered the NCAA make its compensation rules less restrictive for student-athletes and ruled that the compensation rules in their iteration at that time were unlawful restraints of trade under the Sherman Antitrust Act (“Sherman Act”). On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion, order, and its assessment of liability. The NCAA appealed to the Supreme Court.
The issue (NCAA v. Alston): Whether the 9th Circuit’s holding that the NCAA eligibility rules regarding student-athletes’ compensation violate federal antitrust law was in error.
The issue (American Athletic Conference v. Alston): “Whether the Sherman Act authorizes a court to subject the product-defining rules of a joint venture to full Rule of Reason review, and to hold those rules unlawful if, in the court’s view, they are not the least restrictive means that could have been used to accomplish their procompetitive goal.”
The outcome: The appeals are pending adjudication before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court began hearing cases for the term on October 5, 2020. As of December 21, the court had agreed to hear 49 cases during its 2020-2021 term. Of those, 12 were originally scheduled for the 2019-2020 term but were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The court had issued opinions in 10 cases this term. Four cases were decided without argument.
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued an unsigned 6-3 opinion in Trump v. New York. The case was argued on Nov. 30, 2020, and concerned congressional apportionment following the 2020 U.S. Census. The U.S. government asked SCOTUS to consider if the president could order the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to exclude individuals residing unlawfully in the U.S. from the census’ apportionment base.
In a 6-3 per curiam opinion, in which the authorship is not indicated, the court vacated the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York’s ruling. The court held the coalition of state and local governments and NGOs did not have standing—the legal right to sue—in this case. The court did not rule on the merits.
Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Breyer argued the plaintiffs had standing and that court precedent, law, and historical practice “demonstrate that aliens without lawful status cannot be excluded from the decennial census solely on account of that status. The Government’s effort to remove them from the apportionment base is unlawful, and I believe this Court should say so.”
The Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in Texas v. New Mexico, which was argued on October 5, 2020. The case is part of the court’s original jurisdiction, meaning it was the first and only court to hear the case. Original jurisdiction cases are rare. According to the Federal Judicial Center, since 1960, the court “received fewer than 140 motions for leave to file original cases, nearly half of which were denied a hearing.”
Texas v. New Mexico concerned an interstate water dispute. In 1949, the two states entered a compact about use of the Pecos River, which flows south from New Mexico to Texas, where it joins the Rio Grande. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court appointed a river master to issue an annual report summarizing New Mexico’s compliance with its compact obligations. In this case, Texas challenged retroactive changes the river master made to his 2014-2015 annual report.
In a 7-1 opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court denied Texas’ motion to review the river master’s annual report, holding the river master correctly determined New Mexico’s water delivery credit. Kavanaugh wrote, “As the River Master correctly concluded, New Mexico is entitled to delivery credit for the evaporated water. That result is both legally accurate and entirely fair.”
Justice Samuel Alito concurred in part and dissented in part. In his opinion, Alito wrote that he would have vacated the case and remanded it to the river master with instructions to redo his analysis.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the case. She was not a member of the court when arguments were held.
As of December 14, 2020, the court had issued opinions in nine cases this term. Four cases were decided without argument.
On December 9, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Collins v. Mnuchin, a case about the extent of the president’s appointment and removal powers and control of independent federal agencies. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether restrictions Congress placed on the ability of the president to remove the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) amount to an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers principles.
Opponents of the structure of the FHFA argue that Congress interfered with the power of the executive branch to control the agency when it gave the director removal protections.
Supporters of the structure of the FHFA argue that the U.S. Constitution, in their view, allows Congress to insulate some agencies from direct presidential control.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a similar case, Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ruling 5-4 that the removal protections given to the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were unconstitutional.
On December 4, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving agency approval of work requirements for state Medicaid beneficiaries. In Azar v. Gresham, the court will decide whether the Medicaid statute empowers the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to approve state plans to use work requirements to encourage Medicaid beneficiaries to find alternative healthcare coverage.
In 2018, HHS began approving state requests for waivers from Medicaid requirements so those states could test plans that require certain Medicaid beneficiaries to work or pursue job-training to remain enrolled in the program. States argued that such plans would help beneficiaries find employer-sponsored health insurance or get individual plans from a state exchange. With people moving off of Medicaid, states argued that their Medicaid programs would have more resources to help people who cannot afford healthcare coverage on their own.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia blocked HHS from approving state plans in Arkansas and New Hampshire. The court held that HHS failed to consider the core objective of Medicaid, providing healthcare coverage to the needy, when it approved the state work requirement plans.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court. The court held that HHS focused on alternative goals that go beyond what the agency may consider when deciding whether to grant a waiver from Medicaid requirements. The court ruled that HHS failed the Administrative Procedure Act’s arbitrary-or-capricious test, which requires courts to invalidate agency actions that are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.
In cases where courts find that agencies violate legal requirements, they do not grant judicial deference to those agency actions. Judicial deference is one of the five pillars key to understanding the main areas of debate about the nature and scope of the administrative state. Judicial deference to administrative agencies is a principle of judicial review that applies when a court yields to an agency’s interpretation of either a statute or regulation promulgated by the agency.
On December 1, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in CIC Services v. Internal Revenue Service, which asks whether a law that blocks preemptive lawsuits against tax collection applies to potentially unlawful regulations issued by agencies that are not taxes.
CIC Services, LLC argues citizens should be able to “challenge illegal regulations in court, without having to violate the regulation first and then raise its invalidity as a defense to an enforcement action.”
The IRS argues that the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA), a federal law that bars lawsuits to stop the assessment or collection of taxes, also applies to the regulatory penalties at question in this case because the penalties are deemed to be taxes, which means courts may only review challenges seeking a refund after paying the penalties.
The case is part of a broader debate about the procedural rights of citizens relative to the administrative state. Procedural rights are one of five pillars key to understanding the main areas of debate about the nature and scope of the administrative state. Procedural rights encompass debates about individual due process and standing before administrative agency adjudication and enforcement actions. Procedural rights also include citizen access to agency rulemaking processes, decision-making proceedings, and judicial review.
To listen to or read the oral argument and learn more about the case, click here.
On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (Janus v. AFSCME), ruling that public-sector unions cannot compel non-member employees to pay fees covering the costs of non-political union activities. This decision overturned precedent established in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education in 1977.
In the wake of Janus, individuals and advocacy groups across the nation have filed over 100 new lawsuits involving a wide array of public-sector labor laws and union practices. To date, we have tracked 132 post-Janus lawsuits. At least 58 of these lawsuits involve attempts to obtain refunds for fees that employees had to pay to unions prior to Janus. At least 57 involve challenges to membership withdrawal procedures (namely, laws or policies that allow union members to resign their membership only during specified periods of times).
Of these 132 lawsuits, 129 have been filed in the federal courts. Fifty-five suits have been filed in the Ninth Circuit alone, 42.7% of all federal post-Janus lawsuits. The Ninth Circuit encompasses federal district courts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The Third Circuit has seen the second-greatest number of post-Janus lawsuits: 22, or 17% of the total. The Third Circuit’s jurisdiction encompasses Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Department of Justice v. House Committee on the Judiciary, which was previously scheduled for argument before the Supreme Court of the United States on December 2, 2020, has been removed from the court’s December argument calendar after the court granted the House Judiciary Committee’s motion for the move.
The case came on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It concerns the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and whether an impeachment trial conducted by the U.S. Senate counts as a judicial proceeding for the purposes of disclosing secret grand jury information.
The U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary requested access to secret grand jury materials referenced in Robert Mueller’s report about his investigation into potential Russian interference in the 2016 election. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed to disclose the materials, ruling that a potential U.S. Senate impeachment trial counted as a judicial proceeding that allowed disclosure of secret grand jury materials. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.
As of November 20, 2020, the United States Supreme Court had agreed to hear 45 cases during its 2020-2021 term. Of those, 12 were originally scheduled for the 2019-2020 term but were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) announced circuit assignments for the chief justice and the associate justices on November 20. Under Title 28, United States Code, Section 42, each SCOTUS justice is assigned to one of the 13 U.S. courts of appeal. The U.S. courts of appeal are the intermediate appellate courts of the U.S. federal courts.
The circuit justice is responsible for ruling on motions arising from his or her assigned circuit and traditionally refers motions from that circuit to the court as a whole.
The circuit assignments for the 2020-2021 term are:
Chief Justice John G. Roberts – Assigned to the 4th Circuit, the Federal Circuit, and the District of Columbia Circuit.
Justice Clarence Thomas – Assigned to the 11th Circuit
Justice Stephen Breyer – Assigned to the 1st Circuit
Justice Samuel Alito – Assigned to the 3rd and 5th Circuits
Justice Sonia Sotomayor – Assigned to the 2nd Circuit
Justice Elena Kagan – Assigned to the 9th Circuit
Justice Neil Gorsuch – Assigned to the 10th Circuit
Justice Brett Kavanaugh – Assigned to the 6th and 8th Circuits
Justice Amy Coney Barrett – Assigned to the 7th Circuit