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U.S. Supreme Court wraps up 2019 term

The U.S. Supreme Court has unofficially ended its 2019-2020 term and is now in recess until the start of the 2020-2021 term on October 5. Delays from the coronavirus pandemic caused the court to release opinions until July 9, the first time the court had issued opinions into July since 1996. The July 9 date set a record for the latest date the court has issued regular opinions since 1960. Before this year, the latest date for issuing opinions in that span was July 7, 1986.

The court issued 53 signed opinions, in which the authorship is indicated, this term. Justices Roberts and Gorsuch wrote the most opinions with seven each. Justices Thomas, Breyer, and Sotomayor wrote the least, with five opinions each. Compared to the previous term, Justices Roberts and Ginsburg wrote the same number of opinions. Justices Thomas, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh all wrote more opinions last term than this term. Several of this term’s cases were postponed to the upcoming term due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The court issued 13 5-4 or 5-3 decisions, 21% of the total opinions released this term. Those decisions were made by four different configurations of justices. Across these decisions, 69% had a majority made up of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. The rest had a majority made up of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan with one conservative justice.

Since the 2005-2006 term, the court released the highest percentage of 5-4 opinions in 2006-2007 at 33%. It issued the least amount of 5-4 opinions in 2015-2016 at 5%.

SCOTUS issued opinions in 69 cases this term. It reversed 46 lower court decisions (66.7%) and affirmed 23. This term’s reversal rate was 3.4 percentage points lower than the average rate of reversal since 2007 (70.1%). The SCOTUS reversal rates are based on SCOTUSblog’s Circuit Scorecard, which treats opinions released in certain consolidated cases as separate decisions to most accurately reflect the court’s impact on lower court rulings.

Between the 2007 and 2019 terms, SCOTUS released opinions in 993 cases. Of those, it reversed a lower court decision 696 times (70.1%), while affirming a lower court decision 289 times (29%). Eight of the 993 cases were original jurisdiction, meaning the U.S. Supreme Court was the only court to hear that case. These cases cannot affirm or reverse a lower court opinion.

Since the 2007 term, SCOTUS has decided more cases originating from the 9th Circuit (191) than from any other circuit. The next-most has been the 2nd Circuit, which had 73 decisions. During that span, SCOTUS overturned a greater number of cases originating from the 9th Circuit (149, or 78%), but it overturned a higher percentage of cases originating in the 6th Circuit (79.7%, or 55 of 69 cases).
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United States Supreme Court to decide Carney v. Adams in October 2020

On July 13, 2020, the United States Supreme Court released its calendar for the October 2020 session.
The first case that the Supreme Court will hear is Carney v. Adams, a case from Delaware that challenges Article IV, Section 3 of the Delaware Constitution which mandates partisan balance on the state supreme court.
Article IV, Section 3 of the constitution reads, “three of the five Justices of the Supreme Court in office at the same time, shall be of one major political party, and two of said Justices shall be of the other major political party.” Delaware is the only state in the country to contain such a provision in its state constitution. Some other states have informal and formal appointment rules which mandate partisan balance on the state supreme court.
Carney v. Adams comes before the Supreme Court because James R. Adams, a resident of Delaware and member of the state Bar Association, sought a position on the state supreme court. He decided not to apply for the position because, according to the partisan balance provision in the state constitution, the governor must appoint a Republican and Adams is neither a registered Republican nor Democrat. Adams then filed a lawsuit against the governor of Delaware, challenging the provision in the state constitution which mandates that justices must be representative of the major parties in the state. Adams argued that Article IV Section 3 violates the first amendment.
Governor John Carney (D) argued that Adams did not have the legal right to file a lawsuit. When Adams filed suit, the district court ruled that he had Article 3 standing on some of the aspects of the case, but not all. The district court noted that a government employer may not make employment decisions based on political allegiance except with respect to policymakers. Upon appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part the federal district court’s ruling. Gov. Carney filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the 3rd Circuit’s decision conflicted with decisions in similar cases from the 2nd Circuit, 6th Circuit, and the 7th Circuit.
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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ratifies previous actions after U.S. Supreme Court ruled agency structure unconstitutional

On July 10, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published a rule in the Federal Register ratifying several prior actions taken between 2012 and 2020. The rule came in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Seila Law that the agency’s structure was unconstitutional.
The new CFPB rule states that court precedent allows agencies to ratify previous agency actions to remove any residual problems that come from potential defects in those actions (in this case, actions approved by an agency leader who was not subject to sufficient presidential control). The CFPB wrote, “The Bureau is issuing this ratification out of an abundance of caution, and this ratification is not a statement that the Ratified Actions would have been invalid absent this ratification.”
The rule also claims that courts do not require agencies ratifying previous actions to repeat the entire administrative process. That means courts have not required agencies to follow the notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures found in the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to ratify previous actions. The CFPB wrote that it issued this ratification rule because “uncertainty could have had a deleterious effect on the ongoing operations of the affected markets, given the significant role of the Ratified Actions in these markets. This authoritative ratification resolves that uncertainty.”
In Seila Law, the court ruled 5-4 that restrictions on the president’s ability to remove the agency’s leader violated separation of powers principles by limiting presidential control of executive power. The decision only affected part of the agency’s structure without eliminating the agency altogether.


Supreme Court issues final orders of October Term 2019-2020

On July 9, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its final orders from its October 2019-2020 Term, granting review in six cases for a total of four hours of oral argument during its upcoming October Term for 2020-2021. The cases have not yet been scheduled for argument.

Collins v. Mnuchin (Consolidated with Mnuchin v. Collins)

• The case Collins v. Mnuchin originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and was consolidated with the case Mnuchin v. Collins. The consolidated cases concern the extent of the president’s appointment and removal powers.

Facebook v. Duguid

• The case Facebook v. Duguid originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and concerns the definition of an automated telephone dialing system in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

AMG Capital Management, LLC v. Federal Trade Commission (Consolidated with Federal Trade Commission v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC)

• The case AMG Capital Management, LLC v. Federal Trade Commission originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and was consolidated with the case Federal Trade Commission v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC, which originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The consolidated cases concern the Federal Trade Commission Act and whether it authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to demand restitution from parties who violate the Act.

Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

• The case Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and concerns mootness of nominal damages claims following a government’s post-filing policy change.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing cases for the term on October 5, 2020. The court’s yearly term begins on the first Monday in October and lasts until the first Monday in October the following year. The court generally releases the majority of its decisions in mid-June.

As of July 13, 2020, the court had agreed to hear 31 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.

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U.S. Supreme Court releases October calendar

The U.S. Supreme Court has released its October argument calendar for the 2020-2021 term. The court will hear 10 hours of oral argument in 12 cases between October 5 and October 14. The cases were originally scheduled for the court’s 2019-2020 term but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, the court has agreed to hear 31 cases during its 2020-2021 term.

October 5, 2020
Carney v. Adams

Texas v. New Mexico

October 6, 2020
Rutledge v. Pharmaceutical Care Management Association

FNU Tanzin v. Tanvir

October 7, 2020
Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc.

Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court (Consolidated with Ford Motor Company v. Bandemer)

October 13, 2020
United States v. Briggs (Consolidated with United States v. Collins)

City of Chicago, Illinois v. Fulton

October 14, 2020
Torres v. Madrid

Pereida v. Barr

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U.S. Supreme Court: Agencies had authority to create religious and moral exemptions from Obamacare contraception mandate

With a 7-2 decision in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld religious and moral exemptions to Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

The majority opinion held that federal agencies followed proper procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to create the exemptions, and that the Little Sisters of the Poor had standing to participate in the case. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh.

In his opinion, Thomas wrote, “After two decisions from this Court and multiple failed regulatory attempts, the Federal Government has arrived at a solution that exempts the Little Sisters from the source of their complicity-based concerns—the administratively imposed contraceptive mandate. We hold today that the Departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption. We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”

Justice Alito wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Gorsuch, arguing that the court should have also ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) required the agencies to create the religious exemption to the contraception mandate. Because the court did not resolve that question, Alito wrote that the Little Sisters of the Poor will have a longer legal battle.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, arguing that Obamacare was ambiguous with respect to the agencies authority to exempt employers from the contraception mandate, so the court should have deferred to the agencies’ interpretation of the law under the _Chevron_ doctrine. _Chevron_ says that courts must uphold reasonable interpretations of ambiguous laws offered by agencies empowered to administer those laws.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, arguing that “the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the _nth_ degree.” She wrote, “this Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets” even though, for Ginsburg, the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not require that outcome.

The court sent the case back to the Third Circuit to reconsider its decision to rule against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

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Chevron deference (doctrine)

Click here to read the U.S. Supreme Court opinion.


SCOTUS issues opinion in consolidated cases regarding employment discrimination claims filed against religious institutions

On July 8, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued an opinion in the case Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, which was consolidated with the case St. James v. Biel. Both cases originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and concerned employment discrimination claims filed against religious institutions. The case was argued during the court’s October Term for 2019-2020 on May 11, 2020.

The case: In both cases, two teachers at Catholic schools were not offered contract renewals. Both teachers filed discrimination claims in federal district court against their former employers. The court ruled that both schools were protected religious organizations exempted from anti-discrimination employment laws. Both teachers appealed to the 9th Circuit, which reversed the district court’s ruling in one case and denied petition for rehearing and for rehearing en banc in the second case.

The issue: Whether the religion clauses prevent civil courts from adjudicating employment discrimination claims brought by an employee against her religious employer, where the employee carried out important religious functions.

The outcome: The court reversed and remanded the decision of the 9th Circuit in a 7-2 ruling, holding that the First Amendment’s religion clauses foreclose the adjudication of Morrissey-Berru’s and Biel’s employment discrimination claims. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As of July 8, 2020, the court had issued decisions in 58 cases this term. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 850 cases, averaging 77 cases per year.

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SCOTUS issues opinions in July

On July 6, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued opinions in two linked cases, Colorado Department of State v. Baca and Chiafalo v. Washington, and in the case Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc. The cases were argued during the court’s October Term for 2019-2020. According to SCOTUSblog, this is the first time the court has issued opinions in July since 1996.
Chiafalo v. Washington
The case: Chiafalo v. Washington originated from the Washington Supreme Court. The case concerned state-appointed presidential electors who voted contrary to Washington state law requiring that they cast their electoral college ballots for the winner of the popular vote. When the case was granted review by SCOTUS, it was consolidated with the case Colorado Department of State v. Baca. On March 10, 2020, the cases were no longer consolidated but remained linked. Chiafalo v. Washington was argued before SCOTUS on May 13, 2020.
The issue: Whether the enforcement of a Washington state law that threatens a fine for presidential electors who vote contrary to how the law directs is unconstitutional because (1) a state has no power to legally enforce how a presidential elector casts his or her ballot and (2) a state penalizing an elector for exercising his or her constitutional discretion to vote violates the First Amendment.
The outcome: The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in a unanimous ruling, holding that a state may enforce an elector’s pledge to support their party’s nominee and the state voters’ choice for President of the United States. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion of the court.
Colorado Department of State v. Baca
The case: Colorado Department of State v. Baca originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. The case concerned state-appointed presidential electors in Colorado who voted contrary to a state law that requires electors to cast their electoral college ballots for the winner of the popular vote. Colorado Department of State v. Baca was argued before the SCOTUS on May 13, 2020. Justice Sonia Sotomayor recused herself from this case and took no part in the decision.
The issue: 1. Whether a presidential elector who is prevented by their appointing State from casting an Electoral College ballot that violates state law lacks standing to sue their appointing State because they hold no constitutionally protected right to exercise discretion. 2. Does Article II or the Twelfth Amendment forbid a State from requiring its presidential electors to follow the State’s popular vote when casting their Electoral College ballots.
The outcome: The court reversed the ruling of the 10th Circuit in an 8-0 per curiam decision, holding that the decision is reversed for the reasons outlined in the court’s opinion for Chiafalo v. Washington.
Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc.
The case: This was a case concerning the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s debt-collection exemption and whether or not it violated the First Amendment’s free speech clause. It originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The case was argued before SCOTUS on May 6, 2020.
The issue: Whether the government-debt exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991’s automated-call restriction violates the First Amendment, and whether the proper remedy for any constitutional violation is to sever the exception from the remainder of the statute.
The outcome: The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the 4th Circuit’s judgment in a 6-3 opinion, holding that the 2015 government-debt exception to the 1991 federal ban on robocalls to cell phones added an unconstitutional exception to the law and that the exception is severable from the remainder of the statute. Justice Brett Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the court.
As of July 6, 2020, the court had issued decisions in 56 cases this term. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 850 cases, averaging 77 cases per year.
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U.S. Supreme Court releases opinions on abortion, CFPB, and education

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued decisions in five cases this week. The court has issued decisions in 52 cases so far this term. The court usually finishes releasing all opinions for the term by the end of June. This year, the court will issue opinions in July for the first time since 1996.

The case: USAID v. Alliance for Open Society International concerned the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 (the Leadership Act). The Leadership Act required U.S. and foreign organizations that fight HIV/AIDS overseas to explicitly adopt a policy opposing prostitution and sex trafficking. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case ruled the requirement to adopt this policy was unconstitutional for U.S. organizations.

After the 2013 ruling, the U.S. government continued to apply the policy requirement to foreign affiliates of U.S. organizations fighting HIV/AIDS overseas. The Alliance for Open Society International (AOSI) challenged this interpretation.

The outcome: The court reversed the 2nd Circuit’s decision in a 5-3 ruling, holding foreign affiliates of U.S.-based organizations that receive federal funds to fight HIV/AIDS abroad are not protected under the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, the policy requirement for foreign affiliates is constitutional. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the majority, “In short, plaintiffs’ foreign affiliates are foreign organizations, and foreign organizations operating abroad have no First Amendment rights.”

The case: June Medical Services v. Russo concerned Louisiana Act 620, which required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. June Medical Services, a clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, challenged Louisiana Act 620 in court. While June Medical Services’ lawsuit was ongoing, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that a Texas law similar to Act 620 was unconstitutional.

The Middle District of Louisiana then held Act 620 was unconstitutional. On appeal, the 5th Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling. June Medical Services appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the 5th Circuit’s ruling “conflicts with Whole Woman’s Health in its result and its reasoning.”

The outcome: The court reversed the 5th Circuit’s decision in a 5-4 ruling, holding Act 620 was unconstitutional.

The case: Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau concerned the extent of the president’s appointment and removal powers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a civil investigative demand to the California-based firm, Seila Law. Seila Law refused to comply, so the agency petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, asking it to enforce the demand. Seila Law responded by arguing that the CFPB violated the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine.

The Dodd-Frank Act created the CFPB in 2010. 12 U.S.C. §5491(c)(3) of the Act established one agency director, a presidential appointee subject to Senate confirmation. The director serves a five-year term, and can be removed only for cause—”inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.”

The outcome: The U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 opinion that the structure of the CFPB violated the separation of powers and that the removal power restrictions could be severed from the rest of the Dodd-Frank Act.

The case: Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue concerned whether the government can exclude religious institutions from student-aid programs and relates to Article X, Section 6 of the Montana Constitution, also known as Montana’s Blaine Amendment.

A 2015 Montana law established a tax credit scholarship program that matched—up to $150 a year—taxpayer donations to organizations that issued scholarships for private school students. To ensure compliance with the Montana Constitution, the state Department of Revenue established Rule 1, which barred recipients from using the scholarships at religiously-affiliated private schools. The plaintiffs, three mothers whose children attended religious-affiliated private schools, challenged Rule 1. The Montana 11th Judicial District granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs, prohibiting the rule’s enforcement. On appeal, the Montana Supreme Court reversed the 11th Judicial District’s ruling, holding the law violated the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment.

The outcome: The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling in a 5-4 opinion, holding Article X, Section 6 violated the free exercise clause by barring religious schools and parents who wished to send their children to those schools from receiving public benefits because of the religious character of the school.

The case: United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V. concerned federal trademark registration eligibility. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) denied Booking.com’s four applications to trademark the name Booking.com. The USPTO said the name was generic and not a protectable mark. After several lower court appeals, the USPTO petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

The outcome: The court affirmed the 4th Circuit’s decision in an 8-1 ruling, holding a “generic.com” term is not a generic name for a class of goods or services if consumers recognize the term as distinguishing among members of that class. In those circumstances, “generic.com” (or, in this case, “Booking.com”) is eligible for federal trademark registration.



U.S. Supreme Court rules application of Blaine Amendment violates the free exercise clause

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that the application of Article X, Section 6 of the Montana Constitution violated the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution. Article X, Section 6, known as the state’s Blaine Amendment or as a no aid provision, prohibited the state from making direct or indirect public fund payments to religious schools.

The case concerned whether the government can exclude religious institutions from student-aid programs and addressed the tension between the free exercise and Establishment Clauses of the U.S. Constitution—where one guarantees the right of individuals free exercise of religion and the other guarantees that the state won’t establish a religion—and the intersections of state constitutions with state law and with the U.S. Constitution.

A 2015 Montana law established a tax credit scholarship program that matched—up to $150 a year—taxpayer donations to organizations that issued scholarships for private school students. To ensure compliance with the Montana Constitution, the state Department of Revenue established Rule 1, which barred recipients from using the scholarships at religiously-affiliated private schools. The plaintiffs, three mothers whose children attended religious-affiliated private schools, challenged Rule 1. The Montana 11th Judicial District granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs, prohibiting the rule’s enforcement. On appeal, the Montana Supreme Court reversed the 11th Judicial District’s ruling, holding the law violated the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling in a 5-4 opinion, holding Article X, Section 6 violated the free exercise clause by barring religious schools and parents who wished to send their children to those schools from receiving public benefits because of the religious character of the school.

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justices Samuel Alito and Gorsuch each filed separate concurring opinions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Elena Kagan. Justice Stephen Breyer also dissented, joined by Justice Kagan as to Part I. Justice Sonia Sotomayor also filed a dissenting opinion.

Blaine Amendments refer to language in state constitutions that prohibit public funding for schools or educational institutions run by religious organizations. Blaine Amendments were added to the state constitutions of 38 states. Louisiana’s amendment was repealed in 1974, leaving 37 states with Blaine Amendments in their constitutions as of 2020.

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