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SCOTUS issues opinions in cases concerning ACA, copyright, and NYC’s former ban on transporting firearms

On April 27, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued rulings in three cases argued during its October Term 2019-2020. The court has issued 29 decisions this term.

Maine Community Health Options v. United States concerned the “Risk Corridors” program of Section 1342 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and was argued on December 10, 2019.
  • The issue: Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor defined the issue: “These cases are about whether petitioners—insurers who claim losses under the Risk Corridors program—have a right to payment under §1342 and a damages remedy for the unpaid amounts.”
  • The outcome: The court reversed the Federal Circuit’s decision in an 8-1 ruling and remanded the case. The court held that the risk corridors statute created a government obligation to pay insurers the full amount set out in Section 1342’s formula, that Congress did not impliedly repeal the obligation through its appropriations riders, and that petitioners properly relied on the Tucker Act to sue for damages in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc., a case that concerned copyright law and the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), originated from the 11th Circuit and was argued on December 2, 2019.
  • The issue: “Whether the government edicts doctrine extends to—and thus renders uncopyrightable—works that lack the force of law, such as the annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.”
  • The outcome: The court affirmed the 11th Circuit’s decision in a 5-4 ruling, holding “the OCGA annotations are ineligible for copyright protection.” Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that under the government edicts doctrine, judges and legislators “may not be considered the ‘authors’ of the works they produce in the course of their official duties.” The rule applies even if a material lacks the force of law.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York concerned New York City’s former ban on transporting a licensed, locked, and unloaded handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits. It originated in the 2nd Circuit and was argued on December 2, 2019.
  • The issue: “Whether the City’s ban on transporting a licensed, locked, and unloaded handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits is consistent with the Second Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and the constitutional right to travel.”
  • The outcome: The court vacated the 2nd Circuit’s ruling in a 6-3 per curiam decision, holding the petitioners’ claim was moot because the city changed the ban in 2019. A per curiam decision is issued collectively by the court with no indicated authorship. Justice Brett Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion. Justice Samuel Alito filed a dissenting opinion, joined in full by Justice Neil Gorsuch and in all but Part IV-B by Justice Clarence Thomas.

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U.S. Supreme Court limits judicial review in patent cases

On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court limited when people may challenge in court certain agency decisions related to patents. In _Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Technologies, LP_ the court ruled 7-2 that judges may not review decisions made by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) about whether the time limit had passed for challenging patents.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.

In her opinion, Ginsburg argued that the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) prevents courts from reviewing whether the PTAB rightfully began _inter partes review_ (IPR). IPR allows a third party to both challenge a patent claim and request review of the challenge before the PTAB. Ginsburg cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the purpose of the AIA to support limiting judicial review.

Ginsburg also wrote that the language of the AIA limiting judicial review overcomes the general understanding that courts may review agency decisions. She concluded that allowing appeals of PTAB decisions to begin IPR would go against Congress’ reasons for creating IPR.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Gorsuch argued that the decision brings the court closer to giving away core judicial powers to agency officials and to leaving the rights and liberties of private citizens to the mercy of bureaucrats.

Click here to learn more about the case or about judicial review.

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

Additional reading:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Journey: Judicial review
Patent examiner
Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group
The Administrative State Project



SCOTUS issues opinions in cases concerning immigration, trademark use, and the Clean Water Act (CWA)

On April 23, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued rulings in three cases argued during its October Term 2019-2020.

1. Barton v. Barr, a case that concerned immigration law, originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and was argued on November 4, 2019.

  • The issue: “Whether a lawfully admitted permanent resident who is not seeking admission to the United States can be “render[ed] … inadmissible” for the purposes of the stop-time rule, 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(d)(l).”
  • The outcome: The court affirmed the decision of the 11th Circuit in a 5-4 ruling, holding that for purposes of cancellation-of-removal eligibility, a §1182(a)(2) offense committed during the initial seven years of residence does not need to be one of the offenses of removal

2. County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, a case that concerned the Clean Water Act (CWA), originated from the 9th Circuit and was argued on November 6, 2019.

  • The issue: “Whether the CWA requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source, such as groundwater.”
  • The outcome: The court vacated and remanded the 9th Circuit’s decision in a 6-3 ruling. The court held “a permit is required when there is a discharge from a point source directly into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.” In the majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the 9th Circuit’s holding was too broad, while the petitioner’s argument was too narrow.

3. Romag Fasteners v. Fossil, a case that concerned trademark law, originated in the Federal Circuit and was argued on January 14, 2020.

  • The issue: “Whether, under section 35 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a), willful infringement is a prerequisite for an award of an infringer’s profits for a violation of section 43(a), id. § 1125(a).”
  • The outcome: The court vacated and remanded the decision of the Federal Circuit in a 9-0 ruling, holding that a plaintiff in a trademark infringement suit is not required to show that a defendant willfully infringed the plaintiff’s trademark as a pre-condition to a profits award.

As of April 23, 2020, the court had issued decisions in 26 cases this term. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 924 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.

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SCOTUS issues opinions in three cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions in three cases on April 20 during its October 2019 term.

1. Ramos v. Louisiana originated from the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and was argued on October 7, 2019. It concerned the right to a unanimous verdict in a jury trial.

  • The issue: “Whether the Fourteenth Amendment fully incorporates the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous verdict?”
  • The outcome: The court reversed the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in a 6-3 ruling, holding “if the Sixth Amendment’s right to a jury trial requires a unanimous verdict to support a conviction in federal court, it requires no less in state court.” In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a 1972 SCOTUS case, Apodaca v. Oregon.

2. Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian originated from the Montana Supreme Court and was argued on December 3, 2019. It concerned the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980.

  • The issues:
    • “Whether a common-law claim for restoration seeking cleanup remedies that conflict with EPA-ordered remedies is a “challenge” to EPA’s cleanup jurisdictionally barred by § 113 of CERCLA.
    • Whether a landowner at a Superfund site is a “potentially responsible party” that must seek EPA’s approval under CERCLA § 122(e)(6) before engaging in remedial action, even if EPA has never ordered the landowner to pay for a cleanup.
    • Whether CERCLA preempts state common-law claims for restoration that seek cleanup remedies that conflict with EPA-ordered remedies.”
  • The outcome: The court affirmed in part and vacated in part the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and remanded the case. In a 7-2 ruling, the court held the Montana Supreme Court was wrong to rule that “the landowners were not potentially responsible parties under the Act and thus did not need EPA approval to take remedial action.”

3. Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Technologies, LP originated in the Federal Circuit and was argued before the court on December 9, 2019. It concerned judicial review of agency decisions.

  • The issue: “Whether 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) permits appeal of the [Patent Trial and Appeal Board]’s decision to institute an inter partes review upon finding that § 315(b)’s time bar did not apply.”
  • The outcome: The court vacated and remanded the Federal Circuit’s decision in a 7-2 ruling. The court held that the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) prevents courts from reviewing certain agency processes related to patents. It held that courts may not review the interpretation of a law governing time limits for certain patent reviews made by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.


U.S. Supreme Court overturns Oregon ballot measure from 1932 that enacted non-unanimous jury verdicts

On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an Oregon ballot measure from 1932 in its ruling on Ramos v. Louisiana. In 2016, Evangelisto Ramos was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment on a 10 to 12 jury verdict. He appealed his conviction to the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, arguing his conviction by a non-unanimous jury violated his federal constitutional rights. The court of appeal affirmed Ramos’ conviction and sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and in a 6-3 decision, the Court held that “if the Sixth Amendment’s right to a jury trial requires a unanimous verdict to support a conviction in federal court, it requires no less in state court.”

In 1932, Oregon voters passed Measure 2, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, with 58 percent of the vote. The measure allowed non-unanimous verdicts in all criminal trials, except first-degree murder trials. It also provided that in criminal trials any accused person, with the consent of the trial judge, may waive trial by a jury and consent in writing to be tried by the judge alone. In the published voting guide, state legislators in favor of the amendment argued that it would “prevent one or two jurors from controlling the verdict.”

Oregon and Louisiana were the last two states to allow non-unanimous verdicts. Between 1812 and 1898, the state of Louisiana required unanimous juries to convict persons for felonies in state criminal trials. In 1898, Louisiana held a state constitutional convention, which resulted in an amendment to allow 9-3 verdicts for serious felonies. In 1973, Louisiana held another state constitutional convention, which increased the requirement for non-unanimous verdicts from 9-3 to 10-2. In 2018, Louisiana voters approved Amendment 2 with 64 percent of the vote. It was a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that required the unanimous agreement of the jurors to convict people charged with felonies.

In its decision, the Supreme Court explained that the enactment of non-unanimous jury verdicts in Oregon and Louisiana was a product of racism. Writing the majority opinion for the Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “Courts in both Louisiana and Oregon have frankly acknowledged that race was a motivating factor in the adoption of their States’ respective nonunanimity rules.”

Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Elena Kagan dissented. In his dissenting opinion, Alito argued against overturning precedent established by Apodaca v. Oregon (1972), which ruled that the Sixth Amendment required unanimous juries to convict persons in federal criminal trials but that the Fourteenth Amendment did not extend the requirement of unanimous juries to state criminal trials. He argued that overruling Apodaca would cause “a potential tsunami of litigation.” The Court’s majority acknowledged the potential number of cases challenging non-unanimous jury verdicts but determined that it did not justify withholding the Sixth Amendment’s protections to state criminal trials.

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SCOTUS schedules postponed arguments for May sitting

The U.S. Supreme Court has released its May argument calendar for the 2019-2020 term. The court will hear nine hours of oral argument in 13 cases between May 4 and May 13. The cases were originally scheduled for the court’s March and April sittings. Those sittings were postponed “in keeping with public health precautions recommended in response to COVID-19.” The U.S. Supreme Court closed to the public indefinitely since March 12.
The arguments will be heard via telephone conference and live streamed to the public. This will be the first time the court has heard oral arguments via teleconference and the first time it will live stream argument audio in its history.
The court agreed to hear 73 cases during its 2019-2020 term. Thirteen of those cases have yet to be scheduled. As of April 16, decisions in 20 have been issued. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 850 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.
May 4, 2020
May 5, 2020
May 6, 2020
May 11, 2020
May 12, 2020
May 13, 2020
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SCOTUS will hear arguments by teleconference, live-streamed to the public

The Supreme Court of the United States announced it would hear arguments in May virtually for 13 cases that had been postponed from the March and April sittings. The court said that live audio of the arguments would be available to the public for the first time in court history.

The 13 cases include several that were deemed to be time-sensitive by the court, including a pair of cases that deal with electoral college delegates and two that relate to the release of President Donald Trump’s financial documents.

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SCOTUS issues opinions in two cases

On April 6, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued rulings in two cases argued during its October term 2019-2020: Babb v. Wilkie and Kansas v. Glover.

The case Babb v. Wilkie came on a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and was argued before SCOTUS on January 15, 2020. The case concerned the federal-sector provision (§633a(a)) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967.

The issue: Whether the federal-sector provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which provides that personnel actions affecting agency employees aged 40 years or older shall be made free from any “discrimination based on age,” 29 U.S.C. §633a(a), requires a plaintiff to prove that age was a but-for cause of the challenged personnel action.

The outcome: In an 8-1 ruling, SCOTUS reversed and remanded the 11th Circuit’s decision, holding the plain meaning of §633a(a) “indicates that the statute does not require proof that an employment decision would have turned out differently if age had not been taken into account.” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the opinion, “If age is a factor in an employment decision, the statute has been violated.”

The case Kansas v. Glover came on a writ of certiorari to the Kansas Supreme Court and was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on November 4, 2019. The case concerned the Fourth Amendment and the evidence needed by a police officer to make an investigatory stop.

The issue: Whether, for purposes of an investigative stop under the Fourth Amendment, it is reasonable for an officer to suspect that the registered owner of a vehicle is the one driving the vehicle absent any information to the contrary.

The outcome: The court reversed and remanded the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in an 8-1 ruling, holding that when an officer lacks information negating an inference that the vehicle’s owner is driving the vehicle, an investigative traffic stop made after running a vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner’s driver’s license has been revoked is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

As of April 6, 2020, the court had issued decisions in 20 cases this term. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 924 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.

Additional reading:
Kansas v. Glover
Supreme Court cases, October term 2019-2020
Supreme Court of the United States
Kansas Supreme Court
United Staes Court of Appeals for the Eleventh



U.S. Supreme Court ruling makes it easier to challenge deportation decisions

On March 23, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Guerrero-Lasprilla v. Barr that lower courts may review how immigration agencies applied the law in certain deportation cases. The court consolidated this case with Ovalles v. Barr, which posed the same question.

The court ruled that deciding whether a deportee diligently pursued immigration officials to reopen his or her case was a _question of law_. Congress limited judicial review of agency decisions to deport people when the person deported has committed certain crimes. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the question of law at issue in this case fell outside those congressional limits.

In 1998, Pedro Pablo Guerrero-Lasprilla, a Colombian national living in the United States, was deported after being convicted of aggravated felonies. In 2016, he asked to reopen his removal proceedings. An immigration judge denied Guerrero-Lasprilla’s petition on the grounds that it was untimely. Later, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the petition, saying that it lacked jurisdiction to decide the case.

Ruben Ovalles, a native and citizen of the Dominican Republic, entered the United States in 1985 as a lawful permanent resident. In 2004, he was deported as an aggravated felon. In 2007, Ovalles filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denied the motion. On appeal, the 5th Circuit upheld the BIA’s motion. In 2016, Ovalles filed a second motion to reopen his removal proceedings. The BIA and the 5th Circuit again denied Ovalles’ petition.

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the 5th Circuit’s decisions and remanded the cases back to that court. Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the opinion of the court joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, joined in part by Justice Samuel Alito. Thomas argued that the majority expanded the scope of judicial review beyond the textual and structural boundaries set by Congress.

To learn more about this case click here.

Additional reading:
Learning Journey – Judicial Review
Immigration Judge
Federal administrative adjudicators
Administrative judge
Administrative Procedure Act



U.S. Supreme Court postpones April sitting

The U.S. Supreme Court announced it was postponing the eight hours of oral arguments originally scheduled during its April sitting (April 20-22; April 27-29). In a press release, the court said the delay was “in keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19.” The court had previously postponed the 11 hours of oral argument scheduled for its March sitting (March 23-25; March 30-April 1). The court has been indefinitely closed to the public since March 12.

The court noted in a statement that it would “consider rescheduling some cases from the March and April sessions before the end of the Term, if circumstances permit in light of public health and safety guidance at that time.” Otherwise, the court continues to conduct business, including releasing opinions using the court website, holding regularly scheduled conferences, and issuing order lists.

The court has heard arguments in 59 of the 73 cases it accepted to hear this term. As of April 3, the court had issued decisions in 18 cases and dismissed one case without a decision this term.

The court last postponed arguments in October 1918 in response to the Spanish flu epidemic. In August 1793 and 1798, argument calendars were shortened in response to yellow fever outbreaks.