TagSupreme Court

SCOTUS vacates appellate court ruling, remands case to bankruptcy court in City of Chicago, Illinois v. Fulton

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On January 14, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous ruling in the case City of Chicago, Illinois v. Fulton. The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and concerned retained property under the federal Bankruptcy Code. The case was argued during the court’s October term for 2020-2021 on October 13, 2020. Oral arguments were initially scheduled for April 20 but were postponed in response to public health guidance on COVID-19.

The case: The City of Chicago towed and impounded Robbin Fulton’s vehicle. Fulton filed a petition for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and a repayment plan in federal bankruptcy court. Fulton requested that the City return her vehicle. The City declined to do so. Fulton moved for sanctions against the City of Chicago. The City asserted that it would retain possession of the vehicle and cited an exemption from the Bankruptcy Code’s automatic stay.

The bankruptcy court ruled that the City was required to return the vehicle, imposed sanctions, and sustained Fulton’s objection to the City’s assertion of its status as a secured creditor. The City moved to stay the order, but the court denied the request. The City returned the vehicle and appealed to the 7th Circuit. The court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s ruling.

The issue: “Whether an entity that is passively retaining possession of property in which a bankruptcy estate has an interest has an affirmative obligation under the Bankruptcy Code’s automatic stay, 11 U.S.C § 362, to return that property to the debtor or trustee immediately upon the filing of the bankruptcy petition.”

The outcome: In an 8-0 opinion, the court vacated the 7th Circuit’s ruling and remanded the case, holding that retaining property after a bankruptcy petition is filed does not violate the Bankruptcy Code.

As of January 14, 2021, the court had issued opinions in 11 cases this term. Four cases were decided without argument.

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Differing deference views in FDA abortion pill case

On January 12, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily restored restrictions implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) governing the dispensation of an abortion-inducing pill. A district court had ordered the FDA to loosen restrictions on the drug because, in its view, the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult for women to access the pills.

In a concurring opinion attached to the court’s action, Chief Justice Roberts argued that the district court should have given judicial deference to the FDA’s judgment about how to adjust its rules during the pandemic. 

He wrote, “Here as in related contexts concerning government responses to the pandemic, my view is that courts owe significant deference to the politically accountable entities with the ‘background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.’”

Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, agreeing with Roberts that “deference is due to reasoned decisions of public health officials grappling with a deadly pandemic.” However, she wrote that “the record here is bereft of any reasoning [… and there] simply is no reasoned decision here to which this Court can defer.”   

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. It refers to when a federal court yields to an agency’s interpretation of either a statute that Congress instructed the agency to administer or a regulation promulgated by the agency. In other words, when a law or regulation is challenged in court, the agency’s interpretation is upheld if it is considered to be reasonable, even if the court would prefer a different interpretation.

To learn more about judicial deference or federal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, see the links below.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

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U.S. Supreme Court grants review in 14 cases

On the evening of Jan. 8, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) granted review in 14 cases for a total of 12 hours of oral argument during its 2020-2021 term. The cases have not yet been scheduled for argument.

The following is a list of the cases granted review by SCOTUS and the lower courts from which they originated:

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit

  • Sanchez v. Wolf
  • Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit

  • United States v. Gary

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit

  • City of San Antonio, Texas v. Hotels.com, L.P.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit

  • United States v. Palomar-Santiago
  • Americans for Prosperity v. Becerra (Consolidated with Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra)

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit

  • HollyFrontier Cheyenne Refining, LLC v. Renewable Fuels Association

 U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit

  • Greer v. United States
  • Terry v. United States

U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

  • Mnuchin v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation (Consolidated with Alaska Native Village Corporation Association v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation)
  • Guam v. United States

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

  • Minerva Surgical Inc. v. Hologic Inc.

The Supreme Court began hearing cases for the term on Oct. 5, 2020. The court will hear a total of five hours of oral argument in six cases during its January sitting.

As of Jan. 11, the court had agreed to hear arguments in 60 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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SCOTUS announces oral arguments to be conducted via teleconference for January sitting

On Jan. 5, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments via teleconference during its January sitting, following the same format that was used during its October, November, and December sittings.

Under this format, all relevant counsel are called the morning of the case’s argument day and are briefed with instructions. At the time of argument, the justices enter the main conference call for argument. Chief Justice Roberts will call the first case and will prompt counsel to present their arguments. The chief justice will conduct initial questioning. Once complete, the associate justices are able to ask questions in turns in order of seniority.

The following is a list of the current Supreme Court justices in order of seniority:

  • Chief Justice John Roberts – Appointed by President George W. Bush (R) in 2005
  • Associate Justice Clarence Thomas – Appointed by President George H.W. Bush (R) in 1991
  • Associate Justice Stephen Breyer – Appointed by President Bill Clinton (D) in 1994
  • Associate Justice Samuel Alito – Appointed by President George W. Bush (R) in 2006
  • Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor – Appointed by President Barack Obama (D) in 2009
  • Associate Justice Elena Kagan – Appointed by President Barack Obama (D) in 2010
  • Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch – Appointed by President Donald Trump (R) in 2017
  • Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh – Appointed by President Donald Trump (R) in 2018
  • Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett – Appointed by President Donald Trump (R) in 2020

The court also announced that the oral arguments will be provided to the public via live audio stream. The audio files and argument transcripts for cases will be posted on the Court’s website following oral argument each day.

The Supreme Court began hearing cases for the term on Oct. 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.

As of Jan. 8, 2021, the court had agreed to hear 60 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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SCOTUS issues ruling in case concerning Delaware’s method of judicial selection

On December 11, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous ruling in the case Carney v. Adams. The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and concerned judicial selection in Delaware. The case was argued during the court’s October Term for 2020-2021 on October 5, 2020.

The case: As of December 2019, when Delaware Governor John Carney Jr. (D) filed a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court, Article IV, Section 3 of the Delaware Constitution required that no more than the bare majority of judges on a given Delaware court could be of the same political party. 

James Adams, a retired lawyer, sued Gov. Carney in federal district court. Adams argued Article IV, Section 3 violated the First Amendment. In response, Carney argued that Adams did not have the legal right, or standing, to file a lawsuit. A federal magistrate judge ruled the state constitution’s provision was unconstitutional. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the federal district court’s ruling. 

Gov. Carney, acting in his official capacity, 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.

The issues: 

(1) Does the First Amendment invalidate the Delaware Constitution’s “bare majority” requirement? 

(2) Was the 3rd Circuit wrong to hold that part of the Delaware Constitution’s “bare majority” requirement is not severable from the rest of the requirement? 

(3) Does the respondent have standing?

The outcome: The court vacated the 3rd Circuit’s decision in an 8-0 ruling, holding that James Adams, the respondent, did not have standing to sue the governor of Delaware. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opinion and Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the case’s consideration or decision.

As of December 14, 2020, the court had issued opinions in nine cases this term. Four cases were decided without argument.

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Supreme Court releases opinion on water dispute between Texas and New Mexico

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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.

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.

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U.S. Supreme Court releases January 2021 argument calendar

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The U.S. Supreme Court has released its January argument calendar for the 2020-2021 term. The court will hear five hours of oral argument in seven cases between January 11 and January 19.

So far, the court has agreed to hear 46 cases during its 2020-2021 term.

January 11, 2021

Albence v. Guzman Chavez

January 12, 2021

Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

January 13, 2021

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

January 19, 2021

FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project (Consolidated with National Association of Broadcasters v. Prometheus Radio Project)

BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore

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U.S. Supreme Court grants expedited review of case on census count

On October 16, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted Trump v. New York for expedited review and scheduled oral argument for November 30, 2020. The case came on a writ of certiorari to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It concerns congressional apportionment following the 2020 U.S. Census. The U.S. government is asking the Supreme Court to consider if the president can order the U.S. secretary of commerce to exclude individuals residing unlawfully in the U.S. from the census’ apportionment base.

On July 21, 2020, President Donald Trump (R) issued a memorandum to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The memorandum said it was the policy of the United States to exclude individuals living unlawfully in the U.S. from the census apportionment base. A coalition of state and local governments sued the government in U.S. district court, arguing the policy violated the U.S. Constitution and laws governing the census and apportionment. The government argued (1) the court did not have jurisdiction to review the claims and (2) the policy was legal. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the coalition, holding the president exceeded his authority in issuing the memorandum. The government appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The government presented the following two questions to the court:

  1. Does the coalition of state and local governments have the legal right—or standing—to challenge the memorandum?
  2. Does the president have the authority to exclude individuals unlawfully residing in the U.S. from the apportionment base?

The census aims to provide a complete count of the U.S. population along with demographic data. The 2020 census is being conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Statistical information on the population collected through the census every 10 years is used for congressional apportionment and the distribution of federal funds.

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SCOTUS to hear case concerning Fourth Amendment

On Oct. 19, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) granted review in the case “Lange v. California” for a total of one hour of oral argument during its October Term for 2020-2021. The case originated from the California First District Court of Appeal. “Lange v. California” has not yet been scheduled for argument.

The case:  While Arthur Lange was driving home on the highway in Sonoma, California, California Highway Patrol Officer Aaron Weikert pursued Lange with the intention of conducting a traffic stop. Weikert followed Lange home and activated his overhead lights once Lange pulled into his home’s driveway. Lange pulled into the garage and the garage door began closing behind him. Weikert approached Lange and stopped the garage from closing with his foot. He questioned Lange and asked if Lange knew Weikert was following him. Lange stated that he did not know Weikert was following him. Weikert stated he smelled alcohol on Lange’s breath and charged Lange with driving under the influence.

At trial, Lange claimed that Weikert’s entry into Lange’s home violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution since Weikert did not have a warrant to enter Lange’s home, and the court moved to suppress a video recording of the incident. The trial court concluded that the officer had probable cause, denied the motion to suppress, and issued a conviction for Lange. Following that action, a civil court ruled that Lange’s arrest was unlawful, while an appellate court ruled that the arrest was lawful. On appeal to the California First District Court of Appeal, the court affirmed the conviction.

The issue: Whether the pursuit of a person whom a police officer has probable cause to believe has committed a misdemeanor categorically qualifies as an exigent circumstance sufficient to allow the officer to enter a home without a warrant.

The Supreme Court began hearing cases for the term on Oct. 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 October 19, 2020, the court had agreed to hear 39 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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Senate Judiciary Committee to vote on Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination Oct. 22

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett‘s nomination for consideration before the full Senate. Twenty-two senators currently sit on that committee, including 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

President Donald Trump (R) nominated Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 29 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18. Barrett’s confirmation hearings were held Oct. 12 – 15 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On day one of the hearings, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) provided opening statements, followed by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) then introduced Barrett. After the introductions, Barrett gave her opening statement. The day ended with Barrett’s introduction to the committee by professor Patricia O’Hara, which was delayed due to technical difficulties during the initial introductions.

Day two of the hearings consisted of senators questioning Barrett for 11 hours, with each senator allotted 30 minutes. Recurring themes in the questioning included abortion, the Affordable Care Act, election disputes, legal access to firearms, and same-sex marriage. On day three of the hearings, senators continued to question Barrett for nearly nine hours—with each senator allotted 20 minutes. Recurring themes in the questioning included abortion, election administration, immigration, and presidential power.

On the fourth and final day of hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-10 to hold a committee vote on Barrett’s nomination. Most Democrats voted by proxy because they did not appear in person. The committee also heard witness testimony. Witnesses in support of Barrett’s confirmation included the American Bar Association, former Judge Thomas Griffith, a law school professor, a former student, and a former mentee and employee of Barrett. Witnesses opposed to Barrett’s confirmation included the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a medical doctor, a small business owner and activist, and a nonprofit leader.

The average vacancy length on the Supreme Court since 1962—when defined as the length of time elapsed between a justice’s departure date and the swearing-in of their successor—is 88 days. Four of these vacancies lasted for only a few hours each; the successor was sworn in the same day the retiring justice officially left office. The longest vacancy under this definition was 422 days, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

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