The First Monday in October: A Look at Some Early Cases

The 2019-2020 Supreme Court term begins on Monday, October 7th.  Nine cases are scheduled for oral argument in October and the following is a synopsis of those cases.


Kahler vs. Kansas

This is an interesting case where the Supreme Court will be asked whether the Eighth and 14th Amendments allow states to abolish the insanity defense.  Kraig Kahler killed his wife and children and another family member.  According to testimony, he became depressed and distraught after finding out his wife was involved in an adulterous relationship with another man.  The resulting depression was used as grounds for an insanity defense as his lawyers admitted he committed the murders.  The Kansas Supreme Court upheld the conviction.  His lawyers argue that executing the criminally insane has always been “cruel and unusual.”   Kansas argues that states are allowed leeway in defining how mental states should be accommodated in criminal law.

Ramos vs. Louisiana

Lousiana and Oregon are the only two states that allow for a non-unanimous verdict in criminal cases.  At issue is whether the Sixth Amendment’s requirement of a unanimous verdict is incorporated against the states, including Oregon and Louisiana.  Given the recent history of the incorporation of the Bill of Rights with respect to the states, it would appear Ramos has a good chance of prevailing.  The Supreme Court last broached this question in 1972.

Peter vs. Nantkwest, Inc.

As is often the case every term, the Court has its fair share of patent cases.  This is one of them.


Bostock vs. Clayton County, Georgia

Consolidated with a similar case, this one asks whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barring discrimination “because of…sex” applies to one’s sexual orientation.  In each case, a gay person claims they were discriminated against and lost employment due to the simple fact they were gay and it was a well-known fact since they let it be known, sometimes to clients or customers.  In essence, the Court is being asked to redefine the meaning of a few words in a 1964 law based upon changing definitions of the term, Bostock’s lawyers argued in the lower courts.  Admittedly, there has been a split among circuits on the question.  Considering that legally homosexuals have never been considered a protected class, this will be a very interesting case to watch.

R.G. and G.R Harris Funeral Home vs. EEOC

This one takes the previous case a little further and asks whether Title VII applies to transgender people.  The EEOC cited the funeral home with a Title VII violation after one employee, a biological male, told his employer he was transitioning to female and would wear women’s clothes to work.  The employer had a strict dress code for anyone dealing with the public.  When the employee failed to comply with the dress code for males, they were terminated.  The EEOC declared that the dress code was based on gender stereotypes and violated Title VII.  Again, the Court will wade into the never-ending redefinition of biological sex.


Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico vs. Aurelius Investments

Amid a financial crisis in Puerto Rico where the island faced $110 billion in debt, Congress created an oversight board to help them get back on their financial feet.  Then-president Obama appointed the members of the Board and the appointments were immediately challenged by a group of investors and labor unions arguing that the appointments required Senate approval.  As the appointments were challenged in court, the Board had made numerous decisions.  The First Circuit eventually ruled that the appointments did require Senate approval but that any decisions the board made would not be reversed because they would cause harm to parties to reconsider every decision.  This case basically wants that question answered.

Kansas vs. Garcia

Immigration law enforcement moves to the forefront in this case.  The Court must determine whether the IRCA pre-empts states from using the information on a federal I-9 form.  That form is strictly for work authorization.  Three people were convicted for using other people’s social security numbers under Kansas law, but the state supreme court invalidated those convictions.  However, the defendants had used the same information on leases, credit applications, and other documents.  In effect, because the state cross-referenced against the I-9, the state court ruled the convictions invalid.


Mathena vs. Malvo

The DC sniper case makes an appearance before the Court.  Lee Malvo, a juvenile at the time, was convicted of ten counts of murder in a case that gripped the nation for months.   He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.  That concept has bedeviled the Court for years and mandatory sentences of this nature are generally considered unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, but discretionary sentences are not.  In effect, the Court must decide what it all means.

Rotkiske vs. Klemm

A case regarding the discovery rule, the statute of limitations and the Fair Debt Collection Act with all the excitement of watching paint drying.



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