Diary

The April Supreme Court Docket

In April, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in nine cases.  They are:

Bullard vs. Blue Hills Bank:  This is a bankruptcy case which asks whether the denial of confirmation of a bankruptcy plan by a bankruptcy court can be appealed.  It involves a plan which some say was agreed upon while others say they are not so sure.  Regardless, this about a nuance of the bankruptcy code.

Harris vs. Viegelahn:   Another bankruptcy case involving the distribution of funds when a case converts from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Many of these bankruptcy cases evolve from real estate holdings, their value and the housing mortgage implosion of 2008.

Johnson vs. United States:  This case was originally scheduled to be heard earlier in the term.  At issue is whether the mere possession of a short-barreled shotgun should be treated as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act, as the federal government contends.  It should be noted that as a result of this previous conviction, his sentence was enhanced considerably for a robbery (not at issue here).  Basically, the Court is asked whether the ACCA is constitutionally vague in this area.

McFadden vs. United States:  This is truly a bizarre case involving bath salts.  The petitioner began selling bath salts online after being advised by a relative- an ICE agent- that he could make extra money this way.  Before doing so, he consulted the DEA’s list of scheduled substances to make sure it was not illegal.  The government later listed two compounds in these salts as scheduled drug analogues- those that had a similar physiological and behavioral effect on humans as any substance listed on their schedules.  When McFadden found out, he discarded his supply of bath salts and ceased selling them, including refusing a sale to an undercover DEA agent.  A grand jury indicted him nevertheless.  This seems like an ex post facto prosecution and one where McFadden will and should receive some deference.  At the time he did sell the salts, he was unaware of their “analogous” designation which occurred after the fact.  In other words, how could he have known what the government had not yet determined?

Horne vs. US Department of Agriculture: The raisin case returns to the Court.  The Court must first determine whether the Fifth Amendment’s command to pay just compensation applies only to real property and not personal property.  Secondly, if they allow the owner of the property to retain some ownership stake in the property (set at the government’s discretion), does this satisfy their Fifth Amendment obligations.  Finally, and most importantly, they must determine if the government demands that a property owner must relinquish that property as a condition to engage in commerce, is that a taking?  The ramifications of this case on Takings Clause jurisprudence and federal agricultural policy is important.

Kingsley vs. Hendrickson:  This is a case about excessive force used by police agents of a pretrial detainee.  The officers sought to have the case dismissed, but the trial court refused based upon videotaped evidence which indicated that the amount of force used was disproportionate to the actions of Kingsley.  He was handcuffed at the time and lying on his stomach when officers “tased” him.  They claimed he was resisting having the handcuffs removed.  After being “tased,” they left him in the holding cell before returning to remove the handcuffs.  This is not a case to be decided on the merits, but whether the lower court’s determination should be paramount in determining whether the case goes forward.  This is a case of judicial Due Process, not the rights of criminals held in custody.

Obergfell vs. Hodges, et. al:  Actually a consolidation of four cases, this is the infamous gay marriage case.  Interestingly, the Court will release audio of the oral argument later that day.  This writer will have more detail on these cases as argument nears.

Glossip vs. Gross:  This is another important case that involves the Eighth Amendment and the protocols used for lethal injection.  Again, I will have more on this case later in April.

Mata vs. Holder:  April oral argument ends on a rather low note with this immigration case about statute of limitations in reopening an Immigration Appeals Board decision in federal court based on an ineffective counsel claim.  In essence, immigration Due Process meets the Sixth Amendment.