Diary

The February Supreme Court Oral Argument Schedule

Later this month, the US Supreme Court will hear oral argument in eight cases.  The following is a summary of each case and the issues involved.

Kingdomware Technologies vs. United States:  For years, the government has encouraged its agencies to award contracts to businesses owned by veterans.  Kindomware Technologies is an IT firm in Maryland owned by a veteran that contracts with the government.  In 2006, frustrated by the lack of effort of agencies to award contracts to veteran-owned businesses, Congress passed a law to make the VA a model.  It directed the VA to award a contract to such a business if there were at least two bidders and the bid price was comparable and within market demands.  The dispute is over the word “shall” in the law.  The VA contends, and the lower courts agree, that the VA’s current system not only meets their goals of awarding contracts to veteran-owned businesses, but that Congress also never intended for a mandatory set-aside in such contracts simply by using the word “shall.”  That is, Congress still allowed the VA enough discretion despite the wording of the law.

Streiff vs. Utah:  As part of a tip to police, local authorities began watching a home and noticed several short-term visits consistent with drug trafficking.  After a week of such surveillance, an officer stopped one such visitor at a local 7-11 after he left the house.  As part of the stop, the officer asked for identification and checked for outstanding warrants which existed.  He was subsequently arrested and as part of the process, a search of his clothes found methamphetamine for which he was arrested.  Streiff contends that the evidence should be suppressed arguing it was the fruit of an unlawful investigatory stop.

Taylor vs. United States:  Under the Hobbs Act, the government must prove an interstate commerce element to the alleged illegal act.  In this particular case, the government argues they are absolved of proving that element by the nature of the crime itself.  Specifically, the government contends that the robbery or attempted robbery of a drug dealer necessarily proves an interstate commerce element.  Mr. Taylor in this case is arguing that marijuana- the drug in question here- was grown in Virginia and had no effect on interstate commerce.  If it had no effect on interstate commerce, there could be no Hobbs Act violation.  No Hobbs Act violation and one is left with a simple misdemeanor possession charge under Virginia law.

Halo Electronics vs. Pulse Electronics:  This is a patent infringement case and what level of review and judicial test should be used in awarding attorney fees.  Yawn…

Hughes vs. PPL EnergyPlus:  At first glance, this looks like a boring case, but it has the potential to affect electricity prices.  The case deals with state subsidies to local utility providers to help them gain increased sources of power generation for their customers.  The issue is the relative degree of authority in this area between the states and the federal government should be allowed.  This is another case this term about electricity pricing and the relative roles of state and the federal governments in the regulation of this area.

MHN Government Services vs. Zaborowski:  Yet another arbitration case out of California.  In this one, the California courts generally side with plaintiffs in disputes even when arbitration is spelled out as the dispute resolution process in a contract.  Unfortunately for California, that violates the Federal Arbitration Act which prefers arbitration over civil law suits for companies engaged in interstate commerce.  MHN is one such company where the California courts sided with a client.  Generally, the Court has frowned on these violations which the Left generally describes as the little guy (whoever that is) being trampled upon by big business.

Voisine vs. United States:  This is a very interesting case that denial of a firearm permit in this particular case violates the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments and the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution.  Specifically, as part of a plea agreement, the plaintiff pleaded guilty to a charge of domestic abuse not involving a firearm in 2004.  In 2009, they were charged with illegally shooting at a bald eagle.  In that court proceeding, the government contended that he should be denied a firearm permit given the domestic abuse charge five years previous even though that charge did not involve a firearm.  Voisine is arguing that the federal government is re-arguing the state charge in federal court to deny him his firearm possession.

Williams vs. Pennsylvania:  In this case, a state supreme court justice voted to uphold the capital conviction of the plaintiff.  State supreme court justices are elected in Pennsylvania.  In this case, the justice in question was the prosecutor who pursued the death penalty against the accused and further defended the decision on behalf of the prosecutor’s office in the appeals process.  The plaintiff here is arguing that as a now-state supreme court justice, they should have recused themselves from the case.  It should be noted that the vote by the jurist in question was not decisive in reinstating the death sentence.  However, Williams argues that whether decisive or not, a jurist on a multimember tribunal MUST recuse themselves from the case to remove any taint of favoritism one way or the other.

The Roberts Court has been fairly big on judicial integrity and last term upheld campaign finance law violation convictions against elected judges in Florida.  They previously ruled on recusal requests in a case out of West Virginia.  Conversely, Roberts has stated that as concerns the Supreme Court itself, justices should be left to their own devices as to recuse themselves or not.  This was particularly apparent during the Obamacare cases and whether Justice Kagan should have participated.  This comes down to the adage: “Caesar’s wife must be beyond suspicion.”  In this case, a former prosecutor who secured a death sentence against a defendant and defended that sentence on appeal should recuse himself.  Ironically, by not doing so he placed all that he fought for as a prosecutor at risk now.