In March, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in 14 cases with two or three possibly important blockbuster cases. In order, the full calendar is as follows:
Nichols vs. United States: This case involves the registration of sex offenders and whether such requirements are legal when the sex offender moves out of the country. Specifically, Nichols registered in the state where he was charged and did so every time he moved except for one such move- out of the country to the Philippines. He was extradited back to the United States and tried on the charges of failing to notify the authorities. This is a question that has divided the lower courts.
Husky International Electronics vs. Ritz: A bankruptcy case with all the excitement of paint drying…slowly.
Whole Women’s Health Center vs. Hellerstedt: For the first time in many terms, the Roberts Court will take on abortion. This case is about two provisions of Texas’ HB-2 and its requirements that providers at abortion clinics have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of such clinics. This writer will have a more detailed analysis of this case later this week. Needless to say, the ability of states to regulate abortion clinics is at stake here and how far they can go doing so. (Note: a 4-4 tie would allow the law to go into full effect)
Wittman vs. Personhuballah: Virginia’s Congressional district map was struck down by a federal court under the Voting Rights Act. This case argues that the lower courts erred in their analysis and that politics, not race, prevailed in drawing those maps mindful of the fact that as long as race is not a consideration, political partisan gerrymandering of districts is acceptable. The Court has refused to step in and put a hold on the court-drawn map in Virginia and things are proceeding as if that map is the acceptable one for now.
RJR Nabisco vs. the European Community (Union): The European Community, now Union, alleged that RJ Reynolds conspired to launder the proceeds of drug transactions from dealers in Colombia, Afghanistan and elsewhere through a complex scheme of buying and reselling cigarettes through wholesalers. The EU sued in federal court under the RICO Act and the case was decided in favor of RJ Reynolds. However, upon appeal, the 2nd Circuit reversed even though the government contended that the reach of RICO did not extend beyond our borders.
Puerto Rico vs. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust: Federal bankruptcy laws do not apply to Puerto Rico. However, creditors claim that even so, they preempt a Puerto Rico statute that allows the commonwealth from restructuring their debt with public utilities. Many will be watching this case since it may signal how Puerto Rico will deal with their mounting debt and whether or not federal bankruptcy laws may be available or not.
Simmons vs. Himmelreich: A truly boring tort claims issue.
Zubik vs. Burwell: The second of the important cases this month, it is actually a consolidation of seven cases from the lower courts. It is better known as the “Little Sisters of the Poor” case and involves the contraception mandate in Obamacare. Again, this writer will have a much more detailed analysis of this case later in March. The oddest thing thus far is the name of the case. Rumor has it that the Court chose this petitioner (Zubik) rather than Little Sisters of the Poor to avoid the negative optics involved. (Note: a 4-4 tie would affirm the lower court decisions upholding the contraception mandate as applied to these petitioners)
CRST Van Expedited vs. EEOC: This case involves the awarding of attorney fees, which can be done under Title VII, when the EEOC basically dropped the ball.
Betterman vs. Montana: The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant a right to a speedy trial. In this case, Betterman was charged with bail jumping after he failed to appear in court on a domestic abuse charge. Two months later, he turned himself in and pleaded guilty to the domestic abuse charge and was sentenced to five years in state prison. However, he was remanded to the county jail to await sentencing on the bail jumping charge to which he also pleaded guilty. Instead, he was held in county jail for 14 months pending sentencing on that charge. Today, he argues that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial- as it applied to the sentencing phase- was violated. I am not really big on criminal rights, but 14 months in county jail awaiting sentencing on a bail-jumping charge seems a little excessive.
Sheriff vs. Gillie: This case addresses whether Special Counsels- those appointed by the Attorney General- are state officers and whether using official stationery of the Attorney General’s Office is misleading.
Ross vs. Blake: The Prison Litigation Reform Act- a federal law designed to reign in prisoner lawsuits and frivolous claims- requires that before filing suit in court, a prisoner must exhaust all administrative remedies. However, there is a generally applied common law understanding in civil tort actions that if a plaintiff reasonably believed they satisfied all required administrative remedies (if offered), then they may file a civil suit in court. This case asks whether that common law understanding applies to this federal law.
Welch vs. United States: Last term in an 8-1 decision, the Court struck down a section of the Armed Career Criminal Act as unconstitutionally vague. That part of the law increased the penalty from a ten-year maximum to a 15-year minimum if there were three previous violent crimes and/or drug offenses. Welch was one such person who fell under that provision and now argues that the decision should apply retroactively. The stakes are high since if they decide it does, it could lead to the release of hundreds of prisoners.
US Army Corps on Engineers vs. Hawkes Company: Although seemingly complicated, this could be considered the corporate version of the Sackett vs. EPA case. Hawkes owns 530 acres in Minnesota which they want to utilize to mine peat. The Corps of Engineers has determined that the acres in question involve “waters of the United States” and therefore require a costly permit process. Hawkes argues that this stance effectively is a final agency review and subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedures Act.