February Supreme Court Oral Argument Schedule

The Supreme Court kicks off the February sitting for oral arguments on the 20th and is scheduled to hear nine cases.  The following is a summary of those cases.

Currier vs. Virginia

  • To be heard:              Tuesday, February 20th
  • Origin of case:           Virginia Court of Appeals
  • Type of case:              Fifth Amendment (Double Jeopardy Clause)
  • Explanation:              This case involves a defendant who agreed to have the charges against him, which were many, severed into a sequence of separate trials.  However, the crimes committed originated out of the same criminal act.  The question is whether double jeopardy attaches when the defendant is found innocent in one trial, but the act for which they were found innocent of is important to secure a conviction in a subsequent trial.

City of Hays, Kansas vs. Vogt

  • To be heard:             Tuesday, February 20th
  • Origin of case:          10th Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Type of case:             Fifth Amendment (Self-Incrimination)
  • Explanation:             During the course of an investigation, Vogt, a police officer, apparently removed and kept a knife for personal use.  Someone found out about it and reported it to the department’s internal affairs department.  Vogt then left the department and sought employment at another department.  Naturally, the IA “charges” followed him whereupon charges were brought.  During the probable cause hearing before a magistrate, Vogt made self-incriminating statements.  The question is whether these statements during a probable cause hearing violate the 5th Amendment, or whether such statements only are protected in the context of a criminal trial.

Rosales-Miereles vs. United States

  • To be heard:               Wednesday, February 21st
  • Origin of case:            5th Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Type of case:               Criminal Procedure
  • Explanation:               During the sentencing phase in a criminal trial, it was later discovered that inaccurate data were used to determine an appropriate sentence length under the Uniform Sentencing Guidelines that added time to the person convicted.  This error was later appealed and the lower courts determined that although such errors are “plain,” this did not rise to the level of judicial incompetence so that the appeal had any merit.  The Fifth Circuit determined that an error must be so egregious that it questions the integrity of the judicial process.  They determined it did not and now the Supreme Court must decide the level of “egregiousness” that would require prevailing on appeal.

Dahda vs. United States

  • To be heard:               Wednesday, February 21st
  • Origin of case:            10th Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Type of Case:              Fourth Amendment
  • Explanation:               Under the provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the government must obtain a warrant from a magistrate for any search.  That warrant must be specific as to what is to be searched and where the search is to be valid.  This case asks whether a warrant is insufficient if the wiretap in this case occurred outside the jurisdiction of the issuing judge.

Janus vs. AFSCME, Council 31

  • To be heard:               Monday, February 26th
  • Origin of case:            7th Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Type of case:               First Amendment (Free Speech, Association)
  • Explanation:               Last term, organized labor barely made it through a challenge similar to this one in a case out of California involving dues paid to a teacher’s union.  That decision ended 4-4 after the death of Scalia and the lower court’s decision stood.  This is a similar challenge to unions taking dues from a member’s check even if the member does not agree with the union.  This case directly asks the Court to overturn the Abood decision which is the guideline in this area.  This has the potential to be a very important case this term as organized labor is watching closely.  A decision against them would profoundly alter their lifeblood- union dues- and how they are collected, or even if they can be collected.  As it stands now, about 27% of union dues are dedicated to lobbying and political donations, most if not all of it going to Democrats.

Ohio vs. American Express Co.

  • To be heard:                Monday, February 26th
  • Origin of case:            2nd Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Type of case:               Antitrust
  • Explanation:               This is more of a review standard case involving credit card companies who charge merchants fees, or waive those fees, in order to do business.  Specifically, the Court is asked who has the greater burden of proof to prove the anti-competitive effects of such practices- the government, or the credit card company?

United States vs. Microsoft

  • To be heard:                 Tuesday, February 27th
  • Origin of case:              2nd Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Type of case:                Fourth Amendment
  • Explanation:                This is a very important 4th Amendment case.  Pursuant to a probable cause warrant executed against someone’s e-mail records, Microsoft was served with the warrant and ordered to turn over those e-mails to authorities.  However, the information in this case was stored by Microsoft in another country (Ireland).  Microsoft is arguing that the warrant does not cover electronic communications stored abroad and has no force in the United States.

Lozman vs. City of Riviera Beach, Florida

  • To be heard:                Tuesday, February 27th
  • Origin of case:             11th Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Type of case:                First Amendment
  • Explanation:                This is Lozman’s second appearance before the Court.  He previously sort of won a case which had nothing to do with the current one.  That one involved a house boat, the city’s objections, and admiralty law.  Lozman is apparently sort of a gadfly who has appeared at many city council meetings to give his two cents worth regarding a redevelopment project.  At some point, city leaders decided to do something and as he was speaking before city council, he was first asked to cease and then arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest involving no violence.  Lozman now contends that his First Amendment rights were violated while the city contends that the officials had probable cause to arrest him and that this probable cause negates his First Amendment claims.

Minnesota Voters Alliance vs. Mansky

  • To be heard:                    Wednesday, February 28th
  • Origin of case:                 8th Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Type of case:                    First Amendment
  • Explanation:                    Under Minnesota election law, all political apparel is banned at a polling place.  In this case, someone wore a t-shirt with the words “Don’t tread on me” and the Gadsden flag, along with a small Tea Party logo.  Further, they wore a button endorsing voter ID which said, “Please ID me.”  That button also gave the name of a website and a phone number to voice support for voter ID laws in Minnesota.  The petitioners in this case argue that Minnesota’s “speech free” zones cannot be logically reconciled with the First Amendment.  While recognizing that the Court has previously recognized prohibitions on active solicitation and campaigning in polling places, it has never endorsed a blanket ban on free speech.  Minnesota argues that the law does not benefit nor discriminate against any candidate or position and applies equally to all.  There is no doubt that the wearing of apparel outside a polling place is protected free speech, the Court must answer whether those protections must now enter polling places even if there is no active solicitation or campaigning.

That is it for the February schedule.