The Court announced orders today from its March 23 Conference. The Court granted certiorari in one case, Florida v. Harris, involving the question whether an alert by a well-trained narcotics detection dog certified to detect illegal contraband is sufficient to establish probable cause for the search of a vehicle. The Court also issued orders granting, vacating, and remanding ten other cases in light of its prior decisions. A number of the GVRs were in light of decisions the Court issued last week in Lafler v. Cooper, Missouri v. Frye, Martinez v. Ryan, and Mayo v. Prometheus Laboratories. Finally, the Court also called for the views of the Solicitor General in a single case, American Trucking Association v. City of Los Angeles, which presents questions related to the pre-emptive scope of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act and the “market participant” exception first developed in the dormant Commerce Clause context.
The Court also issued two opinions this morning.
Justice Scalia delivered the first opinion of the day, Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC v. Simmonds, in which the Supreme Court held that normal equitable tolling principles apply to the statute of limitations for lawsuits under § 16 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Section 16(a) requires corporate insiders to disclose personal transactions involving the corporation’s securities. If an insider profits from the purchase and sale, or sale and purchase, of the corporation’s securities within a six-month period, then § 16(b) authorizes the corporation or its shareholders to sue the insider for the profits. Such suits are subject to a two-year statute of limitations, which runs from “the date such profit was realized.” In Credit Suisse, the plaintiff had sued in 2007 for violations relating to the alleged manipulation of the aftermarket prices of several stocks initially offered to the public in the late 1990s and the year 2000. The Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiff’s claim was not time-barred because the statute of limitations was tolled until the defendants filed § 16(a) disclosures. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed, holding that normal equitable tolling principles – i.e., that tolling applies only so long as the plaintiff is diligently pursuing her rights, and some extraordinary circumstance stands in her way – govern the § 16(b) statute of limitations, and that the Ninth Circuit’s special rule was inconsistent with those principles because it tolled the statute even after the plaintiff knew or had reason to know of the defendant’s wrongful conduct. The Court remanded to allow the lower courts to apply equitable principles in the first instance. Chief Justice Roberts did not participate in the case, and the Court was equally divided over whether the § 16(b) statute of limitations could be extended at all, so for the time being, it can be.
Chief Justice Roberts delivered today’s second opinion. In M.B.Z. v. Clinton, the Court held that the political question doctrine did not bar courts from deciding whether § 214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which permits U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to request that their passports state “Israel” as their place of birth. The State Department had argued that suits to enforce § 214 were not justiciable because they unreasonably interfered with the President’s authority to formulate U.S. policy regarding the status of Jerusalem, and thus presented a political question. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that because the issue in the case is whether § 214 is constitutional, and not whether its conclusions regarding Jerusalem are correct, courts are competent to decide the matter, and can do so without opining on the status of Jerusalem. The Court vacated and remanded to the D.C. Circuit to consider in the first instance whether the statute is constitutional. Justice Sotomayor concurred, writing separately to argue that the political question doctrine is slightly more demanding than the majority opinion suggests. Justice Alito concurred in the judgment, recognizing that determining the constitutionality of a statute might present a political question, but stating that this case did not present such a question. Justice Breyer dissented, setting forth a stronger view of the political question doctrine.
Thanks to Tejinder Singh for the additional analysis in today’s Details.