Over the next two weeks, the Court is expected to issue fourteen more opinions in argued cases.  (The number fourteen is based on the assumption that the Court will issue one large opinion covering all of the health care cases and issues; whether the Court will in fact do so remains to be seen.)  Here – after the jump – are the “Plain English” questions at issue in each of the outstanding cases.     

First American Financial Corp. v. Edwards

Argued on November 28, 2011

Plain English Issue: Whether lawsuits under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, which allows homebuyers to sue banks and title companies when they pay kickbacks for the closing of a mortgage loan, are constitutional if the kickback does not affect the price or quality of the services provided?

Williams v. Illinois

Argued on December 6, 2011

Plain English Issue: Whether a court violates a criminal defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause – which provides that in all criminal cases, a defendant has the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him” – by allowing an expert witness to testify about the results of DNA testing conducted by another analyst who has not appeared as a witness at the trial.

Federal Communications Commission v. Fox

Argued on January 10, 2012

Plain English Issue: Whether the Federal Communications Commission’s standards for indecency on television are too vague to be constitutional.

Knox v. Service Employees International Union

Argued on January 10, 2012

Plain English Issue: Whether a state can require its employees to pay a special union fee that will be spent for political purposes without first giving the employees information about the fee and a chance to object to it.

United States v. Alvarez

Argued on February 22, 2012

Plain English Issue: Whether a federal law that makes it a crime to lie about receiving military medals or honors violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to free speech.

Southern Union Company v. United States

Argued on March 19, 2012

Plain English Issue: Whether the Constitution requires that a jury, rather than a judge, must find beyond a reasonable doubt any fact that leads to a higher fine for a criminal defendant.

Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs

Argued separately on March 20, 2012

Plain English Issue: Whether a sentence of life without parole for someone who was convicted of murder when he was fourteen violates the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The health care cases:

Argued March 26-28, 2012

Plain English Issue: (1) Whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to require virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty; and (2) whether the Anti-Injunction Act, which prohibits taxpayers from filing a lawsuit to challenge a tax until the tax goes into effect and they are required to pay it, prohibits a challenge to the Act’s provision requiring virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty until after the provision goes into effect in 2014.

Plain English Issue: (1) Whether Congress can require states to choose between complying with provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or losing federal funding for the Medicaid program; and (2) whether, if the Court concludes that the provision of the Act requiring virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty is unconstitutional, the rest of the Act can remain in effect or must also be invalidated.

Plain English Issue: (1) Whether Congress can require states to choose between complying with provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or losing federal funding for the Medicaid program; and (2) whether, if the Court concludes that the provision of the Act requiring virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty is unconstitutional, the rest of the Act can remain in effect or must also be invalidated.

Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp.

Argued on April 16, 2012

Plain English Issue: (1) Whether courts should defer to the Secretary of Labor’s interpretation of the “outside sales exemption” of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which excuses companies from having to pay overtime for their “outside salesmen,” and its related regulations; and (2) whether the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “outside sales exemption” applies to pharmaceutical sales representatives.

Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys work for and/or contribute to this blog in various capacities, represents the petitioners in this case.

Dorsey v. United States and Hill v. United States (consolidated)

Argued on April 17, 2012

Plain English Issue: Whether the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the sentences for defendants who are convicted of crack cocaine offenses, applies to defendants who were convicted before the Act went into effect but sentenced after it.

Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter

Argued on April 18, 2012

Plain English Issue: When Congress has authorized Native American tribes to take over federal programs from the government and receive reimbursement, but it has also capped the amount of money that can be spent for costs to administer and support the contracts for those federal programs, must a tribe still be fully reimbursed for its costs, or should the federal government instead divide the available funds among the tribes, even if that means that the tribes will receive less than their full costs?

Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish v. Patchak

Argued on April 24, 2012

Plain English Issue: (1) Whether the Quiet Title Act, which provides that the United States may not be sued in disputes about the title to land held in trust for Indian Tribes, applies to all lawsuits involving land in which the United States “claims an interest,” or whether it instead applies only when the plaintiff claims title to the land; and (2) whether an individual’s right to sue under federal law can be based on either (i) his ability to “police” an agency’s compliance with the law or (ii) interests protected by a different federal statute than the one on which suit is based.

Salazar v. Patchak

Argued on April 24, 2012

Plain English Issue: (1) Whether the United States can be sued under the Administrative Procedure Act, which generally allows suits against government action that is arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law, on the ground that it should not have taken land into trust on behalf of an Indian Tribe, when another federal law provides that individuals cannot bring a lawsuit against the federal government regarding the title to land held in trust for Indian Tribes; and (2) whether a private individual who alleges that he was harmed by a casino operated on Indian trust land can bring a lawsuit challenging the decision of the Secretary of the Interior to take title to that land in trust.

Arizona v. United States

Argued on April 25, 2012

Plain English Issue: Whether an Arizona law that, among other things, requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone whom they arrest, allows police to stop and arrest anyone whom they believe to be an illegal immigrant, makes it a crime for someone to be in the state without valid immigration papers, and makes it a crime to apply for or hold a job in Arizona without proper papers, is invalid because it is trumped by federal immigration laws.

Posted in Plain English / Cases Made Simple

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Remaining merits cases: In Plain English, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 15, 2012, 12:52 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2012/06/remaining-merits-cases-in-plain-english/