On Monday morning, the Justices issued five decisions in argued cases. This leaves the Court with eight cases to decide between now and the end of June. The Justices will take the bench tomorrow at ten o’clock to rule on one or more of these eight cases, which are summarized below the jump.
Dollar General Stores v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (argued December 7, 2015). This case stems from accusations by a thirteen-year-old member of the tribe that a manager at a Dollar General store within the tribe’s reservation had sexually molested him while the boy was interning at the store. The child and his parents filed a lawsuit against the manager and the store in tribal court, arguing that the store was liable for the manager’s conduct. The issue before the Court is whether the tribal court has jurisdiction over tort claims against defendants, like Dollar General, who are not members of the tribe; the Fifth Circuit ruled that there is jurisdiction.
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (argued December 9, 2015). This case, a challenge to the university’s consideration of race in its undergraduate admissions process, is on its second trip to the Court. In 2013, the Court sent the case back to the lower courts for a more critical look at whether the university really needed to consider race to achieve a diverse student body. After the Fifth Circuit once again upheld the policy, the Court agreed to weigh in. Unlike some of the Court’s other high-profile cases this Term, no one expects the Court to deadlock: Justice Elena Kagan is not participating, which in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death leaves the Court with just seven Justices to decide the case.
Voisine v. United States (argued February 29, 2016). Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong, the other petitioner in this case, both pleaded guilty in state court to misdemeanor assaults on their respective domestic partners. Several years later, each man was charged with violating a federal law that prohibits the possession of firearms and ammunition by individuals who have previously been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Voisine and Armstrong contend their state convictions (which the First Circuit affirmed) do not automatically qualify as misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence because the state-law provisions can be violated by conduct that is merely reckless, rather than intentional.
Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (argued March 2, 2016). This is a challenge to the constitutionality of two provisions of a Texas law regulating abortion in that state. One provision requires doctors who perform abortions to have privileges to admit patients to a local hospital; the other requires abortion clinics to have facilities that are comparable to outpatient surgical centers. Texas contends that these new laws are constitutional because they were intended to protect women’s health, while the challengers argue that the law was actually intended to close most clinics and therefore limit women’s access to abortions. The Fifth Circuit upheld the new requirements, although they have not yet gone into effect yet.
United States v. Texas (argued April 18, 2016). This case is a challenge to an Obama administration policy, announced in November 2014, that would allow some undocumented immigrants to apply to stay in the country and work legally for three years. Before the policy could go into effect, Texas and a large group of other states went to court to block its implementation, arguing that the administration has no authority, under federal laws or the Constitution, to issue a policy like this; a federal trial court issued an order to keep the policy from going into effect, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed that ruling. But before the Supreme Court can weigh in on that question, it will also have to agree that the states have the legal right, known as “standing,” to challenge the policy at all; the lower courts ruled that they did, because at least Texas would incur additional costs from the undocumented immigrants who would become eligible for driver’s licenses if the policy goes into effect.
Birchfield v. North Dakota (argued April 20, 2016). Twelve states and the National Park Service impose criminal penalties on suspected drunk drivers who refuse to submit to testing to measure their blood-alcohol levels. The question before the Court is whether those penalties violate the Fourth Amendment, which only allows police to “search” someone if they have a warrant or one of a handful of exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. Three drivers from North Dakota and Minnesota argue that neither of those conditions is met, and so the laws must fall. The North Dakota and Minnesota Supreme Courts ruled in favor of the states, and now the Justices will weigh in.
Mathis v. United States (argued April 26, 2016). After having been convicted of several burglaries in Iowa, Richard Mathis was later prosecuted by the federal government for being a felon in possession of a firearm and received a mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act based on his burglary convictions. The Eighth Circuit affirmed his conviction. The question before the Court is how to determine whether state convictions like Mathis’s qualify for federal mandatory minimum sentences and for removal under immigration law.
McDonnell v. United States (argued April 27, 2016). Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell is challenging his convictions for violating federal laws that make it a felony to agree to take “official action” in exchange for money, campaign contributions, or anything else of value. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, and so the Justices agreed to weigh in. He argues that merely referring someone to an independent decision maker – in his case, in an effort to help promote a Virginia businessman’s nutritional supplement – doesn’t constitute the kind of “official action” that the statute bars. The stakes are high for McDonnell: the Supreme Court agreed to allow him to stay out of prison while it heard his appeal, but that would change if he loses.
[Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to this blog in various capacities, serves as co-counsel to Dollar General. However, I am not affiliated with the firm.]