On Monday, the Court issued orders from its May 19 Conference. It did not add any new cases to its merits docket for next Term or call for the views of the Solicitor General in any cases. The Court also released its opinions in three cases. On Thursday, the Justices will meet for their May 26 Conference; our list of “petitions to watch” for that Conference will be available soon.
John Elwood reviews Monday’s relisted cases.
We are really sorry. We knew Relist Watch was important to our entire readership – both of them emailed us to say so – but we had no idea that everything would fall apart without our weekly-ish dose of what passes in the legal community for “humor.” In the weeks since our last full Relist Watch, the mighty Capitals fell apart, this silly primary season refused to end, this silly primary season ended badly, a horse whose name is useless for jokes won the Derby, Ramsay Bolton revealed himself to be not an entirely sympathetic character, and residents of the East Coast stopped using “the sun will rise tomorrow” as an expression of hope (not that most East Coast cities are hotbeds of that particular feeling). But never fear! Relist Watch has returned and everything will be good again! Or not.
The federal judge who first shut down President Barack Obama’s sweeping immigration policy gave himself another controversial role on Thursday: overseeing required ethical schooling of every Washington-based Justice Department lawyer who appears in any court — federal or state — in twenty-six states over the next five years.
District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Brownsville, Texas, took that highly unusual step as one of the remedies for what he found to be serious ethical violations in his court by Justice Department attorneys when the new immigration dispute was before him in late 2014 and early 2015. That case is now awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court to determine the fate of delayed deportation of nearly five million undocumented immigrants.
The twenty-six states where the judge’s order could have an impact on the professional lives of Washington-based government lawyers are the ones that sued to challenge the Obama administration policy, and they are the ones the judge said had been harmed by misconduct.
The Justices issued three opinions in argued cases yesterday. Writing for this blog, Ross Runkel covered the decision in CRST Van Expedited v. EEOC, in which the Court ruled that a favorable ruling on the merits is not a necessary predicate to find that a defendant is a prevailing party for purposes of an award of attorney’s fees under Section 706 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Tony Mauro also covered the ruling for Supreme Court Brief (subscription required); he observed that, by “ruling in favor of awarding legal fees to a company that the government accused of widespread sexual harassment, the U.S. Supreme Court may have been sending a broader message that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission needs to clean up its act.” Continue reading »
Congress has defined the term “aggravated felony” to include state and foreign crimes that are “described in” certain federal statutes, such as the arson offense codified at 18 U.S.C. § 844(i), which makes it a federal crime to “maliciously damage or destroy, or attempt to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce.” In a five-to-three ruling handed down on Thursday, the Supreme Court held that, even though most state and foreign crimes lack such an “interstate or foreign commerce” element, they are nevertheless “described in” the relevant federal statute so long as all of the elements of the federal statute that are not “jurisdictional” are part of the state or foreign conviction. In the process, the Court in Luna Torres v. Lynch not only threaded a statutory interpretation needle without expressly relying upon any canons of statutory interpretation, but may have also further highlighted an emerging divide among the Justices over how to resolve the many interpretive dilemmas posed by federal immigration law.
The price of unanimity on an ideologically divided Court is, as we are learning in Justice Antonin Scalia’s absence, narrow opinions that reserve difficult issues for future consideration. Today in Betterman v. Montana, the Court “confine[d]” its decision to the Sixth Amendment only, ruling that its Speedy Trial Clause “does not apply” to “delayed sentencing” after a defendant has been found guilty by trial or plea.
After this short and simple ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion for the eight-Justice court was littered with limiting footnotes, expressly leaving open a number of related questions that, while not unimportant, are “inside baseball” to the average SCOTUS fan. On the largest unresolved question — how and when courts should apply the Due Process Clauses to “inordinate” or “exorbitant” sentencing delays — Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Sonia Sotomayor each offered two-page concurring opinions expressing different preliminary thoughts.
In suits involving Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party … a reasonable attorney’s fee.” A defendant seeking attorney’s fees in a Title VII case must show that (1) it is a prevailing party and (2) the plaintiff’s claim was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.
On Thursday the Court unanimously held that a defendant seeking attorney’s fees can be a “prevailing party” even without obtaining a favorable judgment “on the merits.” This will resuscitate defendant CRST’s quest to recover over $4 million in attorney’s fees from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but the Court’s remand order will further extend the litigation in a case that has been going on for nine years.
SCOTUSblog is looking for a new editor, to start work in September 2016. The editor’s responsibilities will include (among other things) a careful edit of each post that is published on the blog, drafting a daily round-up of news and commentary related to the Supreme Court, and working with the blog manager to identify authors for case coverage and symposia, as well as possible topics for symposia. The ideal candidate will have strong writing and copy editing skills, a close (bordering on obsessive) attention to detail, and a background in legal journalism and/or the Supreme Court. The position is a full-time one, for which the workload generally mirrors the Court’s schedule – that is, very busy on big argument and opinion days, but with fewer time-sensitive posts and more flexibility at other times of the year. The job is based at the blog’s headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland.
Please submit a cover letter, current resume, writing sample, and two references to Amy Howe, by June 10 via either e-mail (ahowe [at] scotusblog.com) or snail mail:
7475 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
On June 2 at 12 p.m., the D.C. Bar will host the next installment of its monthly seminar series on issues and cases before the Court. Experts will focus on Zubik v. Burwell, the challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate and the accommodation offered to religious non-profits that object to the mandate; this blog’s Amy Howe will serve as the moderator. Additional classes will be held on the first Thursday of each month (July 7, August 4, September 1, and October 6). More information and registration are available for the in-person presentation and the webinar.
We are live-blogging this morning as the Court issues opinions. Join us.