Yesterday’s opinion in Bowman v. Monsanto Co. provided an anticlimactic conclusion to one of the highest-stakes cases of the Term. The general question at issue is whether Monsanto can control what users do with the Roundup-resistant (“Roundup Ready”) soybean seeds that Monsanto has patented. Specifically, the question is whether a farmer who buys Roundup Ready seed can use newly grown seeds for subsequent plantings. Monsanto says no, arguing that the patent requires the farmer to buy seeds from Monsanto every year. The Court firmly agreed, affirming the Federal Circuit, in a brief opinion by Justice Kagan for a unanimous Court.
Bullock v. BankChampaign, N.A. is a case in which the oral argument had little to do with the final opinion. The dispute involves an exception to the bankruptcy discharge for debts incurred through “defalcation.” Generally, an individual who files for bankruptcy is discharged from any continuing personal obligation to pay preexisting debts. This means that creditors can take their collateral, but ordinarily they can no longer pursue the bankrupt. The discharge is subject, however, to exceptions for a variety of debts that involve specified forms of misconduct. The question in this case is whether the claim here falls within an exception for “defalcation”; if it does, the claim would survive his bankruptcy.
Nearly fifty years ago, comedian Bill Cosby did a very funny skit called “Oops,” about how a patient, awake under local anesthesia, might react on hearing the surgeon use that word in the operating room. “Did you say ‘oops,’” Cosby asked? “What do you mean ‘oops’?”
But when Supreme Court Justices decide, after the fact, that they may have made a mistake, it is rarely a laughing matter.
The most recent example of a Justice expressing second thoughts was Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired in 2006. Last month she told the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune that perhaps the Supreme Court should not have ruled in the case of Bush v. Gore, the December 2000 decision that halted the Florida recount and gave the presidential election to George W. Bush.
The Court released three opinions in argued cases yesterday, all unanimous. In the first opinion of the day, Bowman v. Monsanto Co., by Justice Kagan, the Court held that the doctrine of patent exhaustion does not allow a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission. Coverage comes from Nina Totenberg of NPR, Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News, Adam Liptak of The New York Times, David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times, Debra Cassens Weiss of the ABA Journal, Richard Wolf of USA Today, Ariane de Vogue of ABC News, Tony Mauro of The National Law Journal (registration required), Lawrence Hurley of Reuters, Jesse J. Holland of the Associated Press, Chantal Valery of Agence France-Presse, and Ronald Bailey of Reason. At Dorf on Law, Mike Dorf comments on the case, warning his readers not to “confuse the right legal outcome with generally good news.” Continue reading »
At its May 16, 2013 Conference, the Court will consider petitions seeking review of issues such as the legality of Florida’s capital sentencing regime, the burden of proof for declaratory judgments in patent infringement cases, standing requirements under the Securities Exchange Act, and a grant of habeas relief for a capital defendant.
This edition of “Petitions to watch” features petitions raising issues that Tom has determined to have a reasonable chance of being granted, although we post them here without consideration of whether they present appropriate vehicles in which to decide those issues. Our policy is to include and disclose all cases in which Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys work for or contribute to this blog in various capacities, represents either a party or an amicus in the case, with the exception of the rare cases in which Goldstein & Russell represents the respondent(s) but does not appear on the briefs in the case.
UPDATED 6:05 pm. The Second Circuit Court said Monday it will submit the government’s request to a motions panel on May 28. In the meantime, the judge’s order on unlimited access for all ages will remain on hold. There is no timetable for the Circuit Court panel to act.
Saying it cannot say at this point whether it would ever allow younger girls to get access to an emergency contraceptive, the Obama administration on Monday asked the Second Circuit Court to block a federal judge’s order to make the drug available to all women of any age, without prescriptions. The government’s motion, in Circuit docket 13-1690, can be read here.
If the Circuit Court approves the request, the one-pill version of so-called “Plan B” will be available without prescription to women who are fifteen years old or older, but only if they can prove their age with a government-issued form of ID. For younger girls, they will need a doctor’s prescription, and will be able to get the drug only at a pharmacy.
The Court issued three unanimous opinions this morning.
In Bowman Co. v. Monsanto, the Court held, in an opinion by Justice Kagan, that patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission.
With the help of our reporter, Lyle Denniston, we will be live blogging as orders and opinions are issued today. Once you see the window and our initial welcome, we ask that you do not refresh your browser. Updates will appear without the need for refreshing.
- Mark Sherman of the Associated Press (via The Washington Post) examines the diversity of the Supreme Court bar, noting that “[i]n an era when three women, a Hispanic and an African-American sit on the court and white men constitute a bare majority of the nine justices, the court is more diverse than the lawyers who argue before it.”
- UPI’s Michael Kirkland discusses retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s recent remarks to the Chicago Tribune, in which she expressed doubts about the Court’s cert. grant in Bush v. Gore; Kirkland observes that the “ultimate irony” is that even if the Court had not taken the case, “the odds are good [that] then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush still would have won the presidency.” [Disclosure: The law firm of Thomas C. Goldstein, P.C., now known as Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys work for or contribute to this blog in various capacities, was among the counsel to respondent Al Gore in that case.]
- With the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, expected in the next six weeks, Roger Clegg argues in the National Review Online that the information recently released by the Census Bureau about voter turnout in 2012 “further undermines the constitutionality of the distinctions made by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act between the jurisdictions it covers and those it does not.” [Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., is among the counsel to Representative F. James Sensenbrenner et al., who filed an amicus brief in support of the respondent in this case.] Continue reading »
On Thursday the Justices will meet for their May 16 Conference. Our list of “Petitions to watch” for that Conference is available here.