Monday brought us the results of the Justices’ encounter with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The Court’s opinion in Sheriff v. Gillie displays a Court dubious about the readiness of lower courts to see deception in what would pass for routine correspondence in a conventional business environment. The Court’s blithe rejection of the holding that the letters in this case were actionably misleading sends a strong message that courts of appeals should be a little more cautious about drawing such conclusions so readily.
The case involves collections by “special counsel,” lawyers Ohio has hired to collect debts owed to the state. The case is before the Court because the letters that these special counsel routinely send to collect those debts use the Ohio attorney general’s letterhead rather than the letterhead of their own law firms. The court of appeals concluded that the use of the attorney general’s letterhead by the outside collection lawyers violated the FDCPA, and the Court accepted Ohio’s plea for review.
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Without settling any legal issues surrounding the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, the Supreme Court on Monday nevertheless cleared the way for the government to promptly provide no-cost access to contraceptives for employees and students of non-profit religious hospitals, charities, and colleges, while barring any penalties on those institutions for failing to provide that access themselves. Thirteen separate cases were sent back to federal appeals courts for them to issue new rulings on the questions the Justices left undecided. One immediate issue is how soon the government can work out the technical arrangements to provide actual access to the contraceptive benefits.
The Court largely shifted to six federal appeals courts the task of ruling on the mandate’s legality — the task that the Court had agreed last November to take on itself in seven of the cases. Five appeals courts had ruled in favor of the mandate, and one had ruled against. All were ordered to re-think those outcomes in the wake of new positions that the two sides in the controversy had made in recent filings in the pending Supreme Court cases.
The Court acted through a per curiam (“by the Court”) opinion — announced in the Courtroom by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. — dealing with the cases the Court was reviewing, along with three orders extending the effect of that opinion to six other cases that the Court had not yet agreed to hear. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote separately to stress that the Court had not decided any of the legal questions it considered in the cases, under the lead case’s title, Zubik v. Burwell, and to caution lower courts not to read anything into the new opinion and orders about where the Court stands.
Chief Justice Roberts announces the Court’s per curiam decision in Zubik v. Burwell (Art Lien)
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We are live-blogging this morning as the Court issues orders and opinions. Join us.
- BuzzFeed reports on last week’s denial of Alabama’s request to vacate a lower-court stay of Vernon Madison’s execution, which had been scheduled for Thursday.
- The James Wilson Institute recently hosted a “Friends of Nino” panel (video) to pay tribute to the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
- Alexander Heffner of The Open Mind interviewed Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow about (among other things) the current Supreme Court nomination battle.
- At his eponymous blog, Kenneth Jost discusses the latest developments in the case of Henry Montgomery; earlier this year, the Court ruled in the Louisiana inmate’s case that a prior decision barring mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles who committed murder applies retroactively.
- In The National Law Journal (subscription or registration required), Tony Mauro reports that at “least three of the four law clerks hired by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for the next term will work for other justices.”
Remember, we rely exclusively on our readers to send us links for our round-up. If you have or know of a recent (published in the last two or three days) article, post, or op-ed relating to the Court that you’d like us to consider for inclusion in the round-up, please send it to roundup [at] scotusblog.com.
On Monday, the Court issued orders from the May 12 Conference. It called for the views of the Solicitor General in a pair of cases. The Court also released its opinions in five argued cases. On Thursday, the Court released its opinions in three cases. The Justices met also on Thursday for their May 19 Conference; our list of “petitions to watch” for that Conference is available here.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is looking to hire a new senior litigation counsel. The attorney will manage Supreme Court, appellate, and trial-court litigation, as well as media and social media. More information on this position, for which applications should be submitted by June 12, is available here.
Kelsey Stein of AL.com reports that “the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday night denying a request from the Alabama attorney general,” voting four to four to leave in place a stay of execution for death row inmate Vernon Madison. Mark Berman of The Washington Post also covered the stay, noting that had Justice Scalia still been alive, “it seems likely that Scalia would have voted to lift the stay.”
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The petition of the day is:
Issue: Whether the right to counsel in a termination of parental rights proceeding includes the right to the effective assistance of counsel.
The often-challenged Affordable Care Act suffered a potentially crippling constitutional blow in federal court on Thursday, when a trial judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the government had wrongly spent billions of dollars in the past two years to reimburse insurance companies for providing health coverage at lower costs to low- and moderate-income consumers.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, in a thirty-eight-page ruling upholding a constitutional challenge pursued by the U.S. House of Representatives, did not take any immediate action to stop that spending. Instead, she put her decision on hold to allow it to be challenged in an appeal — either to a federal court of appeals or directly to the Supreme Court.
It seems quite unlikely that the dispute will be finally settled before President Barack Obama’s term ends next January. The near-term future and ultimate fate of the entire ACA program probably depends upon the outcome of this year’s presidential election, in which it has already been a major issue.
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Coverage relating to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland to replace him comes from Seung Min Kim, who in Politico reports that “[s]ome of Donald Trump’s toughest GOP critics in the Senate are pressuring the presumptive Republican nominee to reveal more information about the type of justices he would nominate for the Supreme Court.” Commentary comes from Charlotte Garden, who in The Atlantic contends that “Garland’s confirmation—and the possible arrival of a ‘pro-worker’ Supreme Court—could have immediate and concrete consequences in offices and on shop floors across the country.” And a podcast at Advice and Consent looks at the questionnaire that Garland submitted earlier this week, as well as the 1991 confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas.
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