Three new cases granted (UPDATED)
on Jan 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm
(NOTE TO READERS ,7:10 p.m. Friday: This post has been updated to reflect, in the first paragraph after the jump, the broader significance of the habeas case the Court granted from California.)
The Supreme Court on Friday afternoon granted three new cases, including a case testing whether the federal government can be sued for illegally disclosing information about a private person’s credit card. That case is United States v. Bormes (11-192). The other grants are Kloeckner v. Solis, Labor Secretary (11-184) and Cavazos v. Williams, limited to the first question (11-465). It has not yet been determined when the cases will be heard, although some time apparently remains on the April calendar. The cases, however, were not expedited.
The Kloeckner case, involving the rights of federal government employees, tests whether rulings of the Merit Systems Protection Board involving claims of discrimination on the job are to be reviewed by the Federal Circuit Court or by a U.S. District Court. The Williams case, a federal habeas case, is a broad new challenge by the state of California to the Ninth Circuit Court, arguing that it has once again overstepped the limits on a federal appeals court’s authority to second-guess a state court criminal decision. While the Williams case raises an arcane issue of when a state court has actually decided an issue, thus influencing a federal habeas court’s authority to hear a challenge, the case also involves a major issue under the Sixth Amendment: does it violate the right to a jury trial for a judge to dismiss a hold-out juror when a jury appears to be deadlocked, if the dismissal was due in part to that juror’s view on how the verdict should go. The Ninth Circuit Court said a state court had not decided that issue, so it had to rule on it; it then found a violation of the jury trial right in a murder case that had led to a life prison sentence.
The credit card privacy breach case the Court granted involves a class-action lawsuit claiming that the federal government violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act when it sent out, online, a receipt for a federal fee a lawyer had paid by credit card after filing a lawsuit in District Court. James X. Bormes, a Chicago attorney, had filed a lawsuit for one of his clients, and paid the $350 filing fee using his own American Express card.
The computerized “pay-gov” system sent him a receipt that showed the expiration date of his credit card. That kind of disclosure is directly forbidden by a 2003 amendment to the credit reporting law designed to protect cardholders from identity theft. The Circuit Court for the Federal Circuit rejected the federal government’s argument that it had sovereign immunity from Bormes’s lawsuit. The appeals court found that the federal Tucker Acts had waived that immunity, even though the credit reporting law itself had not directly done so.
In taking the issue to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department argued that the lower court ruling “opens the door to vast potential federal liability.”