The remaining cases, in Plain English
Between tomorrow morning, when the Justices will take the bench at ten o’clock, and the end of June, the Court is expected to issue thirteen rulings in cases involving everything from tribal-court jurisdiction to abortion, immigration, and the scope of federal laws prohibiting political corruption. Here are summaries of each pending case:
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.
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.
Utah v. Strieff (argued February 22, 2016). When a police officer stops a pedestrian in violation of the law, asks him for identification, discovers that there is a traffic warrant for his arrest, arrests him, and in the process of searching him discovers drug paraphernalia and methamphetamines, can the evidence found in the search of the pedestrian be used against him? Edward Strieff argues that it cannot: because the police officer’s stop was illegal, then anything obtained as a result of the stop is also tainted. The state, on the other hand, contends that the evidence should be admitted because it resulted from the lawful warrant for his arrest, rather than the illegal stop.
Taylor v. United States (argued February 23, 2016). The petitioner in this case, David Taylor, was part of a Virginia gang that robbed drug dealers. The two robberies that led to this case, however, did not yield any drugs – only cellphones, jewelry, and a small amount of money. Taylor was indicted on federal charges that he had violated the Hobbs Act, which punishes robberies and extortion but applies only when the defendant “obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce.” The question before the Court is whether the federal government is required to prove facts to show that the defendant’s conduct actually affects commerce.
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 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.
RJR Nabisco v. The European Community (argued March 21, 2016). The issue in this case is whether and to what extent the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a 1970 law that was originally enacted to target organized crime, applies outside the United States. The European Community filed a lawsuit in the United States, seeking to hold RJR liable for what it says is the company’s role in an international money-laundering plot that harmed European countries. RJR counters that nothing in the law suggests that Congress intended it to apply to a situation like this. Justice Samuel Alito is almost certainly writing the Court’s opinion in this case, because he is the only Justice who has not yet written for the Court’s March sitting; based on the oral argument, that could bode well for RJR.
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 lacks the authority to issue a policy like this. 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.
Encino Motorcars v. Navarro (argued April 20, 2016). This case requires the Court to weigh in on the interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which generally requires employers to pay overtime to employees who work for more than forty hours in a week but also contains a variety of exceptions – including for a salesman whose primary job is selling or servicing cars. The respondents in this case are service advisors at a car dealership, who argue that they are not included in the exemption and are therefore entitled to overtime.
Cuozzo Speed Technologies v. Lee (argued April 25, 2016). This blog’s Ronald Mann has described this case as a “potential landmark patent case.” In 2011, Congress adopted a law that allows a competitor that wants to challenge a patent to do so before the Patent and Trademark Office. The main question before the Court is what standard the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which rules on the challenge, should use to decide whether to invalidate the patent.
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 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. 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.
[Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to this blog in various capacities, serves as co-counsel to Dollar General and is among the counsel on an amicus brief in support of the petitioners in Cuozzo. However, I am not affiliated with the firm.]