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Friday round-up

Yesterday the court released two unanimous opinions. In Kelly v. United States, the justices reversed federal fraud convictions stemming from the “Bridgegate” controversy in New Jersey because the scheme did not aim to obtain money or property. Amy Howe analyzes the opinion for this blog, in a post that first appeared at Howe on the Court. Subscript Law also has a decision analysis. Adam Liptak and Nick Corasaniti report for The New York Times that “Justice [Elena] Kagan wrote that the defendants had given false reasons for their actions, but that lying by government officials was not by itself a federal crime[:] The lies must also result in ‘obtaining money or property.’” At NPR, Nina Totenberg and Krishnadev Calamur report that “[t]he decision is the latest wrinkle in a series of recent rulings by the court, making it increasingly difficult to prosecute public officeholders who abuse their power but fail to personally enrich themselves.” At the White Collar Crime Prof Blog, Ellen Podgor maintains that the opinion “is good to see for several reasons,” “most importantly, although the Court does not state this, [because it] sends a message to the public of the importance of the ballot box – if you don’t like political activities, voting is your place to express it.” Ephrat Livni comments on the decision at Quartz.

The justices also sent United States v. Sineneng-Smith back to the lower court, which it ruled had impermissibly broadened the scope of the case when it struck down a federal law making it a crime to encourage or induce illegal immigration for financial gain. Gabriel Chin analyzes the decision for this blog. For The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Jess Bravin reports that the opinion “sharply criticized an appeals court for invalidating the statute on grounds the defendant never raised.” At Crime & Consequences, Kent Scheidegger writes that the decision was a “stern rebuke” to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to block implementation of an order requiring the release to the House Judiciary Committee of grand jury materials from the Mueller investigation. Amy Howe covers the stay application for this blog; her post first appeared at Howe on the Court. For The Wall Street Journal, Jess Bravin reports that “[a] federal appeals court in March ordered the Justice Department to surrender the documents, finding the House’s impeachment powers entitled the Judiciary Committee to redacted portions of the special counsel’s report and related materials.”John Kruzel reports at The Hill that “the administration told the Supreme Court it would be filing a forthcoming appeal of the lower court ruling, and asked justices to shield the grand jury materials until they after they’ve had time to consider a formal petition.”

At National Review, Andrea Picciotti-Bayer writes that “Wednesday’s oral argument in the Supreme Court” in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, a challenge to the government’s expansion of the “conscience exemption” to the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, “was good news for the Little Sisters of the Poor and others hoping for a final resolution to the decade-long battle over the HHS mandate.” At The NCSL Blog, Lisa Soronen observes that the argument “illustrate[d] the myriad ways live phone argument is different from the traditional in-person version.” Additional commentary comes from the editorial board of The New York Sun, Helen Alvare in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal and Sister Loraine Marie Maguire in an op-ed at Fox News.

Amanda Shanor analyzes Wednesday’s argument in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, a First Amendment challenge to a federal ban on cellphone robocalls, for this blog. At Wired, Gilad Edelman worries that “while the court will probably protect us from a new explosion of robocalls, it may do so in a way that threatens to make all regulation a potential free speech violation.”

At Empirical SCOTUS, Adam Feldman “compare[s] old style oral arguments with the new framework,” employing “the same methods used to analyze past oral arguments.” Joan Biskupic explains at CNN that “the new sessions have altered the nature of the court’s usual freewheeling but substantive give-and-take[, a]nd that could affect the outcome of cases.” In an op-ed at The Hill (via How Appealing), Ronnell Andersen Jones and Aaron Nielson suggest that “[t]he Court’s experiment in an untraditional argument format is even more proof that yes, Clarence Thomas has something to say.”


  • For this blog, in a post that first appeared at Howe on the Court, Amy Howe breaks down data on the “bar line” for oral argument seats, concluding that “although it isn’t easy to get a seat” on high-profile argument days, “doing so still generally requires less effort than getting a seat in the public line.”
  • In the wake of the flush heard around the world during this week’s telephone arguments, Mike Scarcella and Tony Mauro at The National Law Journal take “a look back at some of the more awkward, or cringe-inducing, moments at the high court in recent and not-so-recent memory.”
  • For The Economist, Steven Mazie highlights the “tension between principle and practicality” in Chiafalo v. Washington, a constitutional challenge to a “faithless elector” law that threatens to fine electors who vote contrary to how state law directs.
  • At Keen News Service, Lisa Keen writes that “[w]hile LGBT people nervously await the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions regarding two big employment discrimination cases, the court this month heard arguments in other cases that could have significant impact.”
  • At Alternet, Bill Blum remarks that, “[t]aken as a package,” three cases that will be heard next week stemming from President Donald Trump’s efforts to shield his financial records from subpoenas issued to his accountant and lenders by a New York grand jury and three congressional committees “raise profound issues that harken back to the nation’s founding era.”

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Recommended Citation: Edith Roberts, Friday round-up, SCOTUSblog (May. 8, 2020, 6:43 AM),