This week we highlight cert petitions that ask the Supreme Court to review, among other things, the Trump administration’s public-charge rule and the vacated death sentences of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, convicted for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, immigrants can be denied green cards if, “in the opinion of” the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the person is “likely at any time to become a public charge.” Congress, however, did not define “public charge” by statute.  In August 2019, DHS issued a regulation that defined the term as someone “who receives one or more public benefits … for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period.” Public benefits include cash assistance as well as most Medicaid benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and federal housing assistance.

Various groups, including state and local entities and nonprofit organizations, immediately challenged the new rule, and two federal appeals courts issued decisions against the rule. In its petitions in Department of Homeland Security v. New York and Wolf v. Cook County, Illinois, the federal government asks the justices to decide whether these entities are proper parties to challenge the public-charge rule and whether the rule is likely contrary to law or arbitrary and capricious. Before she was confirmed to the Supreme Court, then-Judge Amy Coney Barrett heard the Wolf case as a judge on the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Barrett dissented from the 7th Circuit’s decision upholding a preliminary injunction against the rule. Due to her prior participation in the case, Barrett is expected to recuse herself from consideration of the Wolf petition.

After a jury convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of multiple offenses for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the jury recommended — and the district court imposed — death sentences on six counts. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit vacated the capital sentences after determining that the district court abused its discretion in two ways. First, the district court should not have denied Tsarnaev’s requests for additional, detailed questions about the jurors’ media exposure. Second, the district court should not have excluded from the trial’s penalty phase evidence implicating Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, in an earlier triple murder. Tsarnaev had wanted this evidence included to show that he was less culpable than his brother, who, according to Tsarnaev, was the leader of the crimes. In United States v. Tsarnaev, the federal government asks the Supreme Court to review and reverse the 1st Circuit’s decision.

These and other petitions of the week are below:

Comcast Corp. v. Viamedia Inc.
20-319
Issues: (1) Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit erred in holding that a refusal-to-deal claim under Section 2 of the Sherman Act may proceed despite the presence of valid business justifications for the refusal, in direct conflict with Verizon Communications Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko and decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 2nd, 9th, 10th and 11th Circuits; and (2) whether the 7th Circuit erred in allowing a plaintiff to avoid the limitations on a Section 2 refusal-to-deal claim by reframing it as some other form of anticompetitive conduct, such as tying, in direct conflict with Pacific Bell Telephone Co. v. Linkline Communications Inc. and decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th, 9th and 10th Circuits.

Hamilton County Job and Family Services v. Siefert
20-381
Issues: (1) Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit erred when it failed to conduct an individualized analysis of the actions of the Hamilton County Job and Family Services and other petitioners before blanketly rejecting their asserted defense of qualified immunity; (2) whether the 6th Circuit erred when it determined that, through a footnote, it was clearly established that a children’s services caseworker has an affirmative duty to protect parental due process rights when a child is hospitalized and no child custody proceedings have been initiated; and (3) whether the Supreme Court should resolve the circuit conflict on the important federal question of whether a private, non-profit hospital and private healthcare providers are state actors subject to claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when they simply provide medical care and cooperate with a county Job and Family Services Department for the appropriate treatment of a suicidal minor.

United States v. Palomar-Santiago
20-437
Issue: Whether a defendant, charged with unlawful reentry into the United States following removal, automatically satisfies the prerequisites to asserting the invalidity of the original removal order as an affirmative defense solely by showing that he was removed for a crime that would not be considered a removable offense under current circuit law, even if he cannot independently demonstrate administrative exhaustion or deprivation of the opportunity for judicial review.

United States v. Tsarnaev
20-443
Issues: (1) Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit erred in concluding that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capital sentences must be vacated on the ground that the district court, during its 21-day voir dire, did not ask each prospective juror for a specific accounting of the pretrial media coverage that he or she had read, heard or seen about Tsarnaev’s case; and (2) whether the district court committed reversible error at the penalty phase of Tsarnaev’s trial by excluding evidence that Tsarnaev’s older brother was allegedly involved in different crimes two years before the offenses for which Tsarnaev was convicted.

United States v. Gary
20-444
Issue: Whether a defendant who pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(a), is automatically entitled to plain-error relief if the district court did not advise him that one element of that offense is knowledge of his status as a felon, regardless of whether he can show that the district court’s error affected the outcome of the proceedings.

Department of Homeland Security v. New York
20-449
Issues: (1) Whether entities that are not subject to the public-charge ground of inadmissibility contained in Immigration and Nationality Act, and which seek to expand benefits usage by aliens who are potentially subject to that provision, are proper parties to challenge the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s final rule interpreting the statutory term “public charge” and establishing a framework by which DHS personnel are to assess whether an alien is likely to become a public charge; and (2) whether the final rule is likely contrary to law or arbitrary and capricious.

Wolf v. Cook County, Illinois
20-450
Issues: (1) Whether entities that are not subject to the public-charge ground of inadmissibility contained in Immigration and Nationality Act, and which seek to expand benefits usage by aliens who are potentially subject to that provision, are proper parties to challenge the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s final rule interpreting the statutory term “public charge” and establishing a framework by which DHS personnel are to assess whether an alien is likely to become a public charge; and (2) whether the final rule is likely contrary to law or arbitrary and capricious.

MarketGraphics Research Group Inc. v. Berge
20-457
Issues: (1) Whether the Bankruptcy Code’s “willful and malicious injury” exception — which exempts from discharge “any debts … for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to the property of another entity” — applies only when a debtor has a subjective intent to injure (as five circuits hold), or whether it may also be satisfied by conduct that objectively has a substantial certainty of causing injury (as three circuits hold); and (2) whether the “willful and malicious injury” exception establishes a unitary standard requiring only “actual intent to cause injury” (as five circuits hold), or whether it establishes a two-pronged test requiring both “actual intent to cause injury” and conduct “in conscious disregard of one’s duties or without just cause or excuse” (as six circuits hold).

Rosemond v. United States
20-464
Issue: Whether an attorney violates a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to autonomy by admitting, over the defendant’s objection, that the defendant ordered a shooting of the victim, thereby conceding the actus reus of the crime.

Posted in Comcast Corp. v. Viamedia Inc., Hamilton County Job and Family Services v. Siefert, U.S. v. Palomar-Santiago, U.S. v. Tsarnaev, U.S. v. Gary, Department of Homeland Security v. New York, Wolf v. Cook County, Illinois, MarketGraphics Research Group Inc. v. Berge, Rosemond v. U.S., Featured, Cases in the Pipeline

Recommended Citation: Andrew Hamm, Petitions of the week: The public-charge rule, Boston Marathon bombing and more, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 30, 2020, 2:06 PM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2020/10/petitions-of-the-week-the-public-charge-rule-boston-marathon-bombing-and-more/