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We’re hosting a symposium on the Roberts court and the First Amendment’s religion clauses. In a series of six essays, scholars and commentators will analyze major decisions from the 2019-20 term and look to the future of the court’s religion jurisprudence. Click to follow along.

The Supreme Court on Friday turned down a plea from opponents of President Donald Trump’s border wall to order a temporary stop to construction. By a vote of 5-4, the justices declined to lift a stay, entered just over a year ago, that allowed the federal government to continue to spend federal funds on construction while a legal challenge to the wall continues. The challengers had urged the Supreme Court to intervene last week, telling the justices that if the stay were not lifted, the Trump administration could finish the wall before the court even decides whether to take up the case on the merits.

The brief one-sentence order was the latest in the dispute over the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The clash came to the court for the first time last year, after a federal district judge in California agreed with the challengers, the Sierra Club and the Southern Borders Communities Coalition, that government officials did not have the power to spend more than Congress had already allocated for border security. U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam barred the government from using $2.5 billion in funds originally earmarked for military-personnel funds to build the border wall, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit declined to stay that ruling while the government appealed. The Trump administration then went to the Supreme Court, which – by a vote of 5-4 last July — put Gilliam’s order on hold and allowed the government to use the Pentagon funds on the wall. Continue reading »

“[A] man of high ambitions … must face the loneliness of original work.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Brown University Commencement Address (1897)

The following is a series of questions posed by Ronald Collins to Catharine Pierce Wells in connection with her new book, “Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Willing Servant to an Unknown God” (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Catharine Pierce Wells is a professor of law and a Law School Fund research scholar at Boston College Law School, where she teaches and writes in various areas of legal theory, including pragmatic legal theory, feminist jurisprudence and civil rights theory. She received her law degree from Harvard Law School and also earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley.

Wells’ articles on Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes have appeared, among other places, in the Journal of Supreme Court History. Her new book was published in the Cambridge Historical Studies in American Law and Society series, edited by Christopher Tomlins.

Welcome, Catharine, and thank you for taking the time to participate in this question-and-answer exchange for our readers. And congratulations on the publication of your book. Continue reading »


Friday round-up

By on Jul 31, 2020 at 8:49 am

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected another attempt to ease election-related rules during the coronavirus crisis – this time by imposing a stay on a lower-court order that would have made it easier for an Idaho advocacy group to gather signatures for a proposed ballot measure. Amy Howe writes for SCOTUSblog – in a story first published at Howe on the Court – that the justices “have now on several occasions signaled that federal courts should not alter rules relating to an election even to accommodate concerns arising from the pandemic.” Continue reading »

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The Supreme Court on Thursday put on hold rulings by a federal court in Idaho that had relaxed the state’s rules for ballot initiatives for the November 2020 election. The Supreme Court’s order, which drew a sharp dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was the latest in a series of disputes arising from the COVID-19 pandemic to reach the justices, who have now on several occasions signaled that federal courts should not alter rules relating to an election even to accommodate concerns arising from the pandemic.

The justices’ order granted a request filed earlier this month by the state of Idaho, which asked them to temporarily block an order by a federal district judge that gave Reclaim Idaho, which describes itself as a “grassroots movement designed to protect and improve the quality of life of working Idahoans,” additional time to collect signatures for an “Invest in Idaho” initiative to increase funding in K-12 education. The district court’s order would also require the state to accept electronic signatures. Those orders, the state complained, “contravene an almost century-old principle” of state law requiring signatures to be collected in person and (among other things) create “a heavy layer of additional work for the county clerks while they undertake the difficult task of conducting elections” in a pandemic. Moreover, the state suggested, Reclaim Idaho’s failure to collect the signatures in person was largely a problem of its own making: The group waited too long to start its efforts, and then it suspended its campaign in mid-March because of the pandemic. Continue reading »

This week we highlight cert petitions pending before the Supreme Court that ask the court to assess the constitutionality of a Mississippi abortion law, a Texas liquor law and a federal law governing the appointment of patent judges. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi asks the court to weigh in on the state’s Gestational Age Act, which bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergencies or severe fetal abnormalities. The state wants the court to take the case in order to “clarify whether abortion prohibitions before viability are always unconstitutional.” In Wal-Mart Stores v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Wal-Mart asks the court to consider whether a Texas law that prohibits publicly traded corporations from obtaining a permit to operate a liquor store violates the Constitution’s commerce clause by discriminating against out-of-state businesses. And in United States v. Arthrex Inc., the federal government wants the court to decide whether administrative patent judges of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are “principal officers” who must be appointed by the president with the Senate’s advice and consent.

These and other petitions of the week are below the jump:

Continue reading »

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 1 p.m. EDT, the ABA Criminal Justice Section will host a virtual discussion of major criminal cases decided during the 2019-20 Supreme Court term – on issues from presidential subpoenas and jury unanimity to the insanity defense and cross-border shootings – as well as cases granted for next term. The discussion will be led by Judge Benita Pearson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Daniel Scott Harawa of Washington University in St. Louis Law and Carla Laroche of Florida State Law, and will be moderated by UC Hastings Law’s Rory Little. Registration is free.

Click here for more info and to register.


Thursday round-up

By on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:04 am

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent a minimally invasive medical procedure, and the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to allow it to continue using federal funds to build its border wall. Those were the two main stories from the court on Wednesday, and Amy Howe has the details on both of them. Ginsburg was back in the hospital for a common, non-surgical procedure to revise a bile duct stent that was originally placed last year, and she expects to be released from the hospital by the end of the week, Howe reports in a story for SCOTUSblog that was first published at Howe on the Court. And in the latest filing in the legal dispute over President Donald Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, the administration asked the justices not to undo a previous order that has allowed the government to continue building the wall while a legal challenge makes its way up to the high court.

CNN’s Joan Biskupic also wraps up her exclusive and much-discussed four-part series on the inner workings of the Supreme Court during its contentious 2019-20 term. In the final installment of the series, Biskupic reports that the court’s decisions in a pair of cases involving Trump’s financial records – Trump v. Mazars and Trump v. Vance – were the product of two months of tense negotiations during which Chief Justice John Roberts cobbled together a seven-justice coalition to issue a pair of compromise rulings. Continue reading »

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent a “minimally invasive non-surgical procedure” on Wednesday at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to “revise a bile duct stent that was originally placed at Sloan Kettering in August 2019,” the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office announced. Ginsburg’s doctors, the statement indicated, say that such procedures “are common occurrences”; this one, which was “performed using endoscopy and medical imaging guidance, was done to minimize the risk of future infection.” The 87-year-old Ginsburg “is resting comfortably and expects to be released from the hospital by the end of the week,” the statement concluded. Continue reading »


One week after opponents of President Donald Trump’s border wall asked the justices to order a temporary halt to construction, the Trump administration on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the government should be allowed to continue to spend federal funds on construction while a legal challenge continues. Last week’s filing by the Sierra Club and the Southern Borders Communities Coalition, the Trump administration wrote, doesn’t make any new arguments that would justifying lifting the Supreme Court’s year-old stay of a federal trial court’s order, and its “old arguments remain equally flawed.” Continue reading »

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, from 12-1:30 p.m. EDT, ADL will host a virtual discussion of the most important cases of the 2019-20 Supreme Court term, on issues including the separation of church and state, immigration and Title VII employment discrimination. The panel will feature Erwin Chemerinsky of Berkeley Law, Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis, Frederick Lawrence of Georgetown Law and Dahlia Lithwick of Slate. The program, which offers 1.5 hours of CLE credit, will be held in partnership with the National Constitution Center. General registration is free, and CLE registration is $60 ($55 for NCC members).

Click here for more info and to register.

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