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The Supreme Court will conclude its April sitting this week, hearing arguments in seven cases for a total of six hours.
The court will hear arguments via teleconference and will provide live audio streams to the public for each of the argument sessions. The court has not heard arguments in person during the 2020 term.
Click the links below to read more about the specific cases before SCOTUS during the first week of its April sitting.
- A pair of consolidated cases, Americans for Prosperity v. Becerra and Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra, concern disclosure requirements for charitable organizations’ donor lists and the Supreme Court’s decision in NAACP v. Alabama (1958). The NAACP ruling set legal precedent over membership disclosure requirements for charity groups and constitutional protections for freedom of association.
Two conservative political advocacy groups, the Thomas More Law Center and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, challenged a California law requiring tax-exempt §501(c)(3) charitable organizations to disclose the names and addresses of major donors. The groups argued the policy violates the First Amendment. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of the state, holding that California had a compelling state interest in donor disclosure and that the groups already filed the information with their federal tax returns. The two advocacy groups petitioned the Supreme Court for review.
In the 1940s, the U.S. Navy built and operated the Ordot Dump landfill in Guam for the disposal of munitions, chemicals, and garbage. The landfill had no environmental safeguards. When Guam gained sovereignty in 1950, the Navy ceased to own or operate the landfill. In the 1980s, the EPA flagged the Ordot Dump as a contaminated site, ordered Guam to create containment plans, and determined the Navy was a potentially responsible party for the site.
In 2004, the EPA reached an agreement with Guam to close and cover the dump to prevent further pollution. In 2017, Guam filed CERCLA complaints in U.S. district court against the United States, seeking financial support for closing the dump and paying the civil penalties levied by the EPA. The United States argued Guam could not file CERCLA claims because of the terms of its agreement with the EPA and moved to dismiss the case. The district court denied the request. The U.S. government appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded the case back to the lower court for dismissal. The government of Guam appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Clean Air Act‘s biofuels mandate to replace crude oil with renewable fuels allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to temporarily extend exemptions to small refineries if compliance with the law would cause disproportionate economic hardship. Three small refineries, collectively known as HollyFrontier, applied for and received extensions. A group of renewable fuels producers, collectively known as the Renewable Fuels Association, challenged the orders with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. The Renewable Fuels Association claimed the EPA’s orders caused economic injury. The 10th Circuit vacated the EPA’s orders and remanded the matters, ruling that the EPA had exceeded its authority. HollyFrontier petitioned SCOTUS for review.
Mexican national Refugio Palomar-Santiago was granted permanent residency in the United States in 1990. The following year, he was convicted of a felony offense and was later deported based on that conviction. Three years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit concluded that Palomar-Santiago’s conviction was not a crime of violence, and as such did not warrant deportation proceedings.
In 2017, Palomar-Santiago was in the United States and was indicted for illegally reentering the country. Palomar-Santiago moved to dismiss the indictment, based on the 9th Circuit’s ruling. The district court ruled he met the required burden of proof and dismissed the indictment. On appeal, the 9th Circuit affirmed the ruling. The U.S. government appealed to the Supreme Court.
Mahanoy Area School District student B.L. was suspended from the school’s cheerleading team after posting a Snapchat story coaches said violated team and school rules. Snapchat is a social media platform that allows users to send private messages to other users. Snaps are temporary, disappearing after an interval of time, and cannot be accessed on the internet. The posts were made off campus.
School officials upheld the coaches’ ruling while stating that B.L. could try out for the team again the following school year. B.L. sued the school in U.S. district court, claiming the school had violated her First Amendment rights in its attempts to regulate her off-campus speech and discipline her for that speech. The district court ruled in her favor and on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit upheld the ruling. The school district appealed to the Supreme Court.
- The case PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey concerns jurisdictional requirements of eminent domain under the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”). Eminent domain is the prerogative of a government to take private property, including land, for public use with payment of reasonable compensation without the owner’s consent. The NGA allows private gas companies to exercise the U.S. government’s power of eminent domain if certain jurisdictional requirements are met.
Natural gas provider PennEast Pipeline Company (“PennEast”) was scheduled to build a pipeline through part of New Jersey. PennEast obtained federal approval and sued for access to the properties in U.S. district court. New Jersey sought to dismiss the suits, arguing that PennEast did not satisfy the NGA’s jurisdictional requirements and the state was immune under the Eleventh Amendment. The District of New Jersey allowed PennEast immediate access to the properties. New Jersey appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which ruled that New Jersey was immune and vacated the district court’s orders. PennEast appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
SCOTUS issued opinions in three cases since our April 19 issue. The court has issued 30 opinions to date. Six cases were decided without argument.
- Jones v. Mississippi originated from the Mississippi Court of Appeals and was argued before SCOTUS on November 3, 2020. The case concerned sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without parole.
When he was 15 years old, Brett Jones killed his grandfather and was tried for murder in the Circuit Court of Lee County, Mississippi. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama (2012), the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered the county circuit court to hold a sentencing rehearing. In 2017, the circuit court resentenced Jones to life in prison without parole. Brett appealed to the Mississippi Court of Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court, which rejected his argument to reverse the sentence. In 2018, the state supreme court held oral arguments and then dismissed the case.
In 2019, Jones petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review. In the petition, Brett argued (1) that the issue divided state supreme courts, and (2) that without a requirement to find permanent incorrigibility before sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without parole, SCOTUS’ precedent in Miller and Montgomery would “lose its force as a rule of law.” Incorrigibility in this case is defined as when a juvenile does not accept an adult’s authority.
On April 22, 2021, SCOTUS ruled in a 6-3 vote that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not require a juvenile to be found as permanently incorrigible before imposing a life sentence without parole. The court upheld the Mississippi Court of Appeals’ judgment. Justice Brett Kavanaugh delivered the court’s majority opinion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented and was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
- Carr v. Saul (consolidated with Davis v. Saul) concerns claimants seeking disability benefits under the Social Security Act (The Act) and whether they must raise any constitutional Appointments Clause challenges during administrative proceedings before seeking judicial review. The case was argued before SCOTUS on March 3, 2021.
Willie Carr was denied Social Security disability benefits, appealed to the Social Security Administration (SSA), and those appeals were denied. Carr petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma for review. Carr claimed the administrative law judge (ALJ) who decided his case was unconstitutionally appointed. The SSA did not dispute Carr’s claim. The SSA argued Carr’s claim should’ve been raised during the earlier administrative proceedings, so the court could not consider his challenge. The Northern District of Oklahoma ruled in Carr’s favor. The SSA appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. The 10th Circuit reversed the district court, holding that Carr could not challenge the ALJ’s appointment for the first time in federal court.
On April 22, 2021, SCOTUS issued a unanimous opinion reversing the 10th Circuit ruling and remanding the case for further proceedings. The court held that Social Security disability claimants are not required to make Appointments Clause challenges relating to the ALJs hearing their claims at the agency level. Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored the court’s majority opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett joined. Justice Stephen Breyer filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
In 2012, the FTC filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada against business owner Scott Tucker and his credit-monitoring companies for violating consumer-protection statutes under The Act. The District of Nevada granted summary judgment in favor of the FTC and ordered Tucker to pay restitution. On appeal in 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling. In 2019, Tucker petitioned SCOTUS for review.
On April 22, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion reversing the 9th Circuit’s judgment and remanding the case for further proceedings. The court concluded that Section 13b of The Act does not authorize the FTC to seek equitable monetary relief like restitution or disgorgement, nor does it authorize a court to award such relief. Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the majority opinion of the court.
SCOTUS accepted one case to its merits docket since our April 19 issue. The court has granted review in a total of 11 cases for the upcoming 2021-2022 term, which is scheduled to begin on October 4, 2021.
- The case: Darrell Hemphill was tried in New York state court for second-degree murder in the shooting death of a child. At trial, Hemphill’s attorney introduced evidence of a different shooter. The court ruled that this defense opened the door to the prosecution presenting rebuttal evidence, including testimony provided during earlier legal proceedings barred by the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause. In practice, this clause requires criminal prosecutors to offer their evidence at trial through witnesses who are subject to cross-examination. Hemphill was convicted.
After exhausting his appeals in the New York state courts, Hemphill appealed on constitutional grounds to the U.S. Supreme Court. Click here to learn more about the case’s background.
- The issue: The case concerns a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him.
- The question presented: “Whether, or under what circumstances, a criminal defendant who opens the door to responsive evidence also forfeits his right to exclude evidence otherwise barred by the Confrontation Clause.”
Upcoming SCOTUS dates
Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest:
- April 26:
- SCOTUS will release orders.
- SCOTUS will hear arguments in three cases.
- April 27: SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
- April 28: SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
- April 30: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices.
- May 3: SCOTUS will release orders
- May 4: SCOTUS will hear arguments in one case.
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Federal court action
Nominations and confirmations
President Joe Biden (D) announced no new nominees and the U.S. Senate has confirmed no new nominees since our April 19 issue.
- Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
- Tiffany Cunningham, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
- Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
- Regina Rodriguez, to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado
- Florence Pan, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
- Deborah Boardman, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
- Lydia Kay Griggsby, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
- Julien Xavier Neals, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
- Zahid Quraishi, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
- Margaret Strickland, to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico
The nominations were announced on March 30 and were officially submitted to the U.S. Senate on April 19.
The federal judiciary currently has 77 vacancies, 73 of which are for lifetime Article III judgeships. As of this writing, there were 10 pending Article III nominations.
For more information on judicial vacancies during Biden’s term, click here.
Do you love judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? We figured you might. Our monthly Federal Vacancy Count, published at the start of each month, monitors all the faces and places moving in, moving out, and moving on in the federal judiciary. Click here for our most current count.
Need a daily fix of judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? Click here for continuing updates on the status of all federal judicial nominees.
Or, keep an eye on our list for updates on federal judicial nominations.
Spotlight: Presidential nominations to federal courts
The nation’s bicentennial. The invention of the digital camera. The landslide brought us down. These happenings took place between 1974 and 1977 during the Ford Administration. This week’s edition of Bold Justice takes us back to that time to highlight President Gerald Ford’s (R) judicial nominees.
During his term in office, President Ford had 62 judges successfully nominated and confirmed to Article III judgeships. He had one nomination withdrawn and the U.S. Senate did not vote on 12 of nominees. Ford made one appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens in 1975. Stevens served on the court until June 28, 2010.
President Ford’s first Article III nominees–12 U.S. district court judges and two U.S. circuit court judges–were confirmed as of January 1 of his second year in office.
Of his Article III appointees, President Ford appointed 12 judges to the United States Courts of Appeal and 50 judges to U.S. district courts. He averaged 21 judicial appointments per year during his term in office.
We’ll be back on May 3 with a new edition of Bold Justice. Until then, gaveling out!