Category: US Supreme Court

SCOTUS Overrules 40-year-old Precedent on State Immunity

On 13 May 2019, the US Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, in the case of Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, 587 U. S. (2019), that a State could not be sued in a Court of another state. The case, although relates to a minute procedural rule, is significant because it shows the willingness of the majority of the Court to overrule a 40 year-old precedent if it stands in the way of searching for the original meaning of the US Constitution.

In Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, 587 U. S. (2019), the Majority Opinion, delivered by Justice Thomas, expressly overruled Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410 (1979) which had held that the Constitution did not bar suits against one State in a Court of another State, even though at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, States were immune from such actions.

The Majority Opinion in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, 587 U. S. (2019) brings together all of the hallmark traits of Justice Thomas’s judicial philosophy. First of all, the case overrules a 40 year-old precedent showing his limited interest in stare decisis. On this issue, he claims:

But stare decisis is “‘not an inexorable command,’” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U. S. 223, 233 (2009), and we have held that it is “at its weakest when we interpret the Constitution because our interpretation can be altered only by constitutional amendment,” Agostini v. Felton, 521 U. S. 203, 235 (1997). […] Nevada v. Hall is irreconcilable with our constitutional structure and with the historical evidence showing a widespread preratification understanding that States retained immunity from private suits, both in their own courts and in other courts.” (pp16-18).

Secondly, the opinion is based solely on the historical approach to the relevant legal principles. In fact, throughout his opinion, Justice Thomas talks about nothing else but history and, in doing so, he goes back even further than the time of the ratification of the Constitution:

The common-law rule was that “no suit or action can be brought against the king, even in civil matters, because no court can have jurisdiction over him.” 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 235 (1765) (Blackstone).” (p7)

Thirdly, despite the fact that Justice Thomas is believed to always employ strictly literal interpretation of the Constitution, the opinion shows his willingness to recognise unwritten constitutional doctrines, so long as they do not conflict with the prevailing understanding at the time of the founding. On this issue, he argues that:

There are many other constitutional doctrines that are not spelled out in the Constitution but are nevertheless implicit in its structure and supported by historical practice—including, for example, judicial review, Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 176–180 (1803); intergovernmental tax immunity, McCulloch, 4 Wheat., at 435–436; executive privilege, United States v. Nixon, 418 U. S. 683, 705–706 (1974); executive immunity, Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S. 731, 755–758 (1982); and the President’s removal power, Myers v. United States, 272 U. S. 52, 163–164 (1926). Like these doctrines, the States’ sovereign immunity is a historically rooted principle embedded in the text and structure of the Constitution.” (p16)

The opinion delivered by Justice Thomas is in no way different from his other opinions. They are all based on the same principles. However, this time, his opinion was the Majority Opinion – he was not in dissent, nor did he have to submit a separate concurring opinion, which he often feels compelled to do. With the recent changes to the composition of the Supreme Court, it seems plausible that Justice Thomas, or at least his judicial philosophy, will be seen more and more in control of the Court’s precedents.

The Majority Opinion was supported by Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Chief Justice Roberts. The four liberal Justices dissented. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer also takes a historical approach to the doctrine of State immunity, but, above all, he points to the effect of stare decisis:

“In any event, stare decisis requires us to follow Hall, not overrule it. See Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 854–855 (1992); see also Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC, 576 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2015) (slip op., at 7–8). Overruling a case always requires “‘special justification.’” Kimble, 576 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 8). What could that justification be in this case? The majority does not find one.

“The majority believes that Hall was wrongly decided. But “an argument that we got something wrong—even a good argument to that effect—cannot by itself justify scrapping settled precedent.” Kimble, 576 U. S., at (slip op., at 8). Three dissenters in Hall also believed that Hall was wrong, but they recognized that the Court’s opinion was “plausible.” 440 U. S., at 427 (opinion of Blackmun, J.). While reasonable jurists might disagree about whether Hall was correct, that very fact—that Hall is not obviously wrong—shows that today’s majority is obviously wrong to overrule it.(p10)

“Perhaps the majority believes that there has been insufficient reliance on Hall to justify preserving it. But any such belief would ignore an important feature of reliance. The people of this Nation rely upon stability in the law Legal stability allows lawyers to give clients sound advice and allows ordinary citizens to plan their lives. Each time the Court overrules a case, the Court produces increased uncertainty. To overrule a sound decision like Hall is to encourage litigants to seek to overrule other cases; it is to make it more difficult for lawyers to refrain from challenging settled law; and it is to cause the public to become increasingly uncertain about which cases the Court will overrule and which cases are here to stay” (pp12-13)

SCOTUS to rule on discrimination protections for LGBT workers

On 22 April 2019, the US Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari for the cases of Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., No. 15-3775 (2d Cir. 2018) and Gerald Lynn Bostock v. Clayton County, No. 17-13801 (11th Cir. 2018) concerning the question of protection against discrimination in the workplace due to sexual orientation and, separately, for the case of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, No. 16-2424 (6th Cir. 2018) concerning discrimination due to gender identity. All three cases will be heard under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964.

The application of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 to discrimination based on sexual orientation has so far divided the federal Courts. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964, discrimination is prohibited, inter alia, based on ‘sex’ and in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., No. 15-3775 (2d Cir. 2018), the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that Title VII applied to sexual orientation as well because it should be considered a ‘function of sex’ and therefore inextricably linked to the concept of ‘sex’. On the other hand, in Gerald Lynn Bostock v. Clayton County, No. 17-13801 (11th Cir. 2018), the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held, in a short per curiam opinion, that under Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., 597 F.2d 936, 938 (5th Cir. 1979), “[d]ischarge for homosexuality [was] not prohibited by the Title VII.” This classic circuit split has prompted the Supreme Court to consolidate the two cases to answer the question whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Similarly, in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, No. 16-2424 (6th Cir. 2018), the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 also applied to discrimination based gender identity explaining that “it is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” The Supreme Court will now determine whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 in fact applies to discrimination based on gender identity as part of discrimination on account of ‘sex’ (The New York Times).

The question of the application of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity comes down to the manner of interpretation of Title VII. Under an ordinary literal interpretation, discrimination based on ‘sex,’ must necessarily refer to discrimination of women (comparing to men) or of men (comparing to women). This is further confirmed by the fact that Title VII offers an exhaustive list of characteristics that attract its protection – originally it included race, color, religion, sex and national origin and then, over time, pregnancy, age and disability were added (by Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). Out of these, ‘pregnancy’ is especially interesting as it is necessarily closely linked to sex, yet Congress considered it necessary to add it separately thereby reinforcing the position that ‘sex’ does not cover other characteristics that it is simply linked to. The same conclusion is arrived at using the originalist approach and looking at the understanding of this provision at the time it was being passed. Clearly, in the 1960s, Congress could not contemplate protection for homosexuals in the workplace given that many States at the time (and long afterwords) had anti-sodomy laws on the books. In fact, the unconstitutionality of such laws was only established by the Supreme Court in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). On the other hand, under a purposive interpretation, Title VII could be taken to be intended to prevent discrimination of minorities in the workplace. With such a purpose, the close relationship between sex and sexual orientation and sexual identity is probably enough to apply a wide construction equating those characteristics.

Given that the application of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 comes down to the manner of interpretation, the case is likely to be resolved along the ideological lines, with conservative Justices taking a literal/originalist approach and liberal Justices taking a purposive approach. The ultimate outcome of the case will probably lie with Chief Justice Roberts who, although an originalist, is also wary of political implications of the case. Chief Justice Roberts has a record of siding with the conservative Justices in gay rights cases (e.g. United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013)Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (2015)), however this is the first time the Court will hear such a case after the departure of Justice Kennedy who, although a conservative, always sided with the liberals in cases concerning gay rights. This dynamics might affect the way Chief Justice Roberts will vote.

Trump Administration Litigation Tracker (Ongoing/Prospective/Resolved)

ONGOING

 

Census citizenship question challenge

CaseState of New York v US Department of Commerce, 18-CV-5025 (JMF)

Stage: On appeal before the Supreme Court

Question: Whether adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census is lawful?

Background: While preparing for the upcoming 2020 nation-wide census, the Trump Administration has planned to add a question about one’s citizenship to the list of questions the census will ask. Such a census takes place every ten years and affects how federal funding and seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned. The Trump Administration argues that the citizenship question is necessary in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act 1964 and that this question has been asked during all but one censuses from 1820 to 2000. However, Democratic states, along with some NGOs, such as ACLU, argue that the citizenship question would distort the outcome of the census by deterring illegal immigrants from participating. To this effect, they sued to prevent the Trump Administration from changing the 2020 census questions. On 5 January 2019, the District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in State of New York v US Department of Commerce, 18-CV-5025 (JMF) that Commerce Secretary’s decision to add the citizenship question violated the Administrative Procedure Act 1946 governing the creation of new regulations by administrative agencies. The Court held that the rationale for adding the citizenship question was ‘pretextual’ and the decision was made in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act 1946 because it had failed to ‘consider all important aspects of a problem’ as required by the Act, implying also that the true intentions behind the citizenship question was in fact to deter participation (Bloomberg). Ordinarily, the decision of the District Court for the Southern District of New York would have to be appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. However, the Trump Administration petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the appeal bypassing the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court agreed given that census questionnaires must be ready in the summer of 2019 and with an ordinary appellate procedure, it would not have been possible to meet this deadline.

Prospects: The Supreme Court will hear the case in April 2019 and the ruling is expected to be delivered in June 2019, before the Justices adjourn for the summer (CNN). It is not clear how the Court will rule as the case involves technical administrative issues of the Administrative Procedure Act 1946. If the Trump Administration is able to establish that all internal procedures have been dully followed, the Court will be rather unlikely to find the question unlawful on ‘pretextual’  grounds.

Significance: The case of State of New York v US Department of Commerce,18-CV-5025 (JMF) will have a huge impact on the appropriation of federal funding and seats in the House of Representatives among States as, under US Constitution, Article 1, Clause 3, those depend on States population numbers. ACLU claims that adding the citizenship question would stop about 6.5 million people from entering their details in the census which could lead to States with a large portion of illegal immigrants, such as California, loosing billions of dollars in federal funding as well as between one and three seats in the House of Representatives (The Hill).

 

2nd Amendment challenge

CaseNew York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, No. 15-638 (2d Cir. 2018)

Stage: On appeal before the Supreme Court

Question: Does the 2nd Amendment protect the right of gun owners to transport their firearms outside their homes?

Background: So far the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the 2nd Amendment is limited to two cases only. In 2008, the Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 2008 that the 2nd Amendment protected the individual right to possess firearms within the confines of one’s home for the purposes of self-defence. In 2010, the rule was extended in McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 2010 to apply to States as well. However, since then, the Court has taken very few cases concerning the scope of the 2nd Amendment (but see e.g. Caetano v. Massachusetts, 577 U.S. (2016)). This has left at least two big issues largely unresolved. First, what types of firearms are covered by the 2nd Amendment? Secondly, does the 2nd Amendment cover public arena outside one’s home? Both issues have been hotly litigated over, especially in the Blue States. On 24 July 2018, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled, in the case of Young v State of Hawaii No. 12-17808, that the 2nd Amendment did in fact protect the right to bear arms in public. This is in spite of the 2016 decision of the same Court in Peruta v. County of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919, 939 (2016), which, sitting en banc, upheld a complete ban on carrying any firearms outside one’s home. However, the latter case was distinguished on the grounds that it was concerned with a concealed-carry while the former was concerned with an open-carry. Regardless, the 2nd Amendment jurisprudence of the 9th Circuit stands in open opposition to other Circuits, such as the 7th Circuit which held in 2013, in the case of Moore v Madigan, USDC 11-CV-405-WDS, 11-CV-03134; 7th Cir. 12-1269, 12-1788, that a complete ban on concealed carry was unconstitutional.

Prospects: There is a very strong chance the Supreme Court will hold that the 2nd Amendment protects the right of gun owners to transport their firearms to various locations for lawful purposes. The ruling, however, is likely to be narrow in scope and might not address the question of whether the 2nd Amendment protects the right to carry arms outside one’s home in general, whether by way of open or concealed carry. Out of the five Justices constituting the majority in District of Columbia v. Heller,554 U.S. 570 2008, two (Justices Kennedy and Scalia) are no longer on the bench. However, Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh who have replaced them, both have a strong record on the 2nd Amendment (e.g. Heller v. District of Columbia, No. 10–7036. 2011; Peruta v. County of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919, 939 (2016) dissenting from the denial of certiorari).

Significance: The case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, No. 15-638 (2d Cir. 2018) will have a huge impact on the operation of the right to bear arms under the 2nd Amendment. So far the Supreme Court has recognised the right to possess and use firearms in self-defence at home. This case might expand this right to at least some public areas in at least some circumstances.

 

ObamaCare challenge

CaseTexas v the United States, No. 4:18-cv-00167-O

Stage: On appeal before the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit

Question: Whether the Affordable Care Act 2010 (ObamaCare), as amended by the Tax and Jobs Act 2017, is unconstitutional (in part or in entirety)?

Background: So far ObamaCare has withstood, albeit not in its entirety, several challenges before the Federal Courts. In 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519 2012 that, inter alia, although the Individual Mandate (i.e. the requirement that all individuals buy health insurance plans) was not a valid exercise of the Congress’s power to regulate inter-state commerce, the penalty for its breach could be read as a tax and thereby be a valid exercise of the Congress’s taxation power instead. This is because the so called ‘penalty’ for breaching the Individual Mandate was limited to a financial fee processed by the IRS together with individuals’ income taxes. This ‘saving construction’ persuaded Chief Justice Roberts who joined the four liberal Justices on the Court and voted to uphold the Individual Mandate. However, the Tax and Jobs Act 2017 passed by Congress in 2017 eliminated this tax/penalty while leaving the Individual Mandate as such intact. In those circumstances, several Red States sued in a Texas federal District Court again claiming that the elimination of the tax had rendered the Individual Mandate unconstitutional as now, in the absence of any tax attached to it, it could only be construed as an exercise of the Congress’s power to regulate inter-state commerce and that would violate the holding of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519 2012. On 14 December 2018, the District Court issued its judgment. Judge O’Connor analysed the effect of the elimination of the tax attached to the Individual Mandate by the Tax and Jobs Act 2017 and found that, in the absence of any tax, the Individual Mandate could not possibly fall within the Congress’s taxation power. The Court struck down the whole of ObamaCare holding that the Individual Mandate was inseverable from the rest of the law. The House of Representatives, under Democratic control, intervened before the Court to defend that law and appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Initially, the Trump Administration, argued that parts of ObamaCare  were severable from the Individual Mandate and should be upheld, however, on 26 March 2019, the Department of Justice amended its stance petitioning the Court of Appeals to uphold the District Court’s ruling in its entirety, ie, strike down the whole of ObamaCare (CNN).

Prospects: There is a very strong chance that the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit (with 11 Republican-appointees and 5 Democrat-appointees) will strike down the Individual Mandate as unconstitutional. However, the question of severibility is more complex. The Court might declare only parts of the law inseverable from the Individual Mandate (e.g. community ratings) and uphold the rest. In any event, the case is bound to reach the Supreme Court regardless what the Court of Appeals decides. Before the Supreme Court, the situation is even less straightforward. When it comes to ObamaCare, Chief Justice Roberts is undoubtedly the Swing Vote. He has upheld ObamaCare at least twice already and it is highly unlikely he will let the law fall in its entirety this time. There is a decent chance the Individual Mandate will be stuck down but whether it will drag any other parts of the law with it, is impossible to tell.

Significance: The case of Texas v the United States, No. 4:18-cv-00167-O will have a huge impact on the shape of federal powers, as enumerated under Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution. It will determine the limits of the Congress’s taxation power and once again discuss the limits of the power to regulate commerce. Furthermore, the case will provide instruction on the issue of severibility of Congressional statutes. Beyond that, the potential invalidation of ObamaCare would completely transform the healthcare market.

 

DACA rescission challenge

CaseRegents of the University of California, et al. v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 3:17-cv-05211 (N.D. Cal.)

Stage: On appeal before the Court of Appeal for the 9th Circuit

Question: Whether the rescission of DACA is lawful and whether DACA is unconstitutional?

Background: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced by President Obama via an Executive Memorandum in 2012 to allow for a temporary lawful stay of illegal immigrants brought to the US as children. The policy was introduced in response to Congress not being able to pass the DREAM Act which would put the policy on a statutory footing. Since then, the policy has been challenged in the Federal Courts several times. A lawsuit against the original policy was dismissed on procedural grounds in 2013 (Fox News) but, as President Obama attempted to extend the programme, the expansion was blocked by the US Supreme Court in the case of United States v. Texas579 U.S. (2016) (although in a per curiam decision concerning an interim injunction with the crux of the matter soon becoming moot). The Trump Administration announced in 2017 that it would rescind the DACA program altogether as incompatible with federal immigration laws on the books. This was challenged in Regents of the University of California, et al. v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 3:17-cv-05211 (N.D. Cal.). At the same time, Texas, along with other States, once again challenged the constitutionality of DACA before the District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Texas, et al. v. United States, No. 18-00068 (S.D. Tex. May 1, 2018). The case is still pending before the Court.

Prospects: The constitutionality of DACA will undoubtedly be eventually resolved by the Supreme Court. It is, however, not clear whether the Court will address the constitutionality of the programme as such when considering whether its rescission was lawful (Regents of the University of California, et al. v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 3:17-cv-05211 (N.D. Cal.)). If not, this question will likely be resolved in Texas, et al. v. United States, No. 18-00068 (S.D. Tex. May 1, 2018), when it finally reaches the Supreme Court. At that point, Justices Gorsuch, Thomas, Alito and Kavanaugh are likely to take a narrow view of executive power which must necessarily lead them to the conclusion that DACA was an attempt by the Obama Administration to circumvent Congress which was unable to pass the necessary legislation (DREAM Act) and therefore constituted an executive overreach. Consequently, the issue will ultimately come down to Chief Justice Roberts as the deciding vote.

Significance: The case of Regents of the University of California, et al. v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 3:17-cv-05211 (N.D. Cal.) will have a huge impact on the shape of executive power. It will determine the limits of inherent Presidential powers vis-a-vis statutes. Beyond that, the potential invalidation of DACA would completely transform the immigration system and put millions of illegal immigrants at risk of deportation.

 

Affirmative action challenge

Case: Students for Fair Admissions v Harvard

Stage: Pending before the District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Question: Whether affirmative action constitutes unlawful discrimination under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment?

Background: On 15 October 2018, a lawsuit against the Harvard University alleging race discrimination went on trial before a federal District Court in Boston. The lawsuit was brought by the Students for Fair Admissions founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum and is supported by the Trump Administration. Technically, the constitutionality of affirmative action has already been confirmed on several occasions, for the first time in 1978 in the case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 1978, then in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 2003 and most recently in 2016 in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, 579 U.S. (2016) (Fisher II). However, even so upheld, affirmative action is legally limited only to situations where no race-neutral solutions would be effective in increasing the number of minority students accepted by a University. The lawsuit now alleges that the Harvard University has not properly considered race-neutral admission schemes before factoring race in its application process (Reuters). In this type of lawsuits, the burden of proof rests on a University to justify the use of race as a consideration in its admission process. In any event, if this cases proceeds to the US Supreme Court, the Court might rule on the constitutionality of affirmative action in general.

Prospects: There is a very strong chance that the Supreme Court will declare affirmative action unconstitutional. The recent decisions on this issue have been extremely closely decided and Justice Kennedy has been the one casting the deciding vote. Now that Justice Kennedy has been replaced by Judge Kavanaugh, the Court might easily swing the other way. This is even more likely given that, while upholding the practice in Fisher v. University of Texas579 U.S. (2016), the Court held that Universities must continue to review their affirmative action practices to ascertain whether they are still required. With Justice Kennedy gone, the five conservative Justices might simply come to a conclusion that there is no longer any need to consider race in admission processes. When it comes to affirmative action, Chief Justice Roberts has always consistently voted to declare it unconstitutional and it would be surprising for him to suddenly switch sides.

Significance: The case of Students for Fair Admissions v Harvard will have a huge impact on the operation of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the understanding of what constitutes racial discrimination. Beyond that, the potential invalidation of academic admission processes based on affirmative action would completely transform the basis on which universities accept new students.

 

Emergency declaration challenge

Case: State of California et al v. Trump et al

Stage: Pending before the District Court for the Northern District of California

Question: Whether President Trump’s national emergency declaration on the US-Mexico border wall is lawful under the National Emergencies Act 1976?

Background: On February 15, 2019, President Trump declared a National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States (Proclamation 9844) under the National Emergencies Act 1976 to channel funds for the construction of a wall at the US-Mexico border. The Declaration came after President Trump had been unable to obtain $5.7 billion in funding for the wall in the 2019/2020 budget due to Congress refusing his requests. The disagreement between President Trump, Republican Senate and the Democratic House of Representatives, preceding the Declaration, led to a 35 day-long government shutdown (the longest in the US history), which ended with Congress passing a bipartisan funding bill containing $1.375 billion for new fencing on 55 miles of the border. Immediately after the budget was passed by Congress and accepted by President Trump, he issued Proclamation 9844 redirecting $8 billion in previously-agreed expenditure to build the wall instead. The funding comes from planned military construction expenditures ($3.6 billion), the Department of Defense’s drug interdiction activities ($2.5 billion) and Treasury’s forfeiture funds ($600 million). In response, Congress passed, under the National Emergencies Act 1976, a Resolution seeking to nullify Proclamation 9844, however, President Trump vetoed it therefore leaving Proclamation 9844 in effect (Reuters). At this point, California, together with other States, sued in State of California et al v. Trump et al to stop Proclamation 9844 as unlawful under the National Emergencies Act 1976 and therefore in violation of the Appropriation Clause contained in Article I, Section 9 of the US Constitution. The Appropriation Clause stipulates that Congress is the sole body responsible for allocating funds and Presidents cannot unilaterally channel funding for any purpose they want. However, in the National Emergencies Act 1976, Congress empowered Presidents to take unilateral executive action (including funding allocation) in 136 distinct areas in times of  ’emergency’. Unfortunately, the legislation fails to define ’emergency’ and therefore seems to leave a wide discretion to the executive branch. Since the National Emergencies Act 1976 was enacted, a number of national emergencies have been declared (Carter (2); Reagan: (6); H.W. Bush (4); Clinton (17); W. Bush (12); Obama: (13); Trump (4) (Snopes).

Prospects: It is highly likely that President Trumps Emergency Declaration will be declared unlawful in the District Court and the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit which in recent years have tended to side with Democratic challengers. No doubt the case will ultimately proceed to the Supreme Court. However, it is unclear how the Justices might vote on this issue.

Significance: The case of State of California et al v. Trump et al will have a huge impact on the limits of Presidential emergency powers under the National Emergencies Act 1976. It will also discuss the operation of the Appropriation Clause and the rules regarding the allocation of funding. Beyond that, the case can prevent the construction of the wall at the border with Mexico which constitutes a crucial element of President’s Trump immigration policy.

 

Transgender ban challenge

CaseKarnoski v. Trump, 2:17-cv-01297-MJP

Stage: Pending before the District Court for the Western District of Washington

Question: Whether President Trump’s Memorandum preventing people diagnosed with gender dysphoria from serving in the US military is constitutional?

Background: On 23 March 2018, President Trump issued the Presidential Memorandum on Military Service by Transgender Individuals reversing President Obama’s policy of encouraging transgender military personnel to be open about their sexuality. The Memorandum is a variation of the traditional “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It allows transgender people to join the military provided they identify in line with their biological sex and are not diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The Memorandum also allows current transgender military personnel to continue to serve, however, unlike under President’s Obama, the military will not fund their transgender surgeries (Reason). The Memorandum was challenged in Karnoski v. Trump, 2:17-cv-01297-MJP before the District Court for the Western District of Washington on the grounds that it was issued contrary to the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment as a denial of equal protection by the federal government and to the 1st Amendment as violation of the right to free expression and association. While the merits of the case were being considered, the Court issued an injunction which was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The Court upheld it which was appealed against to the Supreme Court which voted 5-4 to lift the stay and allow the Memorandum to go into effect. The merits of the challenge are still being considered by the District Court.

Prospects: Given the decision of the Supreme Court to lift the injunction and allow the Memorandum to go into effect while the merits of the case were being considered by the District Court, there is a strong chance that the Memorandum will be ultimately upheld, if not by lowers Courts, then by the Supreme Court.

Significance: The case will have a huge impact on the operation of the 1st Amendment (freedom of expression/association), 5th Amendment (Due Process Clause) and the 14th Amendment (Due Process Clause & Equal Protection Clause) in relation to transgender people. Beyond that, the decision will have some impact on the position of transgender personnel currently serving in the US military and potential new recruits.

 

Sanctuary cities funding challenge

CaseCity and County of San Francisco v. Trump or San Francisco v. Trump, No. 3:17-cv-00485 (N.D.Cal. 2017)

Stage: Pending before the District Court for the Northern District of California

Question: Whether the withdrawal of funding from sanctuary cities is lawful and whether sanctuary policies are constitutional?

Background: The question of funding for sanctuary cities is inextricably linked with the question of lawfulness of sanctuary policies. On 25 January 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13768 stating that sanctuary jurisdictions which refuse to comply with immigration enforcement would not receive federal grants (except where necessary for law enforcement purposes as determined by the Attorney General or Secretary of Homeland Security). In response, San Francisco sued the Trump Administration alleging that the withdrawal of funding violated the 10th Amendment which states that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” While the case was being considered on its merits, the District Court issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against Executive Order 13768 which was appealed by the Trump Administration to the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The Court of Appeals upheld the injunction but struck down its nationwide application and remanded the issue back to the District Court for further consideration. The question of constitutionality of sanctuary polices has never been answered by the Supreme Court. However, in its 10th Amendment jurisprudence, the Court has developed the anti-commandeering doctrine which stipulates that the Federal Government cannot compel States to enforce federal law. The doctrine has been applied to prevent the Federal Government from forcing States to take ownership of radioactive waste (New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992)) and conduct background checks on people attempting to purchase handguns (Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997)). It was also used to strike down federal legislation preventing States from legalising sport betting (Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, No. 16-476, 584 U.S. (2018)). This doctrine is also relied on by States to justify their refusal to cooperate with the Federal Government in relation to immigration enforcement. On the other hand, the Trump Administration relies on the Supremacy Clause under Article VI, Clause 2 of the US Constitution which stipulates that “this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” Under the Supremacy Clause, State statutes, jurisprudence and actions cannot violate Federal law. In its Supremacy Clause jurisprudence, the Supreme Court ruled that a state law could be found unconstitutional even where it is not in direct conflict with a federal law but “is an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of Congress’s full purposes and objectives” (Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council530 U.S. 363 (2000)).

Prospects: The current Supreme Court seems to favour the concept of federalism and therefore usually recognises the importance of State rights. If the anti-commandeering doctrine is found to apply to sanctuary policies, the Court will likely uphold this practice and strike down any attempt to withdraw funding from such jurisdictions. It is not, however, clear whether the doctrine does in fact apply and how it interacts with the Supremacy Clause when it comes to immigration enforcement.

Significance: The case of City and County of San Francisco v. Trump or San Francisco v. Trump, No. 3:17-cv-00485 (N.D.Cal. 2017) will have a huge impact on the concept of federalism and the operation of the 10th Amendment. It might transform the legal understanding of State rights and Federal power. Beyond that, the potential invalidation of sanctuary policies might put millions of illegal immigrants at risk of deportation.

 

PROSPECTIVE

1. A lawsuit by the House of Representatives challenging Attorney General Barr’s refusal to provide the House Judiciary Committee with a full and underacted copy of the Mueller Report.

2. A lawsuit by the House of Representatives challenging Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s refusal to provide the House Ways and Means Committee with President Trump’s tax returns for the last six years.

3. A lawsuit against legislation of Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio (and potentially other States) prohibiting abortion once the foetus’s heartbeat can be detected.

 

RESOLVED

1. A lawsuit against President Trump’s Executive Order 13780 (travel ban) limiting entry to the US from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela (Trump v. Hawaii, No. 17-965, 585 U.S. (2018)).

Court Takes Originalist Approach to Capital Punishment (SCOTUS)

On 1 April 2019, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4, in the case of Bucklew v. Precythe, 587 U.S. ___ (2019), that a person sentenced to death, who wants to challenge the method of execution on the grounds that it would cause excessive pain, must demonstrate that alternative methods of execution are available and would cause considerably less pain. Strictly speaking, the decision does not introduce any new rule to this area of law as this approach was already confirmed in Glossip v. Gross, No. 14-7955, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), however it is illustrative of the growing dominance of the originalist approach among the Court’s majority.

The case concerned Russell Bucklew who had been sentenced to death for raping his former girlfriend and murdering her lover. He challenged the use of lethal injection, as an execution method, on the grounds that his medical condition (cavernous hemangioma) could prevent the execution from being effective and cause him tremendous pain before death. The challenge was brought under the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution prohibiting ‘cruel and unusual punishments’.

Since the 1970s, when dealing with challenges to the capital punishment under the 8th Amendment, the Supreme Court, in its majority opinions, has used a mixture of originalism and more liberal methods of interpretation to establish what form of punishment could be considered ‘cruel and unusual’, therefore forbidden. This has produced two sets of decisions. First, those decisions which declared the death penalty unconstitutional in certain circumstances, such as where used against mentally impaired perpetrators (Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)), those who committed the relevant crime while still being a minor (Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815 (1988)Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)) or where no death was caused (Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977)Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008)). Those decisions had the liberal members of the Court (previously: Justices Stevens, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun; more recently: Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan) in the majority, usually with Justice Kennedy or O’Connor joining them, employing some progressive methods of interpretation such as an evolving standard of decency, ie, the idea that whether something is constitutional or not (here the death penalty or various methods of its execution) changes over time as social norms change. In those cases, conservative members of the Court (Alito, Roberts, Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, etc) were always in dissent.

The second set of decisions upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty as such and all methods of its execution (Glossip v. Gross, No. 14-7955, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008)) and minimised the number of procedural hurdles that need to be cleared before the penalty can be imposed (Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991); Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993)Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348 (2004)Oregon v. Guzek, 546 U.S. 517 (2006)Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. 163 (2006)Leal Garcia v. Texas, 564 U.S. 940 (2011)). Those decisions were usually issued with a majority opinion based on a ‘soft’ form of originalism (sometimes with a trace of more liberal methods of interpretation) and were supported by Justices such as Kennedy, O’Connor, Alito and Chief Justices Roberts or Rehnquist. However, they were always accompanied by concurring opinions of Justices Thomas and Scalia employing what might be called ‘hard’ originalism. In those decisions, the liberal members of the Court were always in dissent.

The difference between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ originalism in capital punishment cases is accurately summarised by Justice Gorsuch in his majority opinion in Bucklew v. Precythe, 587 U.S. ___ (2019). The soft originalism:

“…teaches that where (as here) the question in dispute is whether the State’s chosen method of execution cruelly superadds pain to the death sentence, a prisoner must show a feasible and readily implemented alternative method of execution that would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain and that the State has refused to adopt without a legitimate penological reason.” (p13)

On the other hand, under their ‘hard’ originalist approach to the 8th Amendment, Justice Scalia and Thomas:

“…argued that establishing cruelty consistent with the Eighth Amendment’s original meaning demands slightly more than the majority opinion there (or the Baze plurality opinion it followed) suggested. Instead of requiring an inmate to establish that a State has unreasonably refused to alter its method of execution to avoid a risk of unnecessary pain, Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia contended that an inmate must show that the State intended its method to inflict such pain.” (p14)

The case of Bucklew v. Precythe, 587 U.S. ___ (2019) is significant as it illustrates how the new majority of the Court (with two Justices appointed after 2016) gravitates towards ‘hard’ originalism. First of all, the very fact that the majority opinion was written by Justice Gorsuch, who is a proud originalist, sets the tone of this decision from the start. Secondly, in his opinion, Justice Gorsuch conducted a thorough analysis of the use of the capital punishment at the time of the adoption of the 8th Amendment as the only benchmark against which all decisions in this area must be taken (pp8-10). Then Justice Gorusch, speaking on behalf of the majority, confirmed the validity of old precedents upholding various methods of execution such as by firing squad (Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. 130 (1879)) or using electric chair (In re Kemmler, 136 U. S. 436, 447 (1890)) (pp10-11). What is more, appreciating the difference in approach between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ originalists, Justice Gorsuch, and with him the majority, did not disapprove of the ‘hard’ originalist approach and instead concluded that:

“…revisiting that debate isn’t necessary here because, as we’ll see, the State was entitled to summary judgment in this case even under the more forgiving Baze-Glossip test [ie ‘soft’ originalist approach].”

Furthermore, even though Justice Thomas submitted his own concurring opinion, he dedicated it almost in its entirety to Justice Breyer’s dissent:

“I adhere to my view that “a method of execution violates the Eighth Amendment only if it is deliberately designed to inflict pain.” Baze v. Rees, 553 U. S. 35, 94 (2008) (opinion concurring in judgment); ante, at 14 [ie ‘hard’ originalist approach]. Because there is no evidence that Missouri designed its protocol to inflict pain on anyone, let alone Russell Bucklew, I would end the inquiry there. Nonetheless, I join the Court’s opinion in full because it correctly explains why Bucklew’s claim fails even under the Court’s precedents. I write separately to explain why Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion does not cast doubt on this standard…” (p1)

At the same time, Justice Kavanaugh, who also submitted his concurring opinion despite joining the majority, dedicated it solely to:

“…the Court’s additional holding that the alternative method of execution need not be authorized under current state law—a legal issue that had been
uncertain before today’s decision.” (p1)

Finally, what also makes Justice Gorusch’s opinion so significant is making it abundantly clear for future litigants that the 8th Amendment “forbids ‘cruel and unusual’ methods of capital punishment but does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death”.

9th Circuit Counts Dead Judge as Member of Majority Opinion (SCOTUS)

On 25 February 2019, the US Supreme Court issued an unsigned per curiam opinion in Yovino v. Rizo, 586 U. S. ____ (2019) reversing the decision of the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit where the Court listed Judge Reinhardt as the author of that en banc decision issued on 9 April 2018 despite the fact that the Judge had died 11 days earlier.

The ruling is yet another example of the US Supreme Court reversing decisions of the most liberal of all US Courts of Appeals. The case has now been remanded back to the 9th Circuit for further proceedings. However, in its short anonymous opinion, the US Supreme Court managed to summarise the absurdity of the situation in one short phrase:

‘Because Judge Reinhardt was no longer a judge at the time when the en banc decision in this case was filed, the Ninth Circuit erred in counting him as a member of the majority. That practice effectively allowed a deceased judge to exercise the judicial power of the United States after his death. But federal judges are appointed for life, not for eternity.

 

Categories: US Supreme Court

SCOTUS reins in civil asset forfeiture

On 20 February, the US Supreme Court unanimously held, in the case of Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ___ (2019), that the prohibition on excessive fines contained in the 8th Amendment applied to States (as well as the federal government) and prevented Indiana from confiscating a Land Rover worth $42,000 just because it had been used during a drug transaction. The judgment is significant because it is a rare case of the Court limiting States’ civil asset forfeiture powers but also because of its discussion of the Bill of Rights’ selective incorporation process.

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool used by law enforcement to confiscate private property from persons suspected of illegal activity without necessarily charging them with any wrongdoing. According to some estimations, between 2011 and 2014, local and state agencies confiscated $2.5 billion in approximately 62,000 cash seizures conducted ‘without search warrants or indictments’ (The Washington Post). When it comes to the federal government, in 1985, the Justice Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund brought in $27 million but by 2017, that figure skyrocketed to $1.6 billion (The Atlantic). In Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ___ (2019), Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, referred to the protection from excessive fines as a historically important safeguard recognised as early as the Magna Carta. However, the effective application of the Excessive Fine Clause of the 8th Amendment is a novelty in the Court’s jurisprudence as the Court found a violation of the Excessive Fine Clause for the first time in 1998, in United States v. Bajakajian524 U.S. 321 (1998).

The 8th Amendment prohibits, among other things, ‘excessive fines [being] imposed’. In Waters-Pierce Oil Co. v. Texas212 U.S. 86 (1909), the Supreme Court held that excessive fines were defined as fines ‘so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law’. In Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602 (1993), the Court ruled for the first time that the Excessive Fines Clause applied to civil asset forfeiture conducted by the federal government, but the case was silent on its potential application to States’ actions.

Originally, just as the other Amendments constituting the Bill of Rights, the 8th Amendment was meant to apply only against the federal government. After the Civil War, with the enactment of the 14th Amendment, the Courts began to apply various safeguards contained in the Bill of Rights against States as well as the federal government. Throughout that time, the Courts usually invoked the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment as the provision rendering the Bill of Rights applicable against States. In Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ___ (2019), 7 Justices, in the opinion written by Justice Ginsburg, held that the 8th Amendment applied against the State of Indiana by virtue of the Due Process Clause. On the other hand, Justice Thomas, while concurring in the outcome of the case, produced a separate opinion on the issue of the selective incorporation where he explained that the application of the Bill of Rights against States was possible by virtue of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment, rather than the Due Process Clause. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the majority opinion, also wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing with Justice Thomas on the issue of the selective incorporation.

The ruling is expected to have a considerable impact on the the use of civil asset forfeiture as it establishes a strong protection against its abuse, now applicable to both the federal and States’ governments. The case also signals potential future discussions among Justices on the effect of the 14th Amendment on the selective incorporation.

Supreme Court to Hear Citizenship Question Case Bypassing Court of Appeals (SCTOUS)

On 15 February 2019, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the census case on whether the Trump Administration could add the citizenship question to the 2020 census. The Court’s decision comes after, on 15 January 2019, the District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in State of New York v US Department of Commerce, 18-CV-5025 (JMF) that Commerce Secretary’s decision to add the citizenship question violated the Administrative Procedure Act governing the creation of new regulations by administrative agencies. Following the ruling, the Justice Department asked the US Supreme Court to bypass the ordinary appellate stage at the US Court of Appeals and take the case in light of the approaching June deadline for printing census forms. The Court will hear the case in April 2019 and the ruling is expected to be delivered in June 2019, before the Justices adjourn for the summer (CNN).

Adding the citizenship question to the upcoming 2020 census became very controversial after some groups, such as the ACLU, had said that it would deter many illegal immigrants from participating in the census. This in turn would lower the official population numbers for States with a large portion of illegal immigrants, mainly California. This could have a considerable impact on the apportionment of federal funds and seats in the House of Representatives which directly depends on population numbers (US Constitution, Article 1, Clause 3). ACLU claims that adding the citizenship question would stop about 6.5 million people from entering their details in the census which could lead to the State of California loosing billions of dollars in federal funding as well as between one and three seats in the House of Representatives (The Hill).

The Trump Administration argues that the citizenship question is necessary in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act and that this question has been asked during all but one census from 1820 to 2000. But in January 2019, a District Judge (an Obama appointee) disagreed, holding that the rationale was ‘pretextual’ and the decision was made in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act because it had failed to ‘consider all important aspects of a problem’ as required by the Act, implying also that the true intentions behind the citizenship question was to deter participation (Bloomberg).

Ordinarily, the decision of the District Court for the Southern District of New York would have to be appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. However, as with many other unfavorable judicial rulings, the Trump Administration petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the appeal bypassing the Court of Appeals. For the first time, the Court agreed. The Court’s decision is clearly motivated by the urgency of the matter given that census questionnaires must be ready in the summer of 2019. With an ordinary appellate procedure, it would not have been possible to meet this deadline. Given how rare it is for the Supreme Court to accept cases bypassing the Courts of Appeals, it is understandable that the Trump Administration is holding this decision as a small victory.

Chief Justice Roberts Caught Up in Politics (SCOTUS)

It does not come as a surprise to anyone that the judicial appointment process in the United States has become very divisive in the recent years. With the refusal of Senate Majority Leader McConnell to hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s replacement for Justice Scalia in 2016, then the ugly confirmation hearing of then Judge Gorsuch for the same position in 2017 and the infamous confirmation hearing of then Judge Kavanaugh in 2018 as the replacement for Justice Kennedy, the US Supreme Court has become a central issue of a public debate in Washington. Unfortunately, this has not left the Court unaffected.

The latest bit of surprising news from the US Supreme Court came on 8 February 2019 when the Court, in the case of June Medical Services v Rebekah Gee, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals 586 U. S. ____ (2019)issued a stay of a new Louisiana law restricting access to abortion by requiring that physicians obtain surgical privileges in a nearby hospital before they are legally permitted to carry our the procedure. The decision of the Court relates only to an order preventing the law from going into effect until lower Courts rule on its constitutionality and is not a judgment on the merits. Nevertheless, the decision came as a surprise to many commentators because the case was decided 5-4 with Chief Justice Roberts siding with a liberal minority, something Justice Kennedy used to do from time to time in the past. Immediately after the decision was published, many conservative commentators declared Chief Justice Roberts to be the new Swing Vote (Fox News). However, it seems that the there is more to Chief Justice Roberts’s decision than just being the new Swing Vote.

 

Judicial Philosophy

With the appointment of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, President Trump has hoped to solidify a strong originalist majority on the US Supreme Court for decades to come. In fact, 4 out of 5 Republican-appointed Justices now do in fact identify as originalists, of some form at least (Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh). The case of the 5th, Chief Justice Roberts, is less straightforward. He is undeniably a conservative, but his underlying judicial philosophy has never been clearly articulated.

In fact, he has already been regarded by conservative commentators as an unreliable vote for a while now. As early as 2006, Chief Justice Roberts voted along side the 4 liberal Justices in Jones v. Flowers, 547 U.S. 220 (2006) holding that, before a home could be seized and sold in a tax-forfeiture sale, owners must receive effective notification. Perhaps the most famous case of Chief Justice Robert’s liberal sympathies was the 2012 case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519 (2012) where the Chief Justice sided with the 4 liberal Justices and upheld the core of ObamaCare. In fact, Chief Justice Roberts rescued ObamaCare twice, again in 2015 in the case of King v. Burwell, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), this time together with Justice Kennedy in a 6-3 decision though. Finally, in December 2018, Chief Justice Roberts again sided with the 4 liberals in declining to hear the case of Planned Parenthood v. Andersen, No. 16-3249 (10th Cir. 2018) therefore leaving intact the pro-choice judgment of the Court of Appeals in favor of Planned Parenthood.

Although Chief Justice Roberts has voted with the conservative/originalist majority (against the 4 liberal Justices) concerning many crucial issues such as abortion (Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2007)), affirmative action (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007)), campaign financing (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010)), religious freedom (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S. ___ (2014)), gay rights (Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015)) and the exlusionary rule (Utah v. Strieff, 579 U.S. ___, 136 S. Ct. 2056 (2016)), it is clear from his voting record that Chief Justice Roberts has never been a full conservative/originalist, at least not the way Justices Thomas, Scalia and Alito have been. He probably sits somewhere in between his former colleague Justice Kennedy and the pure originalists. He has voted with the 4 liberals less often than Justice Kennedy, but more often than any other Republican-appointed Justice in the recent decade.

 

Court Composition

Beyond the question of Chief Justice Roberts’s judicial philosophy, he appears to see himself as the man shaping the legacy of the today’s US Supreme Court. It is not without meaning when the Court is referred to by a name of the Chief Justice that presides over it. From the liberal Warren Court to the conservative Rehnquist Court, each Chief Justice has always left his imprint on the Court’s jurisprudence. Since 2005, the US Supreme Court is referred to as the Roberts Court and the Chief Justice does not take this responsibility lightly.

Between 2005 and 2018, what could be described as the ‘early’ Roberts Court, had no clear one majority. Although, Republican-appointed Justices held the majority, they did not share one common judicial philosophy. It all changed in 2018 with the retirement of Justice Kennedy who, although had been appointed by President Reagan, had some liberal sympathies and often sided with Democrat-appointed Justices. Now that Justice Kennedy has been replaced by Justice Kavanaugh, Chief Justice Roberts has 4 strong liberals to his left (Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan) and 4 strong originalists to his right (Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh) which leaves him in the very middle. Because Chief Justice Roberts is not a strict originalist unlike the other 4 Republican appointees, now that Justice Kennedy is gone, he has been naturally pushed towards the centre.

 

Court Legitimacy

On top of this internal dynamics of the US Supreme Court, there are also a whole range of external factors affecting the functioning of the Court. The political climate in Washington, especially around the judicial appointment process, has left Chief Justice Roberts genuinely worried about the Court’s legitimacy. According to the latest poll conducted in February 2019, 35% of voters choose the U.S. Supreme Court as the branch of the US Government that they trust the most but this is down from 45% in February 2017 (Fox News). The Court is clearly suffering collateral damage of the political fights between the Republicans and Democrats within the other two branches of the Government, perhaps in the Senate in particular which plays a vital role in the appointment process.

This was clearly visible in November 2018 when, in response to President Trump referring to a Judge who had ruled against his Administration as an ‘Obama Judge’ (as the Judge was indeed an Obama appointee), Chief Justice Roberts issued an official statement replying that “We do not have Obama Judges or Trump Judges, Bush Judges or Clinton Judges… What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated Judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” (The Washington Post).

 

Conclusions

Given this combination of factors – Chief Justice Roberts’s lack of strong originalist beliefs, his personal responsibility for ‘his‘ Court, the natural push towards the centre in the absence of Justice Kennedy and the political fights within the other two branches of the Government – Chief Justice Roberts probably feels like he is forced to preserve the legitimacy of the Court by all means necessary.

Finally, inasmuch as Chief Justice Roberts might not be a full-blown originalist, it does not mean he has no leading judicial philosophy whatsoever. However, it appears that the Chief Justice’s judicial philosophy is more about the form than the substance. He has been a firm believer in a form of judicial formalism dictating that cases should be decided based on recent precedents and with a strong presumption of constitutionality of federal law. Chief Justice Roberts does not like judicial activism and that includes both the liberal push to expend the powers of the federal Government and socio-economic rights and the originalist push towards the opposite. The Chief Justice seems to like his status quo and judicial precedent because those values promote the Court’s legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

It is this judicial philosophy that explains how Chief Justice Roberts has been able to side with the liberals in upholding ObamaCare in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519 (2012) and King v. Burwell, 576 U.S. ___ (2015) (ie the presumption of constitutionality) and in protecting abortion access in Planned Parenthood v. Andersen, No. 16-3249 (10th Cir. 2018) (ie existing status quo) while at the same time he has voted for campaign financing freedom in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010)) (ie existing status quote) and against gay rights in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015)) (ie existing status quote / precedent).

This also explains why in February 2019 Chief Justice Roberts sided with the 4 liberals in issuing a stay of a new Louisiana law restricting access to abortion in June Medical Services v Rebekah Gee, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals 586 U. S. ____ (2019)The law attempted to impose restrictions on who can perform abortion procedures in a similar way to a 2013 Texas law which the US Supreme Court had struck down in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 579 U.S. ___ (2016). For Chief Justice Roberts, the case of June Medical Services v Rebekah Gee, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals 586 U. S. ____ (2019) was probably all about the precedent. The Court already ruled on this issue and the precedent must be followed. Given that this case was about nothing more than a stay while the issue was being considered by lower Courts, it must have been unthinkable for the Chief Justice to allow lower Courts to strike down a law that the US Supreme Court had upheld only 2 years earlier.

 

Epilogue

This is, however, not the end for the type of abortion restrictions which are subject of consideration in June Medical Services v Rebekah Gee, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals 586 U. S. ____ (2019)This is because the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 579 U.S. ___ (2016)ie the case establishing the precedent Chief Justice Roberts decided to defend, had been decided 5-4 with the Chief Justice dissenting. This case was decided by the 4 liberals joined by Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts was in the minority along with the other originalists. This is why the case of June Medical Services v Rebekah Gee, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals 586 U. S. ____ (2019) describes Chief Justice Roberts so well – he was willing to vote with liberals against a law which he had voted to upheld only 2 years earlier because this was what was required to preserve the Court’s legitimacy.

That being said, the case of the new Louisiana abortion law might still return to the US Supreme Court in 2020 for consideration of on the merits and this time Chief Justice Roberts might have another go at it. With Justice Kennedy gone and Justice Kavanaugh already voting against the stay (ie in favour of the law), the Chief Justice will have the chance to flip the 2016 precedent and uphold the restrictions as constitutional. Whether he will do so remains to be seen. One thing is clear however at this point, for Chief Justice Roberts, if any Court is to flip a precedent of the US Supreme Court, it must the US Supreme Court itself.

Supreme Court to Hear 2nd Amendment Case for the First Time in 9 Years (SCOTUS)

In August 2018, The Jurist’s Corner speculated that one of the cases to look for in the next US Supreme Court term would be a 2nd Amendment case. On 22 January 2019, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a case from New York concerning restrictions on transporting firearms outside one’s home (CNBC). The case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, No. 15-638 (2d Cir. 2018) comes 9 years since the Court last considered a 2nd Amendment case and 11 years since the landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570. The Supreme Court will now decide if the New York law preventing gun owners from transporting lawfully owned firearms, except to and from shooting ranges, is compatible with the 2nd Amendment.

So far the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the 2nd Amendment is limited to two cases only. In 2008, the Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 2008 that the 2nd Amendment protected the individual right to possess firearms within the confines of one’s home for the purposes of self-defence. In 2010 the rule was extended in McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 2010 to apply to States as well. However, since then, the Court has taken very few cases concerning the scope of the 2nd Amendment (but see e.g. Caetano v. Massachusetts, 577 U.S. ___ (2016)). This has left at least two big issues largely unresolved. First, what types of firearms are covered by the 2nd Amendment? Secondly, does the 2nd Amendment cover public arena outside of one’s home? Both issues have been hotly litigated over, especially in the so called Blue States. On 24 July 2018 a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in the case of Young v State of Hawaii No. 12-17808 that the 2nd Amendment did in fact protect the right to bear arms in public. This is in spite of the 2016 decision of the same Court in Peruta v. County of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919, 939 (2016), which, sitting en banc, upheld a complete ban on carrying any firearms outside one’s home. However, the latter case was distinguished on the grounds that it was concerned with a concealed-carry while the former was concerned with an open-carry. Regardless, the 2nd Amendment jurisprudence of the 9th Circuit stands in open opposition to other Circuits, such as the 7th Circuit which held in 2013 in the case of Moore v Madigan, USDC 11-CV-405-WDS, 11-CV-03134; 7th Cir. 12-1269, 12-1788 that a complete ban on concealed carry was unconstitutional. This situation constitutes a clear example of the so called ‘circuit split’ which creates a pressure on the Supreme Court to resolve the issue rather sooner than later.

However, in 2018, the Supreme Court refused to hear any case that would resolve the circuit split and avoided ruling on the wider issue of the right to carry firearms outside one’s home. Now, it seems, the Court is slowly engaging with this question, although it might take more than just one case to establish some clear principles on the issue. The appointment of Judge Kavanaugh as a new Supreme Court Justice will probably have a considerable impact on this case, and any similar cases in the future, as he has a strong record on the 2nd Amendment (e.g. Heller v. District of Columbia, No. 10–7036. 2011).

Christian Baker Sues Colorado for Anti-religious Hostility

In June 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled 7-2, in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 584 U.S. (2018), that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated a Christian baker’s freedom of religion under the First Amendment when it punished him for refusing to create a personalised wedding cake for a gay couple. The Court held that the Commission, when considering the case, manifested hostility towards the baker’s religious beliefs.

Shortly afterwards, the Masterpiece Cakeshop got involved in another incident when it refused to make a cake with a transgender message, which, despite the earlier ruling from the Supreme Court, led to yet another set of proceedings before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (The Denver Post). In August 2018, the Masterpiece Cakeshop owner sued the State of Colorado in a federal District Court claiming religious persecution. The lawsuit alleges violation of the First and the 14th Amendments. On 08 January 2019, Judge Wiley Y. Daniel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that the lawsuit against Colorado could proceed (Fox News).

The case is considered of high importance as it is likely that regardless of its outcome before the District Court, it will move up the judicial ladder towards the Supreme Court. Although the Court has already ruled on this issue, its conclusions were reached on very narrow grounds. The wider question of the priority of the freedom of religion under the First Amendment over non-discrimination legislation still remains open.

Justice Ginsburg Hospitalised with Cancerous Growths in Lungs (SCOTUS)

On 21 December 2018, the US Supreme Court announced that Justice Ginsburg had had surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to remove two malignant growths from her left lung. It was also reported that doctors had found ‘no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body’ and no further treatment was planned at this point. Apparently, the growths were spotted during tests she had after fracturing her ribs in a fall on 7 November 2018. Since her appointment in 1993, Justice Ginsburg has already had 3 cancer-related procedures (ABC).

Justice Ginsburg is the oldest sitting Justice of the Court. She was originally appointed by President Clinton in 1993 at the age of 60 as the second woman ever appointed to the US Supreme Court. She is a known liberal who openly opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election (CNN). In fact, it is common knowledge that Justice Ginsburg will not voluntarily retire during a Republican president. Given her age, she was pressured to retire during the second term of the Obama’s presidency in case his predecessor turned out to be a Republican but she did not cave (NY Times). Now that President Trump appoints strictly conservative judges to the federal benches, Justice Ginsburg embraces herself to wait out his term in office. During the next presidential election in 2020, she will be 87 but her retirement plans will necessarily depend on whether President Trump is re-elected or not. If President Trump wins again in 2020, Justice Ginsburg will have no choice but to endure yet another 4 years on the bench. If successful, this would bring her to over 91 thereby beating the current record-holder, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who stepped down at the age of 90 years and 10 months. She would also beat her former colleague Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in 2010 at the age of 90 years and 2 months. Justice Ginsburg, despite her history of cancer and regular nodding-off during official events, remains active both as an opinion writer on the bench as well as a public speaker outside the Court.

ObamaCare Ruled Unconstitutional (Again)

In August 2018, The Jurist’s Corner speculated that the question of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act 2010 (ACA or ObamaCare) might be heading towards the US Supreme Court again in 2019. On 14 December 2018, a District Court for the Northern District of Texas held, in the case of Texas v the United States No. 4:18-cv-00167-O that the ObamaCare, in its entirety, was unconstitutional. This is yet another time the ACA is ruled unconstitutional, but it is the first time since Congress passed the Tax and Jobs Act 2017 eliminating the tax/penalty for a failure to comply with the ObamaCare’s Individual Mandate (i.e. the requirement to buy a health insurance).

So far the ObamaCare has withstood, albeit not in its entirety, several challenges before the federal courts. In 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius 567 U.S. 519 2012 that, inter alia, although the Individual Mandate was not a valid exercise of the Congress’s power to regulate inter-state commerce, the penalty for its breach could be read as a tax and thereby be a valid exercise of the Congress’s taxation power instead. This is because the so called ‘penalty’ for breaching the Mandate was limited to a financial fee processed by the IRS together with individuals’ income taxes. This saving construction persuaded Chief Justice Roberts who joined the 4 liberal Justices on the Court and voted to uphold the Individual Mandate.

However, the Tax and Jobs Act 2017 passed by Congress in 2017 eliminated this tax/penalty while leaving the Individual Mandate as such intact. In those circumstances, several Red States sued in a Texas federal District Court again claiming that the elimination of the tax had rendered the Individual Mandate unconstitutional as now, in the absence of any tax attached to it, it could only be construed as an exercise of the Congress’s power to regulate inter-state commerce and that would violate National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius 567 U.S. 519 2012. The lawsuit went even further claiming that the Individual Mandate was inseverable from the rest of the law, or at least from its certain parts, such as the community rating. As such, the lawsuit argued that in case of finding the Individual Mandate unconstitutional, the Court should strike down the rest of the ObamaCare with it. Shortly afterwards, the Trump Administration announced that it would not to defend the lawsuit, so several Red States led by California intervened in the case submitting briefs in defence of the ACA (The Atlantic).

On 14 December 2018, the Court issued its judgment. Judge O’Connor analysed the effect of the elimination of the tax attached to the Individual Mandate by the Tax and Jobs Act 2017 and found that in the absence of any tax, the Mandate could not possibly fall within the Congress’s taxation power (pp20-27). Next, Judge O’Connor once again considered the possibility of the Individual Mandate being a valid exercise of the power to regulate inter-state commerce but rejected it on the grounds of the Majority Opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius 567 U.S. 519 2012 (pp27-34). Ultimately, “the Court [found that] the Individual Mandate is no longer fairly readable as an exercise of Congress’s Tax Power and continues to be unsustainable under Congress’s Interstate Commerce Power. The Court therefore finds the Individual Mandate, unmoored from a tax, is unconstitutional...” (p34).

At this point, the main question became whether the Individual Mandate was severable from the rest of the ObamaCare so that the rest of the ACA could remain in force. Judge O’Connor examined the approach of the Supreme Court to the question of the severability of the Individual Mandate in both National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius 567 U.S. 519 2012 and King v. Burwell 576 U.S. ___ (2015) and summarised:

“The ACA’s text and the Supreme Court’s decisions in NFIB and King thus make clear the Individual Mandate is inseverable from the ACA. As Justice Ginsburg explained, “Congress could have taken over the health-insurance market by establishing a tax-and-spend federal program like Social Security.” Id. at 595 (Ginsburg, J., joined by Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor, JJ.). But it did not. “Instead of going this route, Congress enacted the ACA . . . To make its chosen approach work, however, Congress had to use . . . a requirement that most individuals obtain private health insurance coverage.” Id. (citing 26 U.S.C.§ 5000A). That requirement—the Individual Mandate—was essential to the ACA’s architecture. Congress intended it to place the Act’s myriad parts in perfect tension. Without it, Congress and the Supreme Court have stated, that architectural design fails. “Without a mandate, premiums would skyrocket. The guaranteed issue and community rating provisions, in the absence of the individual mandate, would create an unsustainable death spiral of costs, thus crippling the entire law.” BLACKMAN, supra note 3, at 147; accord NFIB, 567 U.S. at 597 (Ginsburg, J., joined by Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor, JJ.) (noting the mandate was essential to staving off “skyrocketing insurance premium costs”). Congress simply never intended failure.” (p47)

Next, Judge O’Connor analysed the potential effect of retaining the rest of ObamaCare, in the absence of the Individual Mandate, on other major provisions of the ACA:

Even if the Court preferred to ignore the clear text of § 18091 and parse the ACA’s provisions one by one, the text- and precedent-based conclusion would only be reinforced: Upholding the ACA in the absence of the Individual Mandate would change the “effect” of the ACA “as a whole.” See Alton, 295 U.S. at 362. For example, the Individual Mandate reduces the financial risk forced upon insurance companies and their customers by the ACA’s major regulations and taxes. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 18091(2)(C), (I). If the regulations and taxes were severed from the Individual Mandate, insurance companies would face billions of dollars in ACA-imposed regulatory and tax costs without the benefit of an expanded risk pool and customer base—a choice no Congress made and one contrary to the text. See NFIB, 567 U.S. at 698 (joint dissent); 42 U.S.C. § 18091(2)(C) and (I).” (p48)

“Similarly, the ACA “reduce[d] payments by the Federal Government to hospitals by more than $200 billion over 10 years.” NFIB, 567 U.S. at 699 (joint dissent). Without the Individual Mandate (or forced Medicaid expansion), hospitals would encounter massive losses due to providing uncompensated care. See BLACKMAN, supra note 3, at 2–4 (discussing the freerider and cost-shifting problems in healthcare).” (p48)

“The story is the same with respect to the ACA’s other major provisions, too. The ACA allocates billions of dollars in subsidies to help individuals purchase a government-designed health-insurance product on exchanges established by the States (or the federal government). See, e.g., 26 U.S.C. § 36B; 42 U.S.C. § 18071. But if the Individual Mandate falls, and especially if the pre-existing-condition provisions fall, upholding the subsidies and exchanges would transform the ACA into a law that subsidizes the kinds of discriminatory products Congress sought to abolish at, presumably, the re-inflated prices it sought to suppress.” (pp48-49)

“Nor did Congress ever contemplate, never mind intend, a duty on employers, see 26 U.S.C. § 4980H, to cover the “skyrocketing insurance premium costs” of their employees that would inevitably result from removing “a key component of the ACA.” (Ginsburg, J., joined by Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor, JJ.). And the Medicaid-expansion provisions were designed to serve and assist fulfillment of the Individual Mandate and offset reduced hospital reimbursements by aiding “low-income individuals who are simply not able to obtain insurance.” Id. at 685 (joint dissent).” (p49)

“The result is no different with respect to the ACA’s minor provisions. For example, the Intervenor Defendants assert that, “[i]n addition to protecting consumers with preexisting medical conditions, Congress also enacted the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions to reduce administrative costs and lower premiums.” Intervenor Defs.’ Resp. 35, ECF No. 91; see also id. at 34 (“Congress independently sought to end discriminatory underwriting practices and to lower administrative costs.”). But Congress stated explicitly that the Individual Mandate “is essential to creating effective health insurance markets that do not require underwriting and eliminate its associated administrative costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 18091(2)(J) (emphasis added). At any rate, to the extent most of the minor provisions “are mere adjuncts of the” now-unconstitutional Individual Mandate and nonmandatory Medicaid expansion, “or mere aids to their effective execution,” if the Individual Mandate “be stricken down as invalid” then “the existence of the [minor provisions] becomes without object.” Williams, 278 U.S. at 243.” (pp49-50).

On that basis Judge O’Connor held:

“…Congress was explicit: The Individual Mandate is essential to the ACA, and that essentiality requires the mandate to work together with the Act’s other provisions. See 42 U.S.C. § 18091. If the “other provisions” were severed and preserved, they would no longer be working together with the mandate and therefore no longer working as Congress intended. On that basis alone, the Court must find the Individual Mandate inseverable from the ACA. To find otherwise would be to introduce an entirely new regulatory scheme never intended by Congress or signed by the President.” (pp47-48).

“In the face of overwhelming textual and Supreme Court clarity, the Court finds “it is ‘unthinkable’ and ‘impossible’ that the Congress would have created the” ACA’s delicately balanced regulatory scheme without the Individual Mandate. Alton, 295 U.S. at 362. The Individual Mandate “so affect[s] the dominant aim of the whole statute as to carry it down with” it. Id. To find otherwise would “rewrite [the ACA] and give it an effect altogether different from that sought by the measure viewed as a whole.” Alton, 295 U.S. at 362. Employing such a strained view of severance would be tantamount to “legislative work beyond the power and function of the court.” Wallace, 259 U.S. at 70.” (pp50-51)

Finally, Judge O’Connor rejected the argument that in 2017, when passing the Tax and Jobs Act 2017, Congress indicated that the Individual Mandate was severable from the rest of the ObamaCare because it did not repeal the rest of the ACA while eliminating the tax attached to the Individual Mandate (pp52-54). In conclusion, the Court held that:

“In some ways, the question before the Court involves the intent of both the 2010 and 2017 Congresses. The former enacted the ACA. The latter sawed off the last leg it stood on. But however one slices it, the following is clear: The 2010 Congress memorialized that it knew the Individual Mandate was the ACA keystone, see 42 U.S.C. § 18091; the Supreme Court stated repeatedly that it knew Congress knew that, see, e.g., NFIB, 567 U.S. at 547 (Roberts, C.J.) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 18091(2)(F)); King, 135 S. Ct. at 2487 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 18091(2)(I)); and knowing the Supreme Court knew what the 2010 Congress had known, the 2017 Congress did not repeal the Individual Mandate and did not repeal § 18091.” (pp54-55)

The ruling is now bound to be appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and then probably to the US Supreme Court. The appeal proceedings will likely focus on the question of the severability of the Individual Mandate from the rest of the ObamaCare. With the new judgment and the prospects of future appeals, it seems that the ObamaCare has now become the most litigated issue of our time.

The End of Chevron Doctrine on the Horizon (SCOTUS)

The Chevron Doctrine is the key element of the modern administrative state in the US. It was created by the US Supreme Court in 1984 in the case of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984) and since then, it has been a subject of many heated debates among constitutional lawyers (Take Care). Recently, there has been more and more indications that the Court might be changing its mind and considering the Doctrine to be a dead end from which it needs to gallantly retreat. The original decision was unanimous in a sense that all Justices considering the case (Justices Burger, Brennan, White, Blackmun and Powell) joined the Majority Opinion written by Justice Stevens. However the remaining 3 Justices (Justices Marshall, Rehnquist and O’Connor) took no part in the consideration of the case making it an unusual 6-0 decision. The holding of the case is rather simple and dictates that, in cases involving disputes between administrative agencies of the US Government (such as Environmental Protection Agency or Internal Revenue Service) and citizens or corporations, Federal Courts must always defer to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute which it administers, so long as the interpretation is ‘reasonable’. This simple rule of construction has automatically tipped the scales in favour of administrative agencies over ordinary citizens and corporations.

It comes as no surprise that the composition of the Court has changed completely since 1984 and out of those new 9 Justices, at least 3 have publicly disapproved of the Chevron Doctrine. Justice Thomas wrote in his Concurring Opinion in the case of Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, 576 U.S. (2015) that “Chevron deference raises serious separation-of-powers questions”. Similarly, Justice Gorsuch in his Opinion in the case of Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, No. 14-9585 (10th Cir. 2016) suggested that the Chevron was “a judge-made doctrine for the abdication of judicial duty” while Justice Kavanaugh described the Chevron Doctrine as ‘troubling’ (Harvard Law Review). It is not hard to see that this makes 1/3 of the current Supreme Court openly hostile to the Chevron Doctrine. The question remains whether the other Justices, especially Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts, share this hostility. This will only become clear once the Supreme Court come to deal with some case involving the Chevron Doctrine. A case like BNSF Railway Company v. Loos 17-1042.

On 14 May 2018, the US Supreme Court (with Justice Kennedy still on the bench) issued a writ of certiorari to the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreeing to hear an appeal in the case of BNSF Railway Company v. Loos 17-1042. The case raises the question of “whether a payment to a railroad employee for lost wages on account of a personal physical injury is subject to employment taxes under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act,” with the Claimant arguing YES and the Respondent arguing NO (SCOTUSBlog). While the Act itself is silent on this issue, the Internal Revenue Service (which is an administrative agency) in its 1994 regulations stipulates that ‘pay for time lost’ is taxable under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act. According to the Chevron Doctrine, given that the statute itself is silent (i.e. ambiguous), deference should be made to the interpretation put forward by the Internal Revenue Service (unless such an interpretation could be proved to be grossly unreasonable). If the Court was minded to follow the Chevron Doctrine, this would be a very simple case for the Claimant. In fact, under the Doctrine, it is surprising that the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled for the (now) Respondent, Mr Loos. The decision of the Court of Appeals might in itself be an indicator that lowers Courts feel that the US Supreme Court will not defend the Chevron Doctrine on appeal.

Interestingly, it is not only the lower Courts that can sense the hostility of the Supreme Court towards the Chevron Doctrine. Lisa Blatt, who appeared before the Court for the Claimant, mentioned the Chevron Doctrine only briefly at the end of her argument, even though the Doctrine clearly favours her client. Furthermore, Rachel Kovner, an assistant to the Solicitor General, who appeared as a ‘friend of the court’ in support of the Claimant, also almost completely ignored the Chevron Doctrine until the last moment before resting her case (SCOTUSBlog). The hostility of the Court transpires also from the questions that the Justices asked during the oral argument stage of the proceedings. Justices Gorsuch and Kegan seemed to be ready to recognise that the silence of the Railroad Retirement Tax Act on the issue of payments in question was not an ambiguity of the statute within the meaning of the Chevron Doctrine therefore making the Doctrine inapplicable in this case. Justice Kavanaugh was also skeptical when it comes to taking the Internal Revenue Service’s interpretation as a given and questioned the Claimant’s lawyer on the historical changes of the Railroad Retirement Tax Act that would suggest that the payment could not be construed as being subject to a tax (SCOTUSBlog).

The holding in the case of BNSF Railway Company v. Loos 17-1042, whatever it might be, may or may not overrule the Chevron Doctrine. However, the very manner in which this case was argued before the Supreme Court suggests that the Doctrine is not popular these days. It is difficult to predict its future at this point, but is seems that even if the Doctrine is no completely overturned one day, the Court might simply drastically limit its scope either by reading ambiguous states as sufficiently unambiguous, so not to bring the Doctrine into play at all, or it might regularly treat interpretations of ambiguous statutes put forward by administrative agencies as grossly unreasonably, therefore not worthy of any special deference under the Doctrine. In either case, any limitation to the the Chevron Doctrine will have a profound impact on the functioning of the administrative state.

Very interestingly, federal jurisprudence is not the only level at which the struggle against the Chevron Doctrine is unfolding. During the midterm election on 6 November 2018, the people of Florida passed the ballot measure called Amendment 6 which prohibits state Courts from deferring to state administrative agencies (such as Florida Department of Revenue) in cases of ambiguous statutes (Florida Today). The measure was clearly designed to rid state law of anything resembling the Chevron Doctrine. Although the Amendment does not apply outside the state of Florida, and even within the state it applies only to state (not federal) law, it is yet another signal that the Chevron Doctrine might be in trouble.

US Supreme Court to Hear Cross-shaped War Memorial Case

On 2 November 2018, the US Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in the case of American Humanist Association v Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission No. 15-2597 2017, thereby agreeing to hear the case of a 93-year-old war memorial in the shape of a cross (SCOTUS Blog). The memorial was completed in 1925 to commemorate 49 local residents who had died in World War I. In 2014, the American Humanist Association sued Maryland public bodies responsible for the upkeep of the monument alleging that it “discriminates against patriotic soldiers who are not Christian, sending a callous message to non-Christians that Christians are worthy of veneration while they may as well be forgotten” (Fox News). In 2017, the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled 2-1 in the case of American Humanist Association v Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission No. 15-2597 2017 that even assuming that the monument had some nonreligious function, “the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones” and that “the cross is by far the most prominent monument in the area, conspicuously displayed at a busy intersection” [p22] and as such its presence on a public land violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In March 2018 the Court sitting en benc refused to reconsider the case and Maryland petitioned the Supreme Court for a permission to appeal (The Washington Post).

The jurisprudence of the US Supreme Court in cases concerning the Establishment Clause is far from being clear. The Court has struggled over the years to agree on a set of precise directions as to when a religious symbol on a public land would violate the First Amendment. This has led to confusing rulings whereby some symbols have been upheld and others not. For instance, in 2005, in the case of Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677, the Court ruled 5-4 that a Ten Commandments monolith on the Texas State Capitol grounds did not violate the Constitution. On the other hand, on the same day in 2005, in the case of McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, 545 U.S. 844, the Court also ruled 5-4 that a Ten Commandments display at the McCreary County courthouse in Kentucky did violate the First Amendment. The two cases were extremely similar yet the Court reached the opposite conclusions. In both cases it was Justice Breyer who acted as the Swing Vote. With those two cases, the US Supreme Court has sent mixed signals to lower courts on the subject of the Establishment Clause. Nevertheless, the Court is now almost 15 years older and its composition has also changed, presumably became more conservative in nature. As a result, the majority of the bench might now have enough votes to articulate some clear guiding principles as to how lower courts should deal with similar cases in the future.

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Announces She Has Dementia (SCOTUS)

On 23 October 2018, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced she had dementia (SCOTUSBlog). Justice O’Connor was born in 1930 and was appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1981 by President Reagan as the first woman in history. She sat on the bench until 2006 when she retired and was replaced by Justice Alito appointed by President Bush. Justice O’Connor went down in history not only as the first female Justice of the US Supreme Court but also as the Court’s early Swing Vote. Appointed by a Republican President, Justice O’Connor believed in a limited federal government and as such was part of the so called Rehnquist Revolution whereby the US Supreme Court intended to set limits to the powers of the federal government. With cases such as United States v. Alfonso D. Lopez, Jr., 514 U.S. 549 (1995) and United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000), the Rehnquist Court strove to return to the concept of the federal government as a government of enumerated powers after several decades of a rapid federal expansion. Justice O’Connor joined the other Republican-appointed Justices in deciding those cases.

In fact, Justice O’Connor started as a reliable conservative vote siding with (Chief) Justice Rehnquist 87% of the time during her first 3 years on the bench (Greenburg). Since 1984 until 1998, Justice O’Connor’s support for (Chief) Justice Rehnquist’s opinions ranged from 93.4% to 63.2% (Los Angeles Times). With the passage of time, Justice O’Connor started to slowly drift towards the liberal side of the Court and between 1994 and 2004, she voted with the liberal Justices a total of 28 times (Harvard Law Review). This included some key issues such as affirmative action (Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003)), religious liberty (Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992)) and abortion (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992)). In any event, Justice O’Connor will always be a symbol of an ever-changing Supreme Court.

Affirmative Action Goes on Trial (Again)

On 25 August 2018 The Jurist’s Corner speculated about possible legal issues to reach the US Supreme Court in its current term. This included the question of the constitutionality of affirmative action in the light of a DoJ investigation into the admission practice of the Harvard University which allegedly discriminated against Asian-American candidates. It is now confirmed that on 15 October 2018, a lawsuit against the Harvard University alleging race discrimination goes on trial before a federal District Court in Boston. The lawsuit is being brought by the Students for Fair Admissions founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, and is supported by the Trump Administration. Affirmative action has been so far upheld by the US Supreme Court on numerous occasions, most recently in 2016 in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas (579 U.S. (2016), commonly referred to as Fisher II. However, even so upheld, affirmative action is legally limited only to situations where no race-neutral solutions would be effective in increasing the number of minority students accepted by a University. The lawsuit now alleges that the Harvard University has not properly considered race-neutral admission schemes before factoring race in its application process (Reuters). In this type of lawsuits, the burden of proof rests on a University to justify the use of race as a consideration in its admission process. On the other hand, if this cases proceeds to the US Supreme Court, it is possible the Court will declare affirmative action unconstitutional in its entirety. Affirmative action has always been very controversial and recent cases were decided 5-4 with Justice Kennedy joining the 4 liberal Justices in upholding it. Now that Justice Kennedy has been replaced by Justice Kavanaugh, it is possible the Court will vote 5-4 to strike down all affirmative action programmes as a form of unconstitutional discrimination under the 14th Amendment.

Impeaching a Supreme Court Justice

The next day Justice Kavanaugh had been confirmed to the Supreme Court, some Democrats called for his potential impeachment, should they flip the House of Representatives after the November mid-term elections (The Washington Post). Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution stipulates that “... all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors“. Accordingly, the impeachment process has several elements. Firstly, the alleged wrongdoing must fall within the scope of an impeachable offence. Secondly, the House of Representatives must approve the Articles of Impeachment with a simple majority vote. Thirdly, the Senate must convict (i.e. removed from office) with at least 67 votes or otherwise the proceedings result in an automatic acquittal. Although a Justice of the Supreme Court (and any other federal Judge), as an Officer of the United States, is subject to impeachment, it is very unlikely that Justice Kavanaugh will be (successfully) impeached in any foreseeable future. First of all, it is not clear anyone could be impeached for any alleged wrongdoing taking place prior to the taking of the office. In Justice Kavanaugh’s case, most allegations were at least 30 years old therefore not in any manner connected with the office from which a successful impeachment would seek to remove him. Secondly, even if the Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives in November, it is not clear they will have 218 House Members willing to vote in favour of the Articles of Impeachment, given how many of them would be coming from Red States supporting Justice Kavanaugh. Thirdly, even if the House votes to impeach, the impeachment will inevitably fail in the Senate given that the Constitution requires a two-thirds super majority to convict (i.e. remove) a person subject to the impeachment proceedings. As of now the Democrats do not even have a simple majority in the Senate and even if they manage to flip it in November, it will not amount to a two-thirds majority. From a purely legal point of view, raising the possibility of the impeachment of Justice Kavanaugh could not be taken seriously. This is even more so considering that no Justice of the Supreme Court has ever been removed from office by way of impeachment. In 1804 Justice Chase was impeached by the House of Representatives but a year later the impeachment failed in the Senate. In terms of lower courts Judges, only 14 have ever been impeached and of those only 8 have been actually removed from office by the Senate and an overwhelming majority of them on the grounds strictly related to their functions as a Judge, such as taking bribes or abuse of power (Federal Judicial Center). The possibility of impeachment by Congress is an extremely powerful tool which goes against the traditional separation of powers and therefore, by design, its use is severely restricted only to the most serious examples of the abuse of power.

Justice Kavanaugh Joins the Supreme Court

On the night of 6 – 7 October Judge Kavanaugh was officially confirmed by a 51-49 majority of the US Senate as a new Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who was considered a swing vote, voted ‘present’ therefore opposing the candidacy. Another Republican swing vote, Susan Collins of Maine, aligned with a Republican majority after a forceful defence of Judge Kavanaugh on the Senate floor the day before. The Republicans also picked up one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia who is facing a tough re-election fight in his deeply red state. The vote comes after weeks of investigations and hearings concerning sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Kavanaugh put forward by 3 different women, among which was that of Dr Christine Blasey Ford, which was a subject of a special Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (summary of allegations: Business Insider UK). In the last days of the process, many Senators saw protesters roaming the Senate halls demonstrating both their support and opposition to Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. This also included many examples of disorderly behaviour leading to hundreds protesters being arrested (The Guardian). The opposition to Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation was based on a whole range of arguments, from those related to his judicial record, through the non-disclosure of old communication records, to those concerning sexual misconduct allegations and his short temper. On the other hand, the Republicans complained that the Democrats were adamant to derail the confirmation process with malicious behaviour from the start and none of their arguments had any merits. At the end of the day, however, Judge Kavanaugh has been dully confirmed and will now join the other 8 Justices of the Supreme Court who have already returned to work from their summer break.

The appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is bound to create a reliable originalist majority for the first time in almost 80 years, i.e. since Justice Owen Roberts abandoned the originalist approach in the case of West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937) thereby ending the so called Lochner era in the Court’s jurisprudence. Although since 1937 the Court has seen periods with a majority composed of Republican-appointed Justices, they have not been consistently originalist in their judicial philosophies. It was the appointment of Justice Scalia to the bench by President Reagan in 1986 that brought the originalist philosophy back from the exile to the mainstream. Since then, other originalists have been appointed to the Court, including Justice Thomas (1991), Chief Justice Roberts (2005), Justice Alito (2006), Justice Gorsuch (2017) and now Justice Kavanaugh. Although the originalism of Chief Justice Roberts is admittedly less rigorous than that of Justice Thomas, and in the incoming years he might be even moving more towards the centre, it seems that the current Court is bound to be concerned with the original meaning of the Constitution more than at any other point within the last 80 years.

These changes to the composition of the Supreme Court will have a profound impact on a whole range of cases which are likely to reach the Court in this term. Firstly, on the subject of the 2nd Amendment, the Court might be asked to decide what types of firearms are covered by the 2nd Amendment and whether the Amendment applies to all public spaces in addition to one’s home. In this respect there appears to be a circuit split between the 9th and the 7th Circuit Courts of Appeals (Peruta v. County of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919, 939 (2016) v Moore v Madigan (USDC 11-CV-405-WDS, 11-CV-03134; 7th Cir. 12-1269, 12-1788)). Secondly, on the never-ending issue of ObamaCare, the Court will likely be asked to resolve the question whether the ObamaCare’s Individual Mandate (and possibly other parts of the statute with it) has been rendered unconstitutional by The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2017 which eliminated the tax/penalty for not complying with it. At this point, several Red States are suing claiming that the elimination of the tax has rendered the Individual Mandate unconstitutional as now, in the absence of any tax attached to it, it could only be construed as an exercise of the Congress’s power to regulate inter-state commerce which was already declared invalid by the US Supreme Court in its famous 2012 case (Texas Tribune). However, the lawsuit goes even further and claims that the Individual Mandate is inseverable from the rest of the law, or at least from its certain parts, such as the community rating, and if it is in fact struck down by the Court, it might drag other parts of the ObamaCare with it. Given that the Trump Administration decided not to defend the lawsuit, the case is now bound to proceed further up the ladder towards the Supreme Court (The Atlantic). Thirdly, the Court might be asked to rule whether the DACA programme (and its rescission via executive action) is constitutional. The Trump Administration announced in 2017 that it would rescind the DACA programme altogether as incompatible with federal immigration laws on the books. However, on 3 August 2018, a DC District Court ruled in the case of Trustees of Princeton University v United States (1:17-cv-02325-JDB) that the rescission of DACA was unlawful because the Administration did not supply the Court with any valid reason for its decision. Now an appeal in this case is expected by the Trump Administration. Fourthly, also on the immigration subject, the Court might be asked to finally resolve the question of the legality of the so called sanctuary cities. In 2017 the Department of Justice decided to withdraw funding from cities refusing to cooperate with the federal government in respect of immigration enforcement and in March 2018 it sued the State of California for its sanctuary policies. On the other hand, in return, two of California counties sued the Department of Justice claiming that such a withdrawal of funds was unconstitutional and persuaded a local District Court as well as the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to grant an injunction (The Washington Post). Fifthly, the Court is likely to be asked again to rule on the constitutionality of affirmative action as last decisions on this subject have been extremely closely decided with Justice Kennedy always casting the deciding vote. So far there is no case pending before any federal court concerning affirmative action, however, there have been some moves by the Trump Administration to limits its impact, such as reversing President Obama’s policy on affirmative action in schools (NY Times) or investigating the impact of affirmative action programmes at the Harvard University on the Asian-American minority admissions (CNN). Finally, the Court will most likely, again, deal with abortion. On 4 May 2018 the State of Iowa passed into law in the so called ‘heartbeat’ Act banning abortions as soon as fetal heartbeat could be detected, which usually happens around the sixth week into pregnancy, which now constitutes the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Immediately, the American Civil Liberties Union sued in the Polk County District Court for a declaration of unconstitutionality as well as an interim injunction against the law which was granted on 1 June 2018 (Des Moines Register). The case is now being considered on its merits but regardless of the Court’s decision, it is bound to be appealed and eventually end up before the Supreme Court. Overall, given the multitude of important issues which await consideration by the US Supreme Court, the new originalist majority of the Court might leave a unique legacy for decades to come.

President Trump Unable to Flip Appeal Courts Circuits

President Trump has made clear on several occasions that judicial nominations are one of his top priorities. In terms of Appeal Courts, as of 15 September 2018, he has successfully appointed 26 Circuit Judges, with further 10 nominations pending before the Senate and another 3 positions awaiting his nomination (13 vacancies in total). Many commentators have been pointing out that President Trump might not only change the constitution of the US Supreme Court by appointing Judge Gorsuch (and most likely Judge Kavanaugh) to its bench, but also flip majorities of at least some Appeal Circuits. However, upon a closer examination, this seems rather unlikely, at least in President Trump’s first term in office.

The US Courts of Appeals are grouped in 11 Circuits in addition to the so called special DC Circuit. As of 15 September 2018, the 1st Circuit is the only one which has not had any vacancies since the last general election and as such it has a stable 4-2 Democratic majority. The 2nd Circuit has 3 vacancies but even if filled by President Trump, it will retain a Democratic majority of 7-6. The 3rd Circuit has 2 vacancies and it has already seen 1 judge appointed to its bench by President Trump in addition to 4 judges appointed by previous Republican Presidents so assuming President Trump fills those 2 empty seats, the Circuit will be evenly split 7-7 between the Republican and Democratic appointees. The 4th Circuit has also had 2 judges appointed to its bench by President Trump on top of 4 judges appointed by previous Republican Presidents but it retains a stable Democratic majority of 8-6. The 5th Circuit currently has 1 vacancy, 5 Trump appointees and 6 other Republican-appointed judges making its overwhelmingly Republican 12-5. The 6th Circuit is also overwhelmingly Republican with 4 Trump appointees on top of 7 other Republican-appointed judges adding up to a strong 11-5 Republican majority. The situation is similar in the 7th Circuit which has 4 Trump appointees in addition to other 5 judges appointed by previous Republican Presidents adding up to a stable 9-2 Republican majority. This is again seen in the 8th Circuit where President Trump has appointed 3 judges on top of 7 other Republican-appointed judges adding up to an overwhelming Republican majority of 10-1. The most liberal of all the Circuits, the famous 9th Circuit currently has 7 vacancies, 1 Trump appointee and another 5 Republican-appointed judges but even assuming all those vacancies are filled by President Trump, the Circuit will nevertheless retain a stable Democratic majority of 16-13. A stable Democratic majority of 7-5 will also hold in the 10th Circuit where President Trump has appointed 2 judges on top of another 3 appointed by previous Republican Presidents. The 11th Circuit is another Circuit which is evenly split 6-6 between the Democratic and Republican appointees after President Trump has appointed 3 judges in addition to another 3 Republican-appointed judges already on the bench. Finally, the DC Circuit consisting of 1 Trump appointee and 3 other Republican-appointed judges also retains a stable Democratic majority of 7-4.

Given the structure of vacancies inherited by President Trump, it is unlikely that his appointments will be able to flip any Appeal Circuit. As of 15 September 2018, despite any appointments made so far, and any other likely to be made in President Trump’s first term, Democratic-appointed judges hold majorities in 6 Circuits (1st, 2nd, 4th, 9th, 10th and the DC Circuit) and Republican-appointed judges hold majorities in 4 Circuits (5th, 6th, 7th and 8th). The only difference made by President Trump’s appointments to the Appeal Courts could be observed in the 3rd and 11th Circuits which moved from stable Democratic majorities to being evenly split. In any event, with the appointment of Judge Gorsuch and the likely appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, it is not the Appeal Courts where President Trump intends to make his judicial legacy most visible.

After the Hearings: Kavanaugh Likely to be Confirmed

Between 5 and 7 September 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee held confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court nominee Judge Kavanaugh. The Committee composed of 21 members (10 Democrats and 11 Republicans) questioned Judge Kavanaugh on his judicial record and philosophy. As expected, it was a hugely contentious hearing with constant shouts from the audience leading to multiple arrests and Democratic Senators attacking the nominee’s credibility and independence. However, after 3 long days, Judge Kavanaugh came out of the hearings without any significant blunder. Most of the time he followed the so called Ginsburg Rule declining to answer any question concerning any legal issue which could possibly come before the Court. Perhaps most crucially, Judge Kavanaugh also described Roe v Wade as an ‘important precedent’ therefore making it possible for the 2 pro-choice Republican Senators Lisa Murkowsky of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine to support his nomination. The 2 Senators are considered the swing votes in the upcoming confirmation vote given that the Republicans need all their Senators to vote yes, assuming the vote would go down along the party lines, which is likely. Now that Judge Kavanaugh has not raised any red flags for any Republican Senator, he is likely to be confirmed by the Senate by the end of September so that he can join the Court by 01 October when its term starts.

The confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will indeed be a historical moment. For the first time in almost 80 years the US Supreme Court will have a reliable originalist majority. The last time there was an originalist majority on the Court was prior to the so called ‘switch in time that saved nine’, i.e., before Justice Owen Roberts abandoned the originalist approach in the case of West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937) thereby ending the so called Lochner era in the Court’s jurisprudence. For the next 80 years the Court will almost consistently decide cases coming before it based on the premise that the US Constitution is a living document whose meaning changes over time. Now all this is about to change. This, of course, does not mean that the Court will suddenly start overruling 80 years of precedents. However, given how much is at stake, it is no surprise the liberal forces are very anxious about their legacy.

Interesting Cases to Look For during the Next US Supreme Court Term

While the US Supreme Court is in recess now, there are several potentially monumental cases which are either being processed in lower Courts at the moment or are likely to end up before the federal courts soon, which are due to eventually bubble up during the high court’s next term. As the Court reconvenes in October 2018, it will also most likely have a new member, Judge Kavanaugh, whom the Senate Republicans plan to confirm in September 2018 thereby consolidating a solid conservative majority on the bench. The Supreme Court so constituted, will face requests to adjudicate on a whole series of tough issues, some of which are now long overdue.

Here is a list of 6 big questions the US Supreme Court might be asked to answer during its next term:

1. Whether the 2nd Amendment Protects the Right to Bear Arms outside One’s Home

In its landmark 2008 opinion, the US Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (554 U.S. 570 2008) that the 2nd Amendment protected the individual right to possess firearms within the confines of one’s home for the purposes of self-defence. In 2010 the rule was extended in McDonald v. Chicago (561 U.S. 742 2010) to apply to States as well. However, since then, the Court has taken very few cases concerning the scope of the 2nd Amendment (but see e.g. Caetano v. Massachusetts, 577 U.S. ___ (2016)). This leaves two big issues largely unresolved. First, what types of firearms are covered by the 2nd Amendment? Secondly, does the 2nd Amendment cover public arena outside of one’s home? Both issues are hotly litigated over, especially in the so called Blue States. On 24 July 2018 a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in the case of Young v State of Hawaii No. 12-17808 that the 2nd Amendment did in fact protect the right to bear arms in public. This is in spite of the 2016 decision of the same Court in Peruta v. County of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919, 939 (2016), which, sitting en banc, upheld a complete ban on carrying any firearms outside one’s home. However, the latter case was distinguished on the grounds that it was concerned with a concealed-carry while the former was concerned with an open-carry. Nevertheless, the State of Hawaii is entitled to apply for a reconsideration of this decision by an en banc Court which, given a strong liberal nature of the 9th Circuit, is likely to result in a reversal of the original decision. Regardless, the 2nd Amendment jurisprudence of the 9th Circuit stands in open opposition to other Circuits, such as the 7th Circuit which held in 2013 in the case of Moore v Madigan (USDC 11-CV-405-WDS, 11-CV-03134; 7th Cir. 12-1269, 12-1788) that a complete ban on concealed carry was unconstitutional. This situation constitutes a clear example of the so called ‘circuit split’ which creates a pressure on the Supreme Court to resolve the issue rather sooner than later. Here the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh as a new Supreme Court Justice might be of considerable impact as he has a strong record on the 2nd Amendment (e.g. Heller v. District of Columbia No. 10–7036. 2011).

2. Whether the ObamaCare’s Individual Mandate Has Been Rendered Unconstitutional by The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2017

So far the ObamaCare has withstood, albeit not in its entirety, several challenges before the federal courts and a new one is gaining momentum now. In 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (567 U.S. 519 2012) that, inter alia, although the Individual Mandate was not a valid exercise of the Congress’s power to regulate inter-state commerce, it could be read as a tax and thereby be a valid exercise of the taxation power instead. This is because the so called ‘penalty’ for breaching the Mandate was limited to a financial fee processed by the IRS together with individuals’ income taxes. This saving construction persuaded Chief Justice Roberts who joined the 4 liberal Justices on the Court and voted to uphold the Individual Mandate. However, The Tax and Jobs Act 2017 recently passed by Congress eliminates this so called tax while leaving the Individual Mandate as such intact. In those circumstances, several Red States sued again claiming that the elimination of the tax had rendered the Individual Mandate unconstitutional as now, in the absence of any tax attached to it, it could only be construed as an exercise of the Congress’s power to regulate inter-state commerce which was already declared invalid by the US Supreme Court in 2012 (Texas Tribune). However, the lawsuit goes even further as it claims that the Individual Mandate is inseverable from the rest of the law or at least from its certain parts, such as the community rating, and if it is in fact struck down by the Court, it might drag other parts of the ObamaCare with it. Given that the Trump Administration decided not to defend the lawsuit, the case is now bound to proceed further up the ladder towards the Supreme Court (The Atlantic). Interestingly, the replacement of Justice Kennedy with Judge Kavanugh might actually push the Court to reject any challenges to the ObamaCare as Judge Kavanaugh appears to have been more accommodating in this respect than his predecessor, siding with the approach of the Chief Justice rather than Justice Scalia (Seven-Sky v. Holder (No. 11–5047 2011)).

3. Whether the DACA Program (and its Rescission via Executive Action) is Constitutional

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced by President Obama via an Executive Memorandum in 2012 to allow for a temporary lawful stay of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children. The policy was introduced in response to Congress not being able to pass the DREAM Act which would put it on a statutory footing. Since then, DACA has been often cited as an example of executive overreach given that it was introduced via executive action thereby circumventing the legislature. The policy has been challenged in the federal courts several times. A lawsuit against the original policy was dismissed on procedural grounds in 2013 (Fox News) but as President Obama attempted to extend the programme, the expansion was blocked by the US Supreme Court in the case of United States v. Texas, 579 U.S. ___ (2016), although in a per curiam decision concerning an interim injunction with the crux of the matter soon becoming moot. The Trump Administration announced in 2017 that it would rescind the DACA program altogether as incompatible with federal immigration laws on the books. However, on 3 August 2018, a DC District Court ruled in the case of Trustees of Princeton University v United States (1:17-cv-02325-JDB) that the rescission of DACA was unlawful because the Administration did not supply the Court with any valid reason for its decision. This is yet another signature policy of the Trump Administration after the so called Travel Ban blocked by lower federal courts and therefore the decision is bound to be appealed by the Administration in hope that the US Supreme Court will vindicate its lawfulness, as it happened in the Travel Ban case (Trump v. Hawaii, No. 17-965, 585 U.S. ___ (2018)). In this area the impact of the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is rather difficult to predict.

4. Whether the Policy of Sanctuary Cities is Constitutional

The question of the constitutionality of sanctuary polices has been looming for decades but so far it has never been properly decided. This, however, might change now that the Trump Administration vowed to crack down on Blue States shielding illegal immigrants from federal agencies. On the one hand, the Department of Justice decided to withdraw funding from cities refusing to cooperate with the federal government in respect of immigration enforcement and in March 2018 it sued the State of California for its sanctuary policies. On the other hand, in return, two of California counties (San Francisco and Santa Clara) sued the Department of Justice claiming that such a withdrawal of funds was unconstitutional and managed even to persuade a local District Court as well as the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to grant an injunction (The Washington Post). Accordingly, given how high this issue is on the Presidential agenda and how much litigation it has generated so far, one of those cases is bound to end up before the US Supreme Court sooner or later and this time the Court will have no choice but to rule on a wider issue of sanctuary policies in general. As with the DACA programme, the impact of the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on sanctuary policies is not easy to predict.

5. Whether Affirmative Action is Constitutional

Technically, the constitutionality of affirmative action has already been confirmed on several occasions, for the first time in 1978 in the case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (438 U.S. 265 1978), then in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger (539 U.S. 306 2003) and most recently in 2016 in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas (579 U.S. (2016), commonly referred to as Fisher II. However, the recent decisions have been extremely closely decided and Justice Kennedy has been the one casting the deciding vote. Now that Justice Kennedy is being replaced by Judge Kavanaugh, the Court might easily swing the other way. So far there is no case pending before any federal court concerning affirmative action, however, there have been some moves by the Trump Administration to limits its impact, such as reversing President Obama’s policy on affirmative action in schools (NY Times) or investigating the impact of affirmative action programmes at the Harvard University on the Asian-American minority admissions (CNN). Although no case has been brought on this issue so far, there are signs that affirmative action might once again end up before the federal courts and this time Justice Kennedy will not be around to save it.

6. Whether Fetal Heartbeat Legislation is Constitutional

The opposition of Red States to the constitutional right to abortion recognised in Roe v Wade (1973) is widely known. From time, to time, this opposition materliases in a form of some State legislation hindering access to abortion in hope that it would pass the Undue Burden test imposed on this type of legislation by the Supreme Court in the case of Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992). One of such measures was passed and signed into law in the State of Iowa on 4 May 2018. The so called ‘heartbeat’ Act bans abortions as soon as fetal heartbeat could be detected, which usually happens around the sixth week into pregnancy, and as such constitutes the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Immediately, the American Civil Liberties Union sued in the Polk County District Court for a declaration of unconstitutionality as well as an interim injunction against the law which was granted on 1 June 2018 (Des Moines Register). The case is now being considered on its merits but regardless of the Court’s decision, it is bound to be appealed and eventually end up before the US Supreme Court. This is especially interesting given that Judge Kavanaugh’s jurisprudence on abortion is very scarce and no one is able to predict how he might vote on this issue. If the newest Justice decides to side with the reliable conservatives on the Court, the fate of the right to abortion in the United States will depend solely on Chief Justice Roberts and he remains a huge unknown as well.

It seems that in its 2019 term, the US Supreme Court might be asked to decide at least 6 issues of historical importance and its decisions will be felt across the whole country in decades to come.

Justice Ginsburg’s Plans to Retire

On 29 July 2018, Justice Ginsburg, who is currently 85 years old 
declared that she planned to remain on the Supreme Court for at least 5 more years (The Guardian). The Justice is already the oldest sitting Justice of the Court. She was originally appointed by President Clinton in 1993 at the age of 60 as the second woman ever appointed to the US Supreme Court. She is a known liberal who openly opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election (CNN). In fact, it is common knowledge that Justice Ginsburg will not voluntarily retire during a Republican president. Given her age, she was pressured to retire during the second term of the Obama’s presidency in case his predecessor turned out to be a Republican but she did not cave (e.g. NY Times here). Now that President Trump appoints strictly conservative judges to the federal benches, Justice Ginsburg embraces herself to wait out his term in office. During the next presidential election in 2020, the Justice will be 87 but her retirement plans will necessarily depend on whether President Trump is re-elected or not. If President Trump wins again in 2020, Justice Ginsburg will have no choice but to endure yet another 4 years on the bench. If successful, this would bring her to over 91 thereby beating the current record-holder, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who stepped down at the age of 90 years and 10 months. She would also beat her former colleague Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in 2010 at the age of 90 years and 2 months. Justice Ginsburg, despite her history of cancer and regular nodding-off during official events, remains active both as an opinion writer on the bench as well as a public speaker outside the Court. Given her spirit, she might as well be capable of achieving the title of the oldest ever sitting Justice of the US Supreme Court, that is provided nothing unexpected happens of course.

President Trump’s ‘Record-breaking’ Number of Judicial Appointments

With the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh for Justice Kennedy’s seat at the Supreme Court, some commentators raised the issue of President Trump rapidly transforming the Federal Courts by appointing a record number of District and Circuit Court Judges (e.g The Guardian here and here). This claim is based mostly on the fact that a record number of such Judges have been appointed in President Trump’s first 1,5 years in the office comparing with previous Presidents (e.g. The Hill here). In as much as this is probably true, the claim that President Trump will appoint an unprecedented number of lower Courts Judges is rather misleading.  As of 25 July 2018, President Trump has nominated 137 Judges of the so called Article III Courts (USCourts.gov). Although this seems like a high number for only 1,5 years into the presidency, so far the US Senate has confirmed only 44 of those 137 nominations (including 1 Justice of the Supreme Court, 23 Judges for the United States Courts of Appeals and 20 Judges for the United States District Courts). This is still claimed to be one of the highest numbers for any presidency after only 1,5 years. However, even if this pace is maintained, and President Trump is re-elected in 2020, he will have only appointed around 234 Judges throughout his two terms. This is not even close to his predecessor, President Obama, who appointed 308 Judges between 2008 and 2016. It is also far from the three record-holders in this regard, President Clinton, President Reagan and President W. Bush, who appointed 357, 347 and 310 Judges, respectively.

Even this calculation is based on the assumption that (a) President Trump will be re-elected and (b) that the Republicans are able to retain the Senate majority of at least 51 votes throughout the two presidential terms. Both assumptions are easy to displace. In fact, the Republicans might as well lose the Senate majority in the November mid-term elections and, given the degree to which the judicial confirmation process has been politicised, none of President Trump’s nominees awaiting a confirmation hearing might receive his or her judicial commission after all. It is clear that a Democratic Senate will not help President Trump elevate conservative Judges to the Federal Courts. In such case, President Trump might end up on the lower end of the SCOTUSBlog ranking with no more than 50 judicial appointments in total.

Judge Kavanaugh to Replace Justice Kennedy

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On 09 July 2018 President Trump nominated Judge Kavanaugh for the US Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Kennedy. Judge Kavanaugh is a Judge of the Court of Appeals for the powerful DC Circuit and has been serving in this capacity for 13 years. He had been initially appointed to this Court by President Bush after having served under him as a White House staffer. Even more interestingly, in the 1990s, Judge Kavanaugh worked with Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr investigating business deals of then President Bill Clinton in relation to the Whitewater development which famously led to the impeachment and then the eventual acquittal of President Clinton on the charges of perjury and the obstruction of justice in 1999.

Judge Kavanaugh is known to be an originalist with a strong record on gun laws (Heller v. District of Columbia (2011)) and the separation of powers (PHH Corp. v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (2017)). On the other hand, many conservative members of the Senate point out that he helped save ObamaCare’s individual mandate when the case was before the Court of Appeals by construing it as a tax (Seven-Sky v. Holder (2011)) and voted to uphold massive data collection by the NSA outside the Fourth Amendment’s protection of privacy (Klayman v. Obama (2015)). Finally, Judge Kavanaugh seems to have no clear record on the right to abortion (but see Garza v. Hargan (2017)) – the most crucial issue for the vast majority of progressive Senators.

In the incoming months, Judge Kavanaugh will face a Senate confirmation hearing and will be asked to answer multiple questions about his judicial and administrative past. The hearing will most likely be a contentious one with many Democratic Senators already vowing to vote against him. However, with a 51 majority, the Senate Republicans are likely to confirm Judge Kavanaugh in time for a new session of the Supreme Court beginning in October 2018. The vote will probably go down along the party lines with a few Democrat Senators from typically Red States perhaps voting for Judge Kavanaugh to strengthen their position before the November mid-term elections.

The Most Powerful Man in America Retires

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The most powerful man in America has finally retired. There was no one in the country’s past 30 years who had a bigger impact on the law of the United States than Justice Kennedy. No President, no Majority  Leader, no State Governor had power coming even close to that of Justice Kennedy, aka the Swing Vote. The number of cases Justice Kennedy single-handedly decided is breathtaking. He is the man who allowed gay people to marry (Obergefell v. Hodges 2015) and buy firearms (District of Columbia v Heller 2008) at the same time. It seems that President Trump is now likely to appoint another young judge in the vein of Justice Gorsuch, his first pick. Whoever President Trump chooses to replace Justice Kennedy will be subjected to the most vicious confirmation process this country has ever seen. Probably even more vicious than the confirmation hearings of Robert Bork or Clarence Thomas. The President is set to announce his pick on Monday, 9 July.