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April 02, 2024

SCOTUS Update | April 2024

Spring 2024 Edition

Elizabeth Romage, 2024 Spring Intern, Duke University

Recent Decisions

Lindke v. Freed

Oral argument date: October 31, 2023
Decided on: March 15, 2024

Facts:  Before 2008, James Freed created a private Facebook account to connect with family and friends. When Freed later reached Facebook’s limit of five thousand friends, he converted to a public “page” with a category designation of “public figure.” His public status allowed for an unlimited number of “followers.”

In 2014, Freed was appointed as the City Manager of Port Huron, Michigan. He updated his profile title to reflect this position and shared both personal and professional posts on his account. This included family updates, but also directives and policies enacted under Freed’s official capacity as City Manager.

Freed’s posts about the COVID-19 pandemic—which occurred in both personal and professional capacities—were met with tension from followers. Kevin Lindke, a Facebook user and Port Huron resident, left critical responses on some of Freed’s posts. Freed initially deleted the comments before blocking Lindke altogether.

Lindke sued Freed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Freed’s actions violated Lindke’s First Amendment rights. Lindke’s claim failed at the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 

Issue(s):

  1. Under what circumstances does a public official’s social media activity constitute state action subject to the First Amendment?

Holding:  The Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision (9-0) for Lindke. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a public official who inhibits a person from commenting on the official’s social media page constitutes state action if the official (1) retains authority to speak on the state’s behalf on the subject at hand, and (2) appears to enact that authority when sharing in applicable social media posts.

Significance:  By asking the Supreme Court to clarify whether a public official can bar patrons from social media, this ruling verifies that infringement upon First Amendment rights can occur in both private and public accounts. It recognizes that state activities can be ambiguous and scrutinizes governmental action that occurs on social media platforms. For citizens, Lindke v. Freed ensures access to important news and information with the liberty to respond without censorship. On the other hand, it sets a new status quo regarding the roles and rights of public officials on social media: it urges public officials to consider their social media interactions in both private and public accounts.

O’Connor-Ratcliffe v. Garnier

Oral argument date: October 31, 2023
Decided on: March 15, 2024

Facts:  In 2014, Michelle O’Connor Ratcliff and T.J. Zane ran for the Board of Trustees election in California’s Poway Unified School District (PUSD). While they had private accounts to connect with family and friends, the prospective Trustees created public Facebook accounts to promote their election campaigns.

After their election as Trustees, O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane’s public accounts were designated with “Government Official” status. Both Trustees shared PUSD-related content on their public social media pages and connected with constituents via their platforms. O’Connor Ratcliff also created and used a public Twitter account for similar activities.

Christopher and John Kimberly Garnier, two parents of PUSD children, shared their criticism of the Board of Trustees on social media. Their extensive, repeated comments on O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane’s posts were initially hidden or deleted by both Trustees. The Trustees later blocked the parents altogether.

The Garniers sued the Trustees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane’s actions violated the Garniers’ First Amendment rights. The District Court granted declaratory and injunctive relief, but it was determined the Trustees had qualified immunity against damages. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Issue(s):

  1. Does a public official’s action of blocking an individual from their personal social media account constitute state action subject to the First Amendment when the official shares job-related content with the public, but not under official governmental authority?

Holding:  The 9th Circuit’s judgment was vacated and the case was remanded in light of Lindke v. Freed. Due to the “close nexus” between petitioners’ social media pages and their positions as public officials, state-action requirement was satisfied under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Significance:  In conjunction with Lindke v. Freed, O’Connor Ratcliff v. Garnier examines the social media usage of public officials to indicate what actions constitute state action. The case delineates the intersection between First Amendment rights violations on personal and public acts of officials on social media accounts, which clarifies conflation to protect both users and officials under the law. O’Connor Ratcliff v. Garnier also offers implications for the public’s interactions with officials and governmental affairs communicated on officials’ social media accounts: it upholds the freedom of openly exchanging information yet promotes accountability when officials act in governmental capacities.

The Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C.

Cases Set for Argument in March and April 2024

Murthy v. Missouri

Oral argument date: March 18, 2024

Facts: In May 2022, Missouri and Louisiana attorney generals and numerous private plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the Louisiana district court. They asserted that several defendants encouraged social media companies to censor platform content regarding the 2020 presidential election and COVID-19-related topics. The plaintiffs argued First Amendment rights infringement, which was reflected through the public statements and threats of regulatory action defendants used to specifically target conservative-related speech. The defendants claimed their acts were attempts to repress alleged disinformation.

In July 2023, the district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a nationwide preliminary injunction. To protect free speech, the federal government was barred from interacting with social media companies to influence content-moderation policies. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a majority of the injunction. In October 2023, the Supreme Court granted the government’s motion for an emergency stay of the injunction and redacted the interaction limitations. Certiorari was granted simultaneously.

Issue(s):

  1. Do respondents have Article III standing?
  2. Does the government’s challenged conduct transform private social media companies’ content moderation into state action and therefore violate the First Amendment rights of responders?
  3. Are the terms and breadth of the preliminary injunction proper?

Significance: In 1963, Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan established that the government could not coerce intermediaries into speech censorship, but enabled advising. While lower courts have subsequently distinguished between coercion and persuasion, Murthy v. Missouri revisits the precedent set by the 1963 case to further address legal issues surrounding jawboning: using a position of authority to persuade the actions of private entities. Here, Murthy v. Missouri prompts the Court to clarify First Amendment rights violations between regulation of disinformation and censorship of lawful speech. This case proves especially significant as America approaches election season; by addressing the government’s role in censorship and the spread of information/disinformation, Murthy v. Missouri urges Americans to consider federal impact on the availability of campaign information and mediation of election disinformation. 

National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo

Oral argument date:  March 18, 2024

Facts:  In 2018, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) catalyzed an investigation of NRA-endorsed insurance programs under the leadership of Maria T. Vullo. She believed the programs violated New York law, and 3 insurance companies affirmed fault through consent decrees. The companies halted their administration of NRA-endorsed insurance programs for New Yorkers and paid fines between $1.3 and $7 million.

After the Parkland school shooting, Vullo exercised regulatory power to urge banks and insurers to assess and potentially terminate affiliations with organizations such as the NRA. She cautioned these institutions against reputational risks because of the NRA’s political advocacy work. When firms subsequently severed ties with the NRA, the NRA filed a lawsuit against Vullo quoting First Amendment rights infringement (free speech and equal rights protection).

The district court allowed for the procession of the NRA’s First Amendment infringement claims but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the lower court’s other claims. The First Amendment allegations remained and the case was elevated to the Supreme Court.

Issue(s):

  1. Does the First Amendment enable government regulators to threaten regulated entities with adverse regulatory consequences if entities do business with a speaker whom the government views as controversial due to viewpoint aversion or a perception of negative backlash? 

Significance: Congruent to Murthy v. Missouri, National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo works to clarify First Amendment rights infringements in the context of jawboning. The case distinguishes between general business and unconstitutional censorship to set a new standard for communication between government regulators and private entities. By investigating the intersection between governmental authority over addressed entities and intentions behind a government official’s communication, National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo discerns the difference between regulation and retaliation exercised under the power of official capacity. This suggests limitations on the capabilities of government regulators to affect the business of companies they oversee.

Becerra v. San Carlos Apache Tribe

Oral argument date:  March 20, 2024

Facts:  Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA) to allow tribes to administer their healthcare programs. Funded by the Indian Health Service (IHS), this effort worked to enhance tribal sovereignty. When Tribes encountered financial barriers to implementation, Congress ordered IHS to provide tribes with applicable contract support costs (CSC). Nonetheless, Tribes still struggled with IHS parity conflicts due to slow billing and imperfect funds remittance. Congress responded by allowing tribes to directly bill outside insurers and explicitly spend third-party revenue on healthcare.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona exercised sovereignty to manage its healthcare programs and directly bill outside insurers. However, the Tribe struggled to fund additional healthcare services from third-party revenue without additional CSC from the IHS. The Tribe sued the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, IHS, and the United States for CSC reimbursement for three years. The district court dismissed the claim and the Tribe appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit argued for further proceedings under the statutory text of 25 U.S.C. § 5325(a). 

Issue(s):

  1. Does the Indian Health Service have to pay contract support costs to support both IHS-funded activities and the tribe’s expenditure of third-party revenue?

Significance: Becerra v. San Carlos Apache Tribe investigates when and how much additional funding is appropriate when Tribal health foundations need financial support. Specifically, the case looks at additional CSC used to administer tribal health programs; it suggests a difference in whether fund administration occurs based on activity type: IHS-funded or insurance-backed. Resultantly, Becerra v. San Carlos Apache Tribe offers implications for how financial impacts on both Tribes and the government may affect funds allocation. The role of penalization in this exchange determines the sovereignty of Tribes. 

Department of State v. Muñoz

Oral argument date:  April 23, 2024

Facts:  In 2010, U.S. citizen Sandra Muñoz married Luis Asencio-Cordero, an El Salvadoran citizen. In 2013, Muñoz initiated the immigrant visa process for Asencio-Cordero to become a permanent U.S. citizen. In 2015, Asencio-Cordero returned to El Salvador for his visa interview where the consular office denied his visa, suggesting involvement in unlawful activities under 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(A)(ii). The consulate believed Asencio-Cordero’s tattoos were associated with gang affiliations, which was disproved by a consultation and affidavit from gang expert Humberto Guizar. In litigation, the consulate stated his decision was supported by criminal review and Asencio-Cordero’s interview and tattoos. Despite efforts of intervention from Congresswoman Judy Chu and further appeals, the authorities confirmed inadmissibility and indicated no grounds for appeal.

Arguing that the statute was unconstitutionally ambiguous, the plaintiffs sought judicial review for Asencio-Cordero’s visa application. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit argued that the government failed to provide constitutional notice within a reasonable period of the visa denial. The appellate court then vacated the district court’s decision.

Issue(s):

  1. Does a consular officer’s refusal of a visa to a U.S. citizen’s noncitizen spouse violate a constitutionally protected interest of the citizen?
  2. Assuming such a constitutional interest exists, is notifying a visa applicant that he was deemed inadmissible under 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(A)(ii) sufficient to provide due process?

Significance: Department of State v. Muñoz raises questions regarding impartiality in the visa decisions process, U.S. State Department’s interpretation of immigrants interested in cases of marriage-based immigration, and checks and balances to ensure fairness in consular decisions. While specifically investigating the roles of bias, character accusations, and immigrant status in Asencio-Cordero’s case, the ruling of Department of State v. Muñoz will pose considerations for all immigrants hoping to attain citizenship in the United States with a specific focus on the avenue of marriage. 

Moyle v. U.S.

Oral argument date:  April 24, 2024

Facts: In 2020, Idaho passed Section 18-622: The Defense of Life Act. The law would prohibit the performance of most abortions if the Supreme Court banned the right to abortion. When the June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case overturned the constitutional right to abortion, Section 18-622 was set to take affect two months later. However, the Biden Administration highlighted a discrepancy: Idaho state law was preempted by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which required hospitals receiving Medicare funding to administer abortions in necessary cases of emergency. 

The Biden Administration sued by their claim, and the Idaho district court ruled in the Administration’s favor to bar Idaho from enforcing Section 18-622 in conflict with EMTALA. Preliminary injunction was granted by the district court, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declined the ruling’s stay while the state appealed. Led by Idaho House Speaker Mike Moyle, the case was pushed to the Supreme Court. 

Issue(s):

  1. Does the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act preempt state law that criminalizes abortions—except those necessary to save the life of a mother—in Idaho?

Significance: Moyle v. U.S. reflects the discrepancy between federal and state law that regulates abortion. Resultantly, this case will have implications across the United States where states have individual laws policing abortion rights. By clarifying whether abortion will be administered in emergency situations in Idaho, Moyle v. U.S. will clarify ambiguities within laws to suggest a more cohesive system of regulation surrounding abortion rights on both the state and federal levels. This ruling will not only affect Idaho populations in need of abortions, but will also serve as a reference of governing for other states. 

Trump v. U.S.

Oral argument date:  April 25, 2024

Facts: In 2023, Special Counsel Jack Smith indicted Former President Donald Trump on four accounts relating to attempts to overturn the 2020 Presidential Election. This charge fell in alignment with Trump’s activity in the January 6, 2021 attacks on the U.S. Capitol. The Former President claimed he could not be prosecuted per the Impeachment Judgment Clause (I, § 3, cl. 7) and Double Jeopardy Clause (Amdt 5.3.1), since he had not been impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate. He also backed his argument citing Nixon v. Fitzgerald, which granted presidential immunity for certain civil damages claims while in office. However, this case did not specifically address criminal prosecution. 

The trial was initially set for March 4, 2024, but was vacated pending resolution of Trump’s immunity claims. Trump’s motion for dismissal on immunity grounds was then denied by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, and the Supreme Court was asked to expedite review and bypass the D.C. Circuit’s decision. The Court deferred to the Circuit’s judgment. On February 6, 2024, the Circuit upheld Judge Chutkan’s decision and Trump requested a stay. The Supreme Court chose to accelerate the case. *The ABA is planning to file an amicus brief in this case.

Issue(s):

  1. Does presidential immunity from criminal prosecution encompass immunity from conduct alleged to involve official acts during a Former President’s tenure in office?
  2. Do the Impeachment Judgement Clause and Double Jeopardy Clause foreclose the criminal prosecution of a Former President if he has been impeached and acquitted by Congress for similar conduct?

Significance: Trump v. U.S. offers implications for normative leadership in U.S. society; the results will have implications for whether a president will have absolute immunity from prosecution for all acts committed in official capacity or thereafter. Further, this case presents the first time a President has been prosecuted for official acts in U.S. history. The ruling in Trump v. U.S. will set a new precedent for all actions of all future Presidents; standards for Presidential decision-making, independence, and impartiality will all be affected. Further, the way U.S. citizens understand and look to Presidential power will be altered as well.

Learn More

Curious about past Supreme Court terms and the status of case decisions? Check previous editions of our SCOTUS Updates (Winter 2024Fall 2023, and Summer 2023) from the Section's quarterly e-Newsletter on cases related to civil rights and social justice. 

Additionally, the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice routinely hosts webinars and panels, discussing social inequities and their legal connection. If you are interested in learning more about these issues, recordings of past webinars can be found on the Section’s YouTube channel. 

Please refer to the directory of Amicus Curiae Briefs on the Section’s website, which contains amicus briefs filed by the ABA pertaining to civil rights cases. 

For existing policy, check out the Policy Project, featuring a compilation of all policy drafted by the ABA relating to the committees of the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. 

The ABA has also created a Law, Society and the Judiciary Task Force to consider the range of issues implicated in Dobbs and Bruen.