Oral argument date: October 5, 2020
Decided on: December 10, 2020
Facts: Adams considered applying for a judicial position but ultimately decided not to because the state required the candidate to be a Republican, and Adams was neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Adams filed a lawsuit against the governor, challenging the provision of the Delaware Constitution that limits judicial service to members of the Democratic and Republican Parties.
Issue(s): (1) Whether the plaintiff in this case have Article III standing to challenge Delaware’s judicial service requirements; (2) Whether a state law that effectively limits judicial service to members of the Democratic and Republican parties violate the First Amendment.
Holding: The Court held that because Adams had not shown that he was “able and ready” to apply for a judicial vacancy in the imminent future, he failed to demonstrate Article III standing to challenge the Delaware Constitution’s political balance requirement for appointments to the State’s major courts. Justice Stephen Breyer authored the unanimous (8-0) opinion of the Court. Article III standing requires that an “injury in fact” be “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent.” Because Adams did not adequately make this showing, his grievance is generalized and does not meet the requirement for an “injury in fact.”
Significance: With standing, the outcome of this case would have determined the constitutionality of provisions mandating partisan balance in state courts. The Court would have to decide whether political affiliation is a factor in judicial appointments, which could upset the long-standing traditions of keeping politics outside the court.
Oral argument date: October 13, 2020
Decided on: December 10, 2020
Facts: In 2014, a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone found Michael Briggs guilty of rape in violation of Article 120(a), Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for conduct that occurred nine years earlier, in 2005. The UCMJ allows for a military offense that is punishable by death to be “tried and punished at any time without limitation.” Briggs argued on appeal that rape was not “punishable by death” and thus was subject to the five-year statute of limitations for non-capital crimes.
Issue(s): Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces err in concluding—contrary to its own longstanding precedent—that the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows prosecution of a rape that occurred between 1986 and 2006 only if it was discovered and charged within five years.
Holding: The Court found that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces erred in concluding that the five-year statute of limitations applies to the prosecution of rape. Justice Samuel Alito authored the opinion on behalf of a unanimous (8-0) Court. The UCMJ is a “uniform” code, meaning it refers only to other provisions within the UCMJ itself, rather than external sources of law. Second, statutes of limitations are intended to provide clarity, and having to consider “all applicable law” to determine whether an offense is punishable by death obscures, rather than clarifies, the filing deadline. Finally, it is “unlikely” that lawmakers would want a statute of limitations to refer to judicial interpretations of such provisions, given that the purposes of statutes of limitations differ from the ends served courts’ Eighth Amendment analysis.
Significance: SCOTUS determined that for military sexual assault and other severe crimes that are “punishable by death” under the Code, there is no statute of limitations. This decision resolves the dispute between the UCMJ and the Eighth Amendment in the context of what is considered a “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Oral argument date: November 30, 2020
Decided on: December 18, 2020
Facts: On July 21, 2020, President Donald Trump announced that the population figures used to determine the apportionment of Congress would, in a reversal of long-standing practice, exclude non-citizens who are not lawfully present in the United States. Two sets of plaintiffs — one governmental and one nongovernmental coalition — challenged the decision to exclude illegal aliens from the apportionment base for Congress on the ground that it violates the Constitution, statutes governing the census and apportionment, and other laws.
Issue(s): (1) Whether the plaintiffs have standing under Article III of the Constitution to challenge a memorandum by President Trump instructing the secretary of commerce to include in his report on the 2020 census information enabling the president to exclude noncitizens from the base population number for purposes of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives; (2) Whether the memorandum is a permissible exercise of the President’s discretion under the provisions of law governing congressional apportionment.
Holding: The Court held that the plaintiffs in this case had not shown standing and that their claims were not ripe for adjudication. As such, the Court vacated the District Court’s judgment and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. For a federal court to have jurisdiction to hear a case, the plaintiffs must demonstrate they have standing, which requires “an injury that is concrete, particularized, and imminent rather than conjectural or hypothetical. Further, the case must be “ripe”—that is, it must not depend on “contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all.” In this case, it remained mere conjecture whether and how the Executive Branch might eventually implement this general statement of policy, and the plaintiffs had suffered no concrete harm from the policy itself.
Significance: If standing or ripeness were demonstrated, the Court would have to decide on the constitutional claims and legality of the memorandum in regard to legislative apportionment. The outcome of this case would have also shed some light about the constitutionality and applicability of the “citizenship question.”