Allen v. Milligan (formerly Merrill v. Milligan)
Oral argument date: October 4, 2022
Decided on: June 8, 2023
Facts: Following the 2020 consensus, Alabama changed its districts for its seven U.S. House of Representatives seats to create one majority-Black district and divide other Black voters across multiple districts. The Voting Rights Act outlaws racial discrimination in voting policies. Voters and organizations challenged the new map, arguing that the state purposefully and illegally constructed the map to minimize the power of Black voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The district court sided with the challengers and granted a preliminary injunction that ordered the state to create a new map. The U.S. Supreme Court froze the district court’s injunction pending a merits decision. The ABA filed an amicus brief in this case.
- Whether Alabama’s 2021 redistricting plan for its seven seats in the United States House of Representatives violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Holding: The Court ruled in favor of Milligan et al., finding that the Alabama redistricting plan likely violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Alabama will have to create a new redistricting plan for next year’s elections with a second majority-black district.
Significance: If the existing map is upheld, the power of the Voting Rights Act would be significantly diminished, and Black voters would have less influence in Alabama House of Representatives elections than white voters. A decision to uphold the redistricting plan could have prevented future challenges to redistricting maps that discriminate on the basis of race, exacerbating the issue of racially biased gerrymandering. In recent years, the Court has significantly hollowed out the Voting Rights Act; however, this decision preserves Section 2 of the Act to protect against racially-biased voting discrimination.
Oral argument date: March 22, 2023
Decided on: June 8, 2023
Facts: A dog toy manufacturer, VIP Products LLC, created a plastic dog toy in the shape of Jack Daniel’s iconic bottle. The toy parodies the original bottle’s label, with its “label” reading “Bad Spaniels” as opposed to “Jack Daniel’s,” and “The Old No. 2 on your Tennessee Carpet” instead of the “Old No. 7” and “Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey." Jack Daniel’s sued VIP Products LLC for violating its trademark. The district court found that the toy was a humorous parody of Jack Daniel’s trademark and entitled to First Amendment protection. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed this decision.
- Whether humorous use of another’s trademark as one’s own on a commercial product is subject to the Lanham Act’s likelihood-of-confusion analysis, or is instead entitled to heightened First Amendment protection from trademark-infringement claims; and
- Whether humorous use of another’s trademark as one’s own on a commercial product is “noncommercial,” barring claims of dilution under the Trademark Dilution Revision Act.
Holding: The Court issued a unanimous decision in favor of Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc., finding that the “Bad Spaniels” parody of the “Jack Daniel’s” trademark was used as a trademark. In instances such as this, the Court found that the Rogers test for trademark infringement claims on expressive works does not apply, and the Lanham Act’s exclusion from liability for “[a]ny noncommercial use of a mark” does not shield parody, commentary, or criticism from trademark dilution claims.
Significance: This decision could make it easier for trademark holders to sue over parody products. It clarifies the extent to which parody products are covered by First Amendment protection, stating that humorous parody of a trademark is subject to claims of dilution under the Trademark Dilution Revision Act.
Oral argument date: October 3, 2022
Decided on: May 25, 2023
Facts: Michael and Chantall Sackett attempted to build a home on a residential lot they own near Priest Lake, Idaho. However, the Environmental Protection Agency halted construction shortly after they began placing sand and gravel, claiming that building on the land violated the Clean Water Act. The Environmental Protection Agency claims that the Sacketts need to restore the property to its natural state because the lot contains wetlands that qualify as “navigable waters” under the Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction over the property under the Clean Water Act despite the fact that the agency removed its compliance order during litigation.
- Whether the appeals court utilized the proper test for determining whether wetlands are “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.
Holding: The Court ruled in favor of the Sacketts, finding that the Clean Water Act extends only to wetlands that have a continuous surface connection with “waters of the United States” making it difficult to determine where the water ends and the wetland begins.
Significance: This court case significantly impacts the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate and protect wetlands by redefining what a wetland is. It uproots long-standing precedents in environmental law and increases the likelihood of pollution and harm to the environment as many wetlands are no longer protected. This could severely damage water quality, flood control, and wild habitats.
Oral argument date: February 22, 2023
Decided on: May 18, 2023
Facts: This case arises from the same set of facts as Gonzalez v. Google. In 2015, a U.S. citizen, Nohemi Gonzalez, was killed in a terrorist attack in Paris, France. ISIS, a foreign terrorist organization, published a YouTube video claiming responsibility for the attack. Gonzalez’s father sued Google, Twitter, and Facebook, arguing that they were liable for aiding and abetting international terrorism because they failed to take meaningful action to prevent terrorists from using their platforms. The district court dismissed Gonzalez’s claims, finding that they did not fall under the Anti-Terrorism Act’s aiding and abetting liability. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed this decision.
- Whether an internet platform “knowingly” provides substantial assistance under 18 U.S.C. § 2333 when it allegedly could have taken more “meaningful” or “aggressive” action to prevent misuse; and
- Whether an internet platform can be liable for aiding and abetting under Section 2333 when their services were not used in connection with the specific “act of international terrorism” that injured the plaintiff.
Holding: The Court ruled unanimously in Twitter’s favor, finding that Twitter could not have aided and abetted ISIS in its terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey because Twitter did not “knowingly” provide substantial assistance under 18 U.S.C § 2333.
Significance: If the Court had found against Twitter, basic functions of social media platforms may have been impacted as tech companies attempted to avoid future liability, making websites less functional and less user-friendly. Since the Court found in favor of Twitter, the status quo for tech companies will likely be upheld. The Court found that, while bad actors may be able to use social media platforms to enact harm, “the same could be said of cell phones, email, or the internet generally.”
Oral argument date: February 21, 2023
Decided on: May 18, 2023
Facts: This case arises from the same set of facts as Twitter v. Taamneh. In 2015, a U.S. citizen, Nohemi Gonzalez, was killed in a terrorist attack in Paris, France. ISIS, a foreign terrorist organization, published a YouTube video claiming responsibility for the attack. Gonzalez’s father sued Google, Twitter, and Facebook, arguing that Google aided and abetted international terrorism by allowing ISIS to use its YouTube platform and that Google’s YouTube video recommendation algorithm assists ISIS in spreading its message. The district court granted Google’s motion to dismiss the claim based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed this decision.
- Whether Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act immunizes interactive computer services when they make targeted recommendations of content provided by another information content provider.
Holding: The Court declined to answer the question presented in this case. The Court ruled unanimously to vacate the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with Twitter v. Taamneh.
Significance: If the Court had found against Google, it could have significantly impacted the useability of YouTube since millions of videos are uploaded every day and it would be very difficult to find new content without video recommendations. Additionally, a decision against Google would have limited the protections offered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which was intended to make the internet safer and more user-friendly by protecting companies from liability when they monitor the content on their website. Prior to Section 230, companies could face more liability by monitoring user-uploaded content than they would by not monitoring content at all. A decision against Google would have greatly impacted user experience; however, the Court’s decision for Google maintains the status quo.