Cases on the Docket
October, November, and December 2021
Oral argument date: October 6, 2021
Facts: Zayn Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, is a former associate of Osama bin Laden. Upon capturing Zubaydah, U.S. military forces detained him in Poland. The European Court on Human Rights ruled that Zubaydah's treatment during his detention amounted to torture. Zubaydah filed an application seeking disclosure of information on his detention. The district court first granted discovery but later withdrew by citing the state-secrets privilege. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the case. It held that not all of the information requested was privileged and the court could allow limited discovery while protecting national security interests.
Issue(s): Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit erred when it rejected the United States’ assertion of the state-secrets privilege based on the court’s own assessment of potential harms to the national security, and required discovery to proceed further under 28 U.S.C. 1782(a) against former Central Intelligence Agency contractors on matters concerning alleged clandestine CIA activities.
Significance: This case addresses the state-secrets privilege and has the potential to impact national security as well as the extent to which information about detainees and their treatment will be disclosed.
Oral argument date: November 1, 2021
Facts: In 2008, John Ramirez was sentenced to death for the murder of Pablo Castro, with his execution date set for February 2, 2017. Ramirez moved to postpone the execution date while he made a legal counsel substitution. The state set a new execution date for September 9, 2020 which was postponed to September 8, 2021 upon Ramirez filing a spiritual advisory claim. Subsequently, Ramirez’s new spiritual advisory claim requesting to have his pastor pray aloud and touch him during the execution as well as stay of execution were denied. Ramirez filed an emergency appeal arguing that his constitutional rights and federal protections for inmates' religious rights were violated. SCOTUS granted his stay of execution and petition for a writ of certiorari.
Whether, consistent with the free exercise clause and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, Texas’ decision to allow Ramirez’s pastor to enter the execution chamber, but forbidding the pastor from laying his hands on his parishioner as he dies, substantially burden the exercise of his religion, so as to require Texas to justify the deprivation as the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling governmental interest;
Whether, considering the free exercise clause and RLUIPA, Texas’ decision to allow Ramirez’s pastor to enter the execution chamber, but forbidding the pastor from singing prayers, saying prayers or scripture, or whispering prayers or scripture, substantially burden the exercise of his religion, so as to require Texas to justify the deprivation as the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling governmental interest.
Significance: This case concerns the free exercise of religion. The outcome of this case has the potential to impact the support spiritual advisors are allowed to provide and the role religion plays during executions.
Oral argument date: November 2, 2021
Facts: David Wilson was elected to the Board of Trustees of Houston Community College in 2013. In 2017, Wilson began engaging in continued public critique of the Board and its members. He was subsequently censured by the Board, barred from holding officer positions, and ordered to cease and desist. As a result, Wilson sued Houston Community College, arguing that they had violated his First Amendment Right to freedom of speech. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of Wilson, finding that the Board had violated Wilson’s First Amendment rights in ordering his censure.
Issue(s): Whether a member’s censure by an elected body constitutes a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Significance: Longstanding judicial precedent supports the disciplinary authority of a legislative body towards its own members, whether at the national, local, or interpersonal level. This case addresses the constitutionality of such authority when it comes into conflict with freedom of speech, a staunchly protected right.
Oral argument date: November 3, 2021
Facts: New York State law prohibits the possession of firearms without a license. In order to receive a license to carry a firearm outside the home, one must demonstrate “proper cause” for the purpose of self-defense. Robert Nash and Brandon Koch both applied to obtain concealed carry for their firearms and were rejected. The two men challenged the New York law, arguing that it violated their Second Amendment rights to bear arms. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled against Nash and Koch, finding that the New York law regulates, but does not unduly restrict, the right to possess a firearm.
Issue(s): Whether a state may prevent an individual from carrying handguns outside the home for purposes of self-defense.
Significance: Precedent set in District of Columbia v. Heller affirmed the right of an individual to possess firearms within the home but left more ambiguous a state’s ability to limit carry outside the home. This case, directly challenging the question of concealed carry, may signify a major development for gun ownership and Second Amendment questions.
*The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief on September 21, 2021*
Oral argument date: November 8, 2021
Facts: Three Muslim residents of Southern California who practice Islam filed a lawsuit alleging that the FBI had used a confidential informant to surveil Muslims at the Islamic Center of Irvine for at least fourteen months. They claimed they faced anti-Muslim discrimination and unlawful searches. The U.S. Attorney General cited the state-secrets privilege and moved to dismiss the case. The district court dismissed all claims but one. The Ninth Circuit reversed, and the appellate court denied a petition for a rehearing en banc.
Issue(s): Whether Section 1806(f) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 displaces the state-secrets privilege and authorizes a district court to resolve, in camera and ex parte, the merits of a lawsuit challenging the lawfulness of government surveillance by considering the privileged evidence.
Significance: This case concerns the state-secrets privilege and lawfulness of government surveillance. The outcome could greatly impact national security and the extent to which information will be disclosed to the public.
Oral argument date: November 9, 2021
Facts: The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides monthly payments to low-income people who are 65 or older and have disabilities. Recipients of this program include residents of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the unincorporated territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, but not Puerto Rico. Born in Puerto Rico, Jose Luis Vaello-Madero moved to New York in 1985. In 2012, he started receiving SSI payments and, in 2013, he moved back to Puerto Rico. He continued to receive payments while in Puerto Rico until 2016. Subsequently, the federal government filed a lawsuit to recover over $28,000 in benefits. The district court ruled for Vaello-Madero, claiming that excluding Puerto Rico from the SSI program violated the equal-protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed.
Issue(s): Whether Congress violated the equal-protection component of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment by establishing Supplemental Security Income — a program that provides benefits to needy aged, blind, and disabled individuals — in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and in the Northern Mariana Islands pursuant to a negotiated covenant, but not extending it to Puerto Rico.
Significance: This case examines whether Puerto Rico being excluded from the SSI program is a violation of the equal-protection component of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The outcome of this case has the potential to alter the current SSI program and its recipients.
*The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief on September 7, 2021*
Oral argument date: December 1, 2021
Facts: In 2018, the Mississippi state legislature passed the “Gestational Age Act,” which bans abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion provider in the state, challenged the constitutionality of the law on the basis that Supreme Court precedent prohibits abortion bans prior to viability. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in support of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, finding that the state had failed to provide evidence of fetal viability at 15 weeks.
Whether bans on elective abortions prior to fetal viability are constitutional;
Whether pre-viability laws should be assessed according to Planned Parenthood v. Casey’s “undue burden” standard or Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt’s balancing standard;
Whether abortion providers possess third-party standing to challenge laws alleging to protect women’s health from late-term abortions.
Significance: This case marks the latest major challenge to abortion following June Medical Services v. Russo, in which the Court overturned a Louisiana law requiring admitting privileges for abortion services providers. While June Medical Services addressed questions regarding accessibility, however, Dobbs more directly challenges the constitutionality of elective abortions and their prohibition. The new case, furthermore, will be heard before a decidedly more conservative bench, following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her replacement by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
*The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief on September 20, 2021*
Oral argument date: December 7, 2021
Facts: Until recently, individuals with HIV were allowed to fill their prescriptions at community pharmacies. In response to CVS Caremark now requiring the use of designated specialty pharmacies, several respondents requested to opt out of the program and were denied. They sued by alleging that the program violates the anti-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and California’s Unfair Competition Law and Unruh Civil Rights Act. They also alleged it denies them benefits of the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA). The district court granted CVS’s motion to dismiss. The Ninth Circuit vacated in part and affirmed in part.
Issue(s): Whether Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — and by extension Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which incorporates the “enforcement mechanisms” of other federal antidiscrimination statutes — provides a disparate-impact cause of action for plaintiffs alleging disability discrimination.
Significance: The case concerns disability discrimination claims under the Rehabilitation and Affordable Care Acts and will impact whether individuals with HIV will be allowed to use community pharmacies instead of designated specialty pharmacies.
Oral argument date: December 8, 2021
Facts: Maine requires all school-age children in the state to have access to a free education. Local school administrative units that do not operate their own public secondary school may either work with a secondary school to provide school privileges or pay the tuition of a secondary school at which students are accepted. The Carsons, Gillises, and Nelsons, who chose to send their children to private schools that are accredited but do not meet the nonsectarian requirement because of their religious affiliation, do not qualify for tuition assistance. The families filed a lawsuit claiming that the “nonsectarian” requirement violates the Constitution on its face and as applied. The district court granted judgment to the State and denied judgment to the plaintiffs. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed.
Issue(s): Whether a state violates the religion clauses or equal protection clause of the United States Constitution by prohibiting students participating in an otherwise generally available student-aid program from choosing to use their aid to attend schools that provide religious, or “sectarian,” instruction.
Significance: This case addresses the constitutionality of a state in prohibiting students from choosing to use their aid to attend schools that provide religious instruction. The outcome of this case has the potential to alter the education system in the state of Maine.