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2019 Winter SCOTUS Review

Samaneh Pourhassan, CRSJ Legal Intern, Spring 2019


Here’s a look at the 2019 Spring Term of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido: Age Discrimination, Employment (Opinion on 11/6/18)

Holding: Plaintiffs filed an age discrimination lawsuit after being terminated from Mount Lemmon Fire District, which argued that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 does not apply because they employ fewer than 20 people. The Supreme Court in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg interpreted the statute and unanimously sided with Plaintiffs and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which was the only circuit court that held state and local governments are covered employers under the ADEA regardless of the number of employees they have. Justice Kavanaugh took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

U.S. v. Sims and U.S. v. Stitt: Criminal Justice (Opinion 12/10/18)

Holding: In two consolidated cases, Plaintiffs were convicted of possession of a firearm as convicted felons and sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) due to prior burglary convictions. The Supreme Court has determined that federal judges must apply a “generic” definition of the felonies mentioned in ACCA, like “burglary.” As the Supreme Court is the ultimate definer of these terms, in this case, the Court unanimously held that the term “burglary” in the ACCA includes burglary of a structure or vehicle that has been adapted or is customarily used for overnight accommodation.

City of Escondido, California v. Emmons: Criminal Justice (Opinion 1/7/19)

Holding: Marty Emmons surprised police by leaving the apartment at the center of the standoff without any warning. When Emmons did not heed police instructions not to close the apartment door, officers pushed him to the ground. Under the Supreme Court’s cases, the standard for qualified immunity is very difficult for plaintiffs suing police offers for violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to overcome. The city argued that the lower court’s decision “puts police officers in the impossible position of enforcing the laws without knowing whether their particular conduct is constitutional.” The Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit’s decision entirely as to one officer, concluding that the claim against him had been erroneously reinstated. And the court instructed the lower court to reconsider the case against a second officer, explaining that the 9th Circuit should have been more specific in defining the clearly established law that the officer allegedly violated: The 9th Circuit had said only that there is a clearly established “right to be free of excessive force” when it “should have asked whether clearly established law prohibited the officers from stopping and taking down a man in these circumstances.”

Shoop v. Hill: Death Penalty, Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Opinion 1/7/19)

Holding: Danny Hill was convicted and sentenced to death for the brutal rape and murder of a 12-year-old boy in 1985. After the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, holding that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits the execution of individuals with intellectual disabilities, Hill went back to state court to argue that he was intellectually disabled. The Supreme Court held that because Hill’s intellectual disability claim must be evaluated based solely on holdings of the Supreme Court that were clearly established at the time the state-court decisions were rendered, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit’s reliance on Moore v. Texas -which was handed down much later-was plainly improper.

Herrera v. Wyoming: Native American Concerns, Tribal Treaty Rights (Opinion TBD)

Facts: Clayvin Herrera, a member of the Apsáalooke Nation (Crow Tribe) went hunting on the nation’s reservation in Montana. He pursuit three elks outside the reservation borders into the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. Wyoming authorities subsequently charged Herrera with violating state hunting laws.

Issues: (1) Whether Wyoming’s admission to the Union or the establishment of the Bighorn National Forest abrogated the Crow Tribe of Indians’ 1868 federal treaty right to hunt on the “unoccupied lands of the United States,” thereby permitting the present-day criminal conviction of a Crow member who engaged in subsistence hunting for his family. (2) Whether this treaty hunting right survived Wyoming’s statehood. (3) Whether the Bighorn National Forest constitutes “unoccupied lands of the United States.”

Azar v. Allina Health Services: Health Rights and Bioethics (To be Heard on 1/15/2019)

Facts: This case concerns the scope of the notice-and-comment rulemaking requirements that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must follow in administering the Medicare Act. “Under the Medicare program, certain qualified providers of health care services are reimbursed” by HHS for “providing covered services to Medicare beneficiaries.” HHS hires private contractors to make an initial determination of the reimbursement amount to be paid to each provider, which the provider then can generally challenge in an administrative appeal and ultimately on judicial review.

Issue: Whether, under a special rulemaking provision of the Medicare Act, 42 U.S.C. 1395hh, HHS’s instructions to its own contractors regarding the calculation of reimbursements, which are not legally binding on either the agency or the courts on subsequent review, must be issued as published regulations after notice-and-comment rulemaking.

Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association consolidated with The American Legion v. American Humanist Association: First Amendment Right, Religious Freedom (To be Heard on 2/27/19)

Facts: The dispute in this case is about a near-century-old war memorial with a large Latin cross. it stands on a pedestal in Bladensburg, Maryland honoring local soldiers who died in World War I. The government has had to pay over $100,000 for upkeep. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit held it is a violation of the establishment clause and remanded for consideration of either removal or adding other religious symbols to change the Christian message to one of religious diversity and inclusion. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issues: (1) Whether a 93-year-old memorial to the fallen of World War I is unconstitutional merely because it is shaped like a cross; (2) whether the constitutionality of a passive display incorporating religious symbolism should be assessed under the tests articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, Van Orden v. Perry, Town of Greece v. Galloway; and (3) whether, if the test from Lemon v. Kurtzman applies, the expenditure of funds for the routine upkeep and maintenance of a cross-shaped war memorial, without more, amounts to an excessive entanglement with religion in violation of the First Amendment.

United States v. Haymond: Criminal Justice (To be Heard on 2/26/19)

Facts: Andre Haymond was convicted on child pornography charges in 2010. In 2015, Haymond was charged with violating his supervised release by possessing child pornography, failing to tell the probation office about owning computers and failing to attend sex-offender treatment sessions for several times. A district court sentenced him to five additional years in prison as well as five more years of supervised release. U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit vacated the judgment based its unconstitutionality. The federal government went to the Supreme Court for review.

Issue: Whether the portions of 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) that required the district court to revoke the respondent’s 10-year term of supervised release, and to impose five years of reimprisonment is unenforceable and unconstitutional.

Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck: First Amendment Rights (To be Heard on 2/25/19)

Facts: Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) is a public access television network that serves New York City. In 2012, Deedee Halleck and Jesus Papoleto Melendez, employees of MNN, went to a MNN Board meeting but were told the meeting was private and that they were not allowed in the studio. They were denied further access to the MNN premises and channel. They filed suit against MNN and the city, claiming for violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech and that how MNN was set up made the public access system a public forum. The district court dismissed the First Amendment claims against Petitioners based on Respondents’ failure to establish that MNN was a state actor subject to constitutional liability under Section 1983. The Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reversed the judgment holding that the private operator of a public-access television channel is a state actor and therefore can be sued for violations of the First Amendment.

Issues: (1) Under what circumstances can a private entity be deemed a state actor, subject to claims under the First Amendment? (2) Whether the Second Circuit erred in rejecting this Court’s state actor tests and instead creating a per se rule that private operators of public access channels are state actors subject to constitutional liability. (3) Whether the Second Circuit erred in holding that private.

Cases Not (Yet) Set For Arguments

Rucho v. Common Cause: Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity (TBD)

Facts: Three-judge district court struck down North Carolina’s 2016 congressional map, ruling first that the challengers do have standing and second that the map was the product of partisan gerrymandering. The district court blocked the state from using the map after November 2018. Led by Robert Rucho, who headed the state senate’s redistricting committee, North Carolina Republicans took their case to the Supreme Court. They were critical of the lower court’s decision striking down the 2016 map, telling the justices that if “there is indeed a theory of standing for adjudicating generalized partisan grievances and a justiciable test for separating unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders from run-of-the-mill consideration of partisan advantage by legislatures organized on party lines, they will have to come from this Court. While there are very real reasons to doubt whether such standing theories and justiciable tests exist at all, it is even more clear that the answers are not lurking in the 321-page opinion below.”

Issues: (1) Whether the district court correctly found that plaintiffs have standing to challenge particular North Carolina congressional districts on partisan vote dilution grounds because those districts unnecessarily crack or pack plaintiffs?  (2) Whether the test for partisan vote dilution

claims set forth by the district court—requiring proof of (a.) the intent to subordinate adherents of one party and entrench a rival party in power; (b.) the effect of such subordination and entrenchment; and (c.) the lack of a legitimate justification for such subordination and entrenchment—is judicially discernible and manageable? (3) Whether the district court’s unanimous decision that particular North Carolina congressional districts are unconstitutional under this test is correct?

Lamone v. Benisek: Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity (TBD)

Facts: Justices declined to rule on the merits of a partisan-gerrymandering challenge to a single federal congressional district drawn by Democratic officials in Maryland. Instead, in a brief unsigned opinion, they left in place a ruling by a federal court that cleared the way for election officials to use the map in the 2018 elections, stressing that the challengers had waited too long to bring their claim. The plaintiffs allege that a Maryland congressional district was gerrymandered to retaliate against them for their political views. the case went back to the lower court, which agreed with the challengers that Democratic election officials violated the Constitution when they redrew the state’s 6th congressional district to flip it from Republican to strongly Democratic, in retaliation for the challengers’ support for Republican candidates

Issue: (1) Whether the various legal claims articulated by the three-judge district court are unmanageable; (2) whether the three-judge district court erred when, in granting plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, it resolved disputes of material fact as to multiple elements of plaintiffs’ claims, failed to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and treated as “undisputed” evidence that is the subject of still-unresolved hearsay and other evidentiary objections; and (3) whether the three-judge district court abused its discretion in entering an injunction despite the plaintiffs’ years-long delay in seeking injunctive relief, rendering the remedy applicable to at most one election before the next decennial census necessitates another redistricting.

Cases to Watch