Scotus Tag

The day before Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court issued a per curiam (unsigned) 5-4 opinion enjoining New York from imposing its 10 and 25-person occupancy limits on religious institutions.  Specifically, New York imposed restrictions on attendance at religious services in areas classified as “red” or “orange” zones in the State. In red zones, no more than 10 persons may attend each religious service, and in orange zones, attendance is capped at 25.  Religious entities in the state challenged the order claiming...

The fate of the most controversial case the Supreme Court has agreed to decide this term is uncertain now that the Department of Education (DOE) has issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing a previous letter requiring school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. Title IX prohibits school districts that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” A Title IX regulation states if school districts maintain separate bathrooms (locker rooms, showers, etc.) “on the basis of sex” they must provide comparable facilities for the other sex. In a 2015 letter, DOE interpreted the Title IX regulation to mean that if schools provide for separate boys' and girls’ bathrooms, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The new “Dear Colleague” letter takes no position on whether the term “sex” in Title IX includes gender identity. G.G. is biologically female but identifies as a male. The Gloucester County School Board prevented him from using the boys' bathroom. He sued the district arguing that it discriminated against him in violation of Title IX.

The Supreme Court accepts all kinds of cases involving states and local governments. Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates involves a long, complicated story and legal issue. Steven Sherman sued the Town of Chester alleging an unconstitutional taking as the town refused to approve a subdivision on plots of land Sherman intended to sell to Laroe Estates. Laroe Estates advanced Sherman money for the land in exchange for a mortgage on the property. Sherman defaulted on a loan to a senior mortgage holder who foreclosed on the property. Laroe Estates, claiming to be the owner of the property, sought to “intervene” in the takings lawsuit. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure grant the right to intervene to non-parties who “claim an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action, and is so situated that disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the movant's ability to protect its interest, unless existing parties adequately represent that interest.”  The district court concluded that Laroe Estates lacked Article III “standing” under the U.S. Constitution to assert a takings claim against the Town. Laroe Estates argued that it was a “contract vendee” of the Sherman property. According to the district court, under longstanding circuit court precedent “contract vendees lack standing to assert a takings claim.” The question the Supreme Court will decide in Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates is whether Laroe Estates may intervene in this case even though it lacks standing.

On February 9 the Ninth Circuit refused to stay a district court’s temporary restraining order disallowing the President’s travel ban from going into effect. The executive order prevents people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days.

 Washington and Minnesota sued President Trump claiming their public universities are harmed because students and faculty of the affected countries cannot travel for research, academic collaboration, or personal reasons. The residents of cities and counties and their families have been affected as well by this executive order.  The government argued that the President has “unreviewable authority to suspend admissions of any class of aliens.” The Ninth Circuit disagreed stating: “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewablity, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”   The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the states are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the executive order violates the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, non-immigrant visa holders, and refugees. More specifically, the executive order provides no notice and hearing before restricting a person’s right to travel and “contravenes the procedures provided by federal statute for refugees seeking asylum.”

On Friday the Supreme Court elevated this term from mostly meat and potatoes to historic by agreeing to hear four same-sex marriage cases.  The Court will decide whether it is constitutional for states to prohibit same-sex marriage and whether states may refuse to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed out of state.   While the Court refused to hear a number of cases presenting the same issues earlier in the term, these grants came as little surprise.  Between then and now the Sixth...

The State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) Supreme Court amicus brief in Los Angeles v. Patel, which IMLA joined, is all that you expect from an amicus brief…and more.  It makes not one but all the usual amicus arguments:  don’t rule that state and local governments can be sued for yet another thing, if you rule against the city in this case many other cities and states will be affected, and a ruling against the city will likely impact many similar but unrelated statutes and ordinance. hotel    A Los Angeles ordinance requires hotel and motel operators to keep specific information about their guests and allows police to inspect the registries without warrants.  Motel operators claim this ordinance is facially invalid under the Fourth Amendment.  The Ninth Circuit agreed, because the ordinance fails to expressly provide for pre-compliance judicial review before police can inspect the registry.    The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed a Supreme Court amicus brief in Los Angeles v. Patel arguing that Fourth Amendment facial challenges should be disfavored and that if the ordinance in this case is unconstitutional similar hotel registry ordinances across the country—and laws and ordinances requiring record keeping and inspection of other businesses—may be unconstitutional.  A facial challenge to the ordinance in this case requires a court to determine whether all searches that might be conducted pursuant to the ordinance are unconstitutional (as opposed to an as-applied challenge where the court would decide whether a particular search under the ordinance violates the Fourth Amendment).  The SLLC argues that Fourth Amendment facial challenges don’t make sense because whether a search violates the Fourth Amendment depends on whether it is reasonable, which is necessarily a fact-based determination.  Under some set of facts almost any search would be reasonable.  For example, depending on the facts, warrantless searches of hotel registries could be reasonable under the “community care-taking exception,” because the registry is “in plain view,” or because of “exigent circumstances.”

In Heien v. North Carolina the Supreme Court held that a reasonable mistake of law can provide reasonable suspicion to uphold a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment. A police officer pulled over a car that had only one working brake light because he believed that North Carolina law required both brake lights to work.  The North Carolina Court of Appeals, interpreting a statute over a half a century old, concluded only one working brake light is required. highway stop When the vehicle’s occupants behaved suspiciously, the officer asked to search the car.  They consented, and the officer found cocaine.  The owner of the car argued that the stop violated the Fourth Amendment because driving with one working brake light doesn’t violate North Carolina law. The Supreme Court has long held that reasonable mistakes of fact do not undermine Fourth Amendment searches and seizures.  Justice Roberts reasoned in this 8-1 decision:  “Whether the facts turn out to be not what was thought, or the law turns out to be not what was thought, the result is the same: the facts are outside the scope of the law. There is no reason, under the text of the Fourth Amendment or our precedents, why this same result should be acceptable when reached by way of a reasonable mistake of fact, but not when reached by way of a similarly reasonable mistake of law.”

Even though there was no disagreements among the federal circuit courts of appeals at the time, Court watchers were shocked with the Supreme Court denied certiorari in a series of cases striking down same-sex marriage bans.  All eyes then turned to the Ninth and Sixth Circuits who had pending cases.  The next day the Ninth Circuit struck down Nevada’s and Idaho’s ban.  On November 6 the Sixth Circuit became the first federal circuit court to uphold bans in four states...

Last Friday the Supreme Court’s docket went from boring to big with the grant of just one case:  King v. Burwell.  The issue in this case is whether tax credits for low and middle income health insurance purchasers are available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if insurance is purchased on a federal exchange rather than a state exchange.  Only 16 states and the District of Columbia have established exchanges.  The ACA makes tax credits available to those who buy health...

Cities and states from California to Maine have confronted the problem of hotels that are crime magnets. hotel One solution that some evidence suggests effectively deters crime is ordinances or state laws that require hotels to keep detailed information about guests that are subject to police inspection.  These ordinances and laws generally do not require police to obtain a warrant. In Los Angeles v. Patel a Los Angeles ordinance requires hotel and motel operators to keep specific information about their guests and allows police to inspect the registries without warrants.  Motel operators claim this ordinance is facially invalid under the Fourth Amendment. The first issue the Supreme Court will decide in this case is whether facial challenges to ordinances and statutes are permitted under the Fourth Amendment.