U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court News and Information Blog

U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog


Today marks the 100th day since D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court. That is 100 days without formal consideration of his nomination; 100 days without a hearing by the Senate; 100 days with no Senatorial advice and certainly no consent. As Senate Republican leaders continue to refuse to consider Garland's nomination, Justice Scalia's former seat might remain vacant for 100 more.

The situation is "appalling" in the eyes of the judiciary, according to a federal judge who recently spoke out about the delay. He was joined by two colleagues, all former judges, who recently spoke out against the extended vacancy on the Supreme Court, arguing that it made life more difficult for the judiciary and diminished the authority of the Supreme Court and the political system.

College admissions that consider applicants' racial background still do not violate the Equal Protection Clause, the Supreme Court ruled this morning. The ruling, in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, ends a long-running dispute about the University of Texas's admissions criteria, which considers "intangible characteristics" of the incoming student body, including diversity.

In a surprise move, Justice Kennedy wrote the majority for the Court, which split 4-3, with Justice Kagan recusing herself. In the past, Justice Kennedy has supported affirmative action admission policies in theory, but not in practice. After contentious oral arguments, many speculated that he would cast the deciding vote to end university affirmative action programs altogether, not to save them.

The Supreme Court split four to four today in a case challenging one President Obama's signature immigration reform efforts. The case, United States v. Texas, was one of the Court's highest profile disputes of the term, touching on a host of significant issues, from the ability of states to challenge federal immigration programs, to the extent of executive branch power, and to, not insignificantly, the status of millions of immigrants.

The split essentially puts the program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents or DAPA, on hold for the foreseeable future, leaving in place an injunction shutting down the program nationwide.

Supreme Court Won't Hear Assault Weapons Challenges

In the wake of the most deadly mass shooting in America's history, the US Supreme Court has declined to hear new challenges brought against assault weapons bans out of New York and Connecticut. Those bans were put into place following the tragic Sandy Hook shooting.

It seems to be a predictable pattern. A mass shooting takes place and the courts, for better or worse, refuse to hear challenges.

We might have found Justice Scalia's replacement. No, we're not talking about Merrick Garland, any of the potential justices proposed by Donald Trump, or even Justice Clarence Thomas, who broke his ten-year silence by piping up at oral arguments to defend Justice Scalia's approach to the Second Amendment. Nope, Justice Scalia's shoes may have been filled by a woman who shared the bench with him for the past seven years: Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Justice Scalia, you'll remember, was always at his best in his dissents, which were impassioned, wry, and often well-argued, even when patently offensive. But with her dissent in yesterday's ruling in Utah v. Strieff, Justice Sotomayor may have claimed the mantel of the Supreme Court's greatest dissenter.

Justice Scalia's former seat on the Supreme Court has sat vacant for 125 days, as of today. That makes it the third longest Supreme Court vacancy in the 20th century, lasting almost three times as long as the average vacancy of 55 days. And in the three months since President Obama nominated D.C. Circuit Chief Justice Merrick Garland to fill that seat, the Senate has held no official meetings, hearings, or votes on the nomination.

When it comes to the battle over the empty Supreme Court seat, it looks like Senate Republicans are winning.

The Supreme Court has been in a generous mood this week. On Monday, the Court made it easier for patent holders to get treble damages for patent infringement and yesterday a unanimous Court ruled that the reasonableness of a party's claims should not be the determining factor when awarding attorney's fees under the Copyright Act's fee-shifting provisions.

The opinion, written by Justice Kagan, revived a $2 million claim for attorney's fees by Supap Kirtsaeng, a former Thai student who had been sued by an American textbook publisher. The ruling marks the second Supreme Court win for Kirtsaeng -- and his best chance at recovering legal fees after years of litigation.

Federal law makes it a felony for a habitual offender to commit domestic assault within Indian country, when the abuser has two or more prior convictions for domestic violence. And since the law seeks to protect Native American women from abuse, those predicate convictions can come from tribal courts.

But tribal courts are not required to provide lawyers for criminal defendants in many cases, including misdemeanor domestic assault charges. And while that would be a violation of the Sixth Amendment should it occur in state or federal court, that does not stop federal courts from relying on lawyerless tribal convictions as predicate offenses for the domestic violence law, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

The Patent Act authorizes courts to impose triple damages in cases of infringement. But the Federal Circuit's Seagate test makes those damages hard to come by, imposing a relatively complicated two-part test to determine when damages are warranted, subject to trifurcated (yes, trifurcated) appellate review.

The Supreme Court tossed out that test yesterday, ruling unanimously that the Seagate requirements were not consistent with the Patent Act. The ruling is a boon to patent holders, who could see much more money coming from litigating patent infringement now. It's also on track with the Court's recent trend of striking down tests which "impermissibly encumber" a court's discretion to allow enhanced damages.

The Supreme Court ruled this morning that Puerto Rico cannot rely on its own bankruptcy legislation in order to restructure its public utility debt. In a five-to-two vote, from which Justice Alito abstained, the Court held that the federal Bankruptcy Code pre-empted Puerto Rico's attempts to deal with its public debts under its own bankruptcy laws -- even though the Code excludes Puerto Rican municipalities from its protections.

The ruling comes as Puerto Rico grapples with a fiscal crisis caused, in part, by $72 billion dollars in outstanding public debt, $20 billion of which is from its public utilities. The defeat follows another blow to Puerto Rico's limited independence, dealt out by the Supreme Court last Thursday. There, the Court ruled that Puerto Rico's sovereignty, at least as far as prosecutorial powers were concerned, stemmed from Congress, not the island's people. In response, Puerto Rico's governor has said he will bring his complaints regarding Puerto Rican self-government to the United Nations.