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

January 2017 Archives

It's Gorsuch!

After almost a full year of an eight-justice Court, President Donald Trump announced that Neil Gorsuch will be his nominee to fill the Court's vacant seat today. Gorsuch currently sits as a judge on the Tenth Circuit, where he's gained a reputation as a solid conservative in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Here's what you need to know about him.

We'll be getting a Supreme Court nominee a little earlier than expected, it turns out. This morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that he'll be announcing his Supreme Court pick tomorrow night, a few days ahead of the previously scheduled reveal. (Maybe to distract from something, perhaps?)

Trump's list has been narrowed down to three people, according to insiders: Neil Gorsuch, of the Tenth Circuit, Thomas Hardiman, of the Third, and William Pryor, of the Eleventh. So, if you're looking to catch up on the candidates, here are some great places to start.

Justice Scalia is no longer on the Supreme Court, but his influence certainly remains. And President Trump seems committed to continuing, even extending, that legacy. He's spoken of appointing justices "very much in the mold of Justice Scalia," for example, and his shortlist is full of Scalia-like originalists and textualists.

But when it comes to Trump's signature issue, that "big, beautiful wall" meant to offset the Statue of Liberty, one of Justice Scalia's opinions might stand in Trump's way.

The Supreme Court will not be reviewing a Fifth Circuit decision that found Texas's voter identification requirements to be discriminatory. Texas had sought Supreme Court review after an en banc Fifth Circuit ruled, 9 to 6, that Texas's strict voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act. But the Fifth Circuit also remanded the case back to district court, for further consideration of whether the law was intentionally discriminatory.

The cert denial, issued on Monday, won't be the end of the dispute however. As Chief Justice Roberts hinted in a statement on the cert denial, the Supreme Court review is still likely in the future.

And then there were three. Or, maybe two. President Donald Trump has narrowed his list of potential Supreme Court nominees down to three main contenders, Politico reported yesterday. Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman, of the Tenth and Third Circuits, respectively, are the two front runners. William Pryor, once considered one of the most likely picks, "remains in the running but is fading," according to insiders who spoke with Politico.

So, which of the three will it be?

The Obama administration had some major wins in the Supreme Court over the past eight years. The Affordable Care Act survived challenge after challenge after challenge. The Court adopted the government's position on marriage equality, affirmative action, and abortion access.

But there were losses as well: Citizens United, immigration reform, the Voting Rights Act. And when you add it all up, the Obama administration lost a lot, according to a new study. In fact, Obama's Supreme Court record "may be the worst since the Zachary Taylor administration."

When police officers in Washington, D.C. responded to a noise complaint one night in 2008, they found an unusual scene: women in lingerie, money hanging from their garter belts, marijuana smoke wafting through the air. It was something out of a make-shift strip joint, not the empty tableau you'd expect in a reportedly vacant building.

But the partygoers had an excuse: A woman going by "Peaches" and "Tasty" had invited them. And she had, it turns out. But the partiers were arrested for trespassing anyway. Now, nearly nine years later, their case is coming before the Supreme Court.

Earlier this afternoon, Donald Trump became President Donald Trump. That means many things, but most importantly to this blog, it means that a new Supreme Court justice is on his or her way in the near future. The list of potential nominees, once at 21, has reportedly now been whittled down to about half that, with a few frontrunners.

We have our favorites. But we'd like to hear yours. Let us know below who you think President Trump should nominate for the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in Lee v. Tam, the much-anticipated case over trademark registration, free speech, and disparaging names. The Slants, an Asian-American "Chinatown dance rock" band, had its trademark rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Slants' name, the PTO explained, was the sort of "scandalous, immoral, or disparaging mark" for which the Lanham Act denies trademark protection.

That decision eventually led the Federal Circuit to strike down the act's "disparaging marks" provisions as unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. That's a ruling that could reach well beyond The Slants -- and straight to the Redskins, the Washington, D.C. football team that has been fighting its own offensive name dispute for years.

In the Supreme Court, it's traditional for new justices to sit out of decisions in cases that were argued before they took the bench. That means if, for example, a Trump-nominated justice were to join the court on February 1st, they would not take part in decisions in cases where oral arguments were held earlier in the term.

But that is just tradition. There are no hard-and-fast rules keeping justices from participating in decisions when they weren't part of oral arguments.

The Supreme Court justices blazed a trail through the wilderness of Indian Law on Monday, guided by Lewis and Clarke. But, no, there weren't any river fordings. Sacajawea was nowhere to be found.

In a strange coincidence, the Supreme Court's first case to deal with tribal sovereignty this term is captioned Lewis v. Clarke. Rather than an expedition into the West, the case, for which the Court just heard oral arguments, deals with the reach of native tribes' sovereign immunity.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case that involves the strange, interesting intersection of free speech rights and, well, credit cards surcharges. New York, along with several other states, prohibits merchants from charging costumers a surcharge for using credit cards. But New York also allows merchants to offer discounts for paying in cash. So, if your groceries cost $20, the store cannot charge you $2 more for paying with a Visa. But they can give you a $2 discount for paying with hard cash.

Semantics, right? Yes, according to merchants challenging the law, who argue that such laws unconstitutionally restrict the speech they can use when describing prices.

The Supreme Court's first opinion of 2017 was released today, a summary ruling in case involving a New Mexico police officer who shot and killed a gun-wielding man without giving a prior warning. Reversing the Tenth Circuit, the Supreme Court found that the officer's behavior violated no clearly established constitutional rights and thus he was entitled to qualified immunity.

The brief, per curiam opinion also contained a warning to the Tenth and other circuits: stick to the narrow confines of clearly established law in qualified immunity cases or risk being overturned.

With President-elect Trump's inauguration quick approaching, we could soon have a new nominee to the Supreme Court, almost a year after Justice Scalia's death and after nearly 300 days of Senate Republicans refusing to consider Merrick Garland's nomination. The Supreme Court would finally be back to a full set of justices, its frequent deadlocked non-decisions a thing of the past.

Or not. As Trump narrows down his SCOTUS list, some are suggesting that Democrats should block any or all of Trump's Supreme Court nominees.

Chief Justice Roberts recused himself from a patent case yesterday, long after one might expect. The belated withdrawal came almost a month after the Court heard oral arguments in the case, Life Technologies v. Promega, following the tardy discovery that Roberts owned stock in Life Technologies' parent company.

This isn't the first failed conflict check in recent Supreme Court history. It's not even the first involving the chief justice.

The past year was really something else. 2016 saw the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the end of Merrick Garland's Supreme Court dreams, the death of David Bowie. Not even Mariah Carey made it out unscathed.

But, before we bid the year a final adieu (or good riddance), it's worth looking back at the Supreme Court's most important decisions. For, throughout all of 2016's ups and downs, the Court continued to shape American law, government, and politics, with important rulings in the areas of criminal law, civil rights, immigration, and more. Here are our top six.

2016 was not a typical year for the Supreme Court. The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia early in the year upended normal Supreme Court practice, as his vacated seat became part of an unprecedented struggle over naming a replacement justice, leaving the Court short-staffed and deadlock-prone.

The fact that Justice Thomas spoke from the bench shortly after Justice Scalia's death was just another sign that the world had been turned upside down. Throw in an almost unheard of public spat between a sitting justice and a presidential candidate, and you have one of the more bizarre years in the Supreme Court's history. And somewhere in there, some cases were decided, too. Here's a quick look back on the strange scene that was the Supreme Court in 2016.