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

October 2017 Archives

A recent opinion piece poses the rather loaded question of whether the U.S. Supreme Court justices are 'front row kids,' and suggests that the judiciary will forever be run by these 'front row kids.' If you are asking yourself what that even means, you are probably not alone, but it'll soon feel like dork deja vu.

In short, a "front row kid" refers to the students in a classroom who sit in the front row, do their homework, raise their hand, and are un-liked by the students who sit in the back of the classroom. Basically, it's a pejorative term referring to society's "elites." Recently, political pundits have used the front row/back row kid analogy to describe the disconnect in partisan politics.

Justices Debate Semantics in Death Penalty Case

If your life were in the balance, it could be disconcerting to hear a debate over semantics.

Like doctors arguing in surgery about whether robots will take their place in the operating room, the debate might be interesting, but not when you're bleeding out.

So it was interesting to court watchers that U.S. Supreme Court Justices were arguing about whether two phrases meant the same thing. It was a death penalty case.

Second Travel Ban Challenge Dismissed

Donald Trump got out of thousands of lawsuits as a businessman, and as president he has escaped another one.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed as moot a second travel ban case, which had challenged the President's first revision of his executive order against mostly Muslim nations. That ban has expired and been replaced by another version.

The decision capped an earlier battle with a federal judge, but the same judge has issued an injunction against the President's third ban. Sooner or later, either President Trump or Judge Derrick Watson will be out of options.

Don't Suppress Disagreement, Gorsuch Says

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has a problem with suppressing disagreement.

In a recent speech near the courthouse, he told lawyers that people with unpopular views should be allowed to express themselves. "Civility," he said, "doesn't mean suppressing disagreement."

Outwardly, Gorsuch was talking about college students and free speech. Inwardly, it may say something about what's going on at the Supreme Court.

Innumeracy (n) - Unfamiliarity with mathematical concepts and methods; unable to use mathematics; not numerate.

According to a recent opinion piece on fivethirtyeight.com, the justices on the Supreme Court appear to shy away from mathematical evidence, formulas, and complex statistics, bordering on innumeracy. However, given the source of this opinionated criticism of mathematical illiteracy, the math-whizzes over at fivethirtyeight may have a higher math bar than most, so SCOTUS may want to take those lumps with a grain of salt.

In short, it's claimed that the justices avoid issues that involve complex calculations or formulas, such as in the recent gerrymandering case arguments. However, where these opinions fail is in the very fact that the gerrymandering case, and many other complex, scientific and mathematical cases, have been taken up in the first place.

Justice Neil Gorsuch likely won't ever reach Notorious RBG levels of fame unless he magically becomes seen as cool. However, the novice supreme jurist seems to be stepping up to the plate for repeated Gins-burns.

All joking aside, Supreme Court commentators have noticed that Justice Ginsberg has been rather quick to redirect rookie Justice Gorsuch's questions away from the originalist and textualist positions he appears to take. According to the New Yorker, after Justice Ginsburg did so at the Gil v. Whitford argument, a "woo" could be heard throughout the courtroom.

Justices 'Botch the Truth' Often, Report Finds

It's true that dogs don't lie, but they do make mistakes.

So why did the U.S. Supreme Court say the reliability of police dogs -- and the risk that they falsely identify drugs in searches -- should be based on their certification? Nobody certifies dogs for "false positives."

The answer is, in Florida v. Harris, the Supreme Court made a mistake. The truth is that, like the tail that wags the dog, sometimes the High Court just goes with its errors.

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted the petition to hear arguments in the United States v. Microsoft case, which is the biggest digital privacy case of the term. The question being presented to the High Court is as follows:

Whether a United States provider of email services must comply with a probable-cause based warrant issued under 18 U.S.C. 2703 by making disclosure in the United States of electronic communications within that provider's control, even if the provider has decided to store that material abroad.

Basically, the government is making one last final effort in the fight to force Microsoft to turn over information stored on foreign soil via a valid search warrant issued by a U.S. court.

It seems that the U.S. Supreme Court is not shying away from difficult questions. This term, the High Court has agreed to take up the Janus v. American Federation case which dismissed a constitutional challenge to a requirement for non-union members to pay "fair share" dues.

As the law stands now, under Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, non-members can legally be required to pay "fair share" dues because the non-member employees also benefit from the union's collective bargaining. The question being presented to the Court is whether these non-member dues violate the First Amendment, particularly given that unions can often be rather political.

'More Perfect' Supreme Court Podcast Resumes

As hearings resumed in the U.S. Supreme Court this month, echos from the court played on a 'More Perfect' podcast.

The show, entering its second season, tells the backstories of famous and lesser-known Supreme Court cases. This season opened with an episode about Korematsu v. United States.

It's the 1944 decision that validated the U.S. government's internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. It has been called one of the High Court's worst decisions, but suddenly is relevant again -- and not because it's on a podcast.

This week, SCOTUS issued an order in one of the two hotly contested and widely watched travel ban cases under review. The High Court ordered that the Fourth Circuit judgment upholding the district court's injunction be vacated, and that the matter be remanded back to the Fourth Circuit with instructions to dismiss the challenge as moot.

For those keeping a close eye on the controversial travel bans, the case that was ordered dismissed was the Trump v. International Refugee Assistance case. This case challenged the second travel ban, enacted on March 6, 2017, Executive Order 13,780, which attempted to cure the deficiencies pointed out by the court in the first travel ban, Executive Order 13,769.

Supreme Court Rejects Cases on Sexting, Spies, and Beach Access

Whether by analytics, pundits, or gut feelings, it's hard to know when the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear a case.

But it's certain that the vast majority of petitions will be denied in any given year. Chances are -- literally between 94 percent and 98 percent -- that the last court of appeal was the last court.

This year is no different, although every case is different. Here are some of the divisive cases that are being turned away:

A pair of closely watched tech cases which were expected to be taken up by SCOTUS have been denied certiorari. Both Facebook v. Powers and U.S. v. Nosal were expected to be taken up in order for the High Court to settle, once and for all, the question that has been killing legal scholars ever so softly: Is it a federal crime to share your Netflix password?

The actual question that needs to be answered definitively is who has the authority to grant third party access to a user's online service account: the user or the service provider? Or, in more modern terms that any millennial would understand: Does a Netflix user have the authority to share their password with another person, or is doing so a federal crime (thanks to the Netflix Terms of Service)?

Supreme Court Rejects Louis Vuitton

How many courts does it take to make Louis Vuitton pack its bags?

Three: a U.S. District Court; a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and the U.S. Supreme Court. They all said Louis Vuitton could take its case and go home.

In Louis Vuitton Malletier v. My Other Bag, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a summary judgment against the high-fashion company's trademark and copyright case against a small company that made a parody bag. The U.S. Supreme Court said, "can't you take a joke?"

The latest development in the travel ban executive order cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court involves the letter briefs submitted to the Court pursuant to September 25th order. When the Court took the case off calendar, it also issued a request to the parties for briefing on the issue of mootness in light of the most recent executive order travel ban.

Clearly, the Trump administration urged the High Court to vacate the lower courts' rulings on the grounds of mootness. The opponents of the travel ban explain that the case has not been rendered moot by the latest iteration of the travel ban. No surprises there.

With SCOTUS basically split along partisan lines, Justice Anthony Kennedy's swing vote is expected to decide the closely watched Wisconsin gerrymandering case. During oral arguments this week, Justice Kennedy's line of questioning may have hinted at what he's considering in this case.

First off, he did not bother questioning the plaintiffs in the case who successfully challenged the law in the lower courts. Instead he only asked questions of the state's attorney, and led by asking what would result if the Court decided that gerrymandering along political lines was a First Amendment issue. Generally, conservative justices focus their question to the liberal viewpoint's attorney, while the liberal justices question do the same to the conservative viewpoint's attorney.

As SCOTUS takes the bench this week for the Fall 2017 term, there are several cases that will be worth watching. As the notorious RBG herself said at a recent Georgetown Law event, "There is only one prediction that is entirely safe about the upcoming term, and that is it will be momentous."

While the travel ban may be fresh in the minds of the public, other big issues are set to be decided. Some of those issues include cell phone privacy, employment law, religious freedoms, sports gambling, and even voting rights. Below, you'll find a brief summary of a few of the important cases to keep your eyes on.