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

March 2014 Archives

3 Hottest Issues at the Circuit Court of Appeals Level

Circuit Court of Appeals? Isn't this the U.S. Supreme Court blog?

True indeed, but controversies below, and circuit splits, often mean SCOTUS petitions. Besides, we've got three issues that are begging for a little Supreme Court clarification -- the Second Amendment, sexual orientation discrimination, and the issue that never seems to go away: abortion.

United States v. Quality Stores: Severance Pay Is Taxable

This should've been an easy case of reading the plain text of the statute. Unfortunately, it's merely another example of why the entire tax code should be shredded and redrafted.

Quality Stores was going bankrupt. The company offered severance packages to all employees, based on seniority and service time. It withheld and paid Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes, then asked the IRS for the more than $1 million in payments back, arguing that severance pay was not subject to FICA taxation.

The Sixth Circuit, relying on an income tax withholding statute, held that severance payments were not FICA taxable. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-0 decision (with Justice Elena Kagan recused), felt otherwise.

Obamacare Oral Arguments: SCOTUS Leaning Against Contraceptive Mandate?

Let's start with a caveat here: Reading the tea leaves of oral arguments is always a dangerous game. For one, Justice Clarence Thomas remains silent, so you'll get nothing out of him. Two, the rest of the justices generally agree that in nearly all cases, it's the briefs and law that decide the case, not the oral arguments.

That being said, for a case this important, we're definitely willing to pull out our crystal ball and review the transcripts and recaps for hints of the possible outcome.

What are the soothsayers saying? From the transcripts and the general consensus of those who actually attended, it's looking like bad news for the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate.

Capital Appeals Procedure Dispute Granted; Two Summary Reversals

Robert Mitchell Jennings won.

A federal district court granted habeas relief because Jennings' trial counsel failed to present evidence of his possible brain abnormalities and his disadvantaged background. The district court, however, didn't agree with his argument about his attorney's concessions during closing arguments.

The government appealed, the Fifth Circuit reversed, and refused to consider the capital concession argument, labeling it procedurally defaulted. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case earlier today.

Next Wave of SCOTUS Justices? Plus, a Red-Light Cert. Petition

Our least favorite thing in the world right now is the obsession with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's retirement. Seriously, pretty much every week, there's an article about how she should retire in time for President Obama to replace her, followed by her saying, "Nah," and dozens of other writers chiming in with "leave the lady alone."

But, the fact is, she's 81, Justice Antonin Scalia is 78, Justice Anthony Kennedy is 77, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 75. They're all probably headed for the exit in the near-term. This begs the question: Who are their likely replacements?

Speaking of soothsaying, there are a couple of interesting certiorari petitions that may, or may not, make the Court's docket -- one involving sex offender laws, and the other presenting the obvious Confrontation Clause issue with red-light cameras.

Snippets: Jersey Guns and Gambling, Anita Hill, Hurles Holdover

You go on vacation for a little more than a week and ... wait for it ... nothing happens.

Yep. You'd think, with the end of the October Term, that there'd be some titillating opinions, such as Noel Canning, McCutcheon, or Town of Greece, but um, there was a railroad right-of-way case and some notable denials.

Sorry about that. We'll tell RBG to speed things up a bit next time we're in D.C. (And no, Erwin Chemerinsky, she's still not retiring. Ever.) Until then, here are a few snippets of SCOTUS goodness to tide you over:

While the Supreme Court of the United States has us on the edge of our seats as we await opinions and arguments in several hot topic cases, we're only left with some SCOUTS snippets to get us through the day.


SCOTUSblog has released its Stat Pack for the October 2013 term and there are some surprising, and not so surprising facts to be gleaned. So far, the Ninth Circuit is leading the charge with most cases reversed -- so far 5 -- something that we've come to expect. More surprising, is how agreeable the Court has been to date this term. Most of the cases -- 20 so far -- have been decided with a 9-0 vote, while none have had the difficult 5-4 vote. Of course, we're awaiting some controversial decisions in highly charged cases, so that can change anytime.

If you like to pass the time trying to predict the outcomes of Supreme Court decisions, and cert. petitions, and your FantastySCOTUS League is just not enough for you, then SCOTUSblog has something just for you -- the Supreme Court Challenge!

In its third year, the Supreme Court Challenge tests your skills at predicting how the Supreme Court will decide six certiorari petitions, and six merit cases, in April, 2014. The best part? If you win, you get paid. And who among we lawyers, doesn't like money?

California gun owners have made a last ditch effort to block the enforcement of a Sunnyvale law that is one of the strictest gun-laws in the country. The new law, known as Measure C, was passed in November, and bans ammunition magazines that are capable of holding more than 10 rounds, requires sellers of ammunition to record sales, requires the reporting of lost or stolen guns, and requires the disabling or locked storage of guns not in the owner's immediate possession.

The main provision the gun owners are challenging is Sunnyvale, California Municipal Code § 9.44.050, which deals directly with the prohibition of large-capacity magazines. The Sunnyvale law, and the disposition of this case may pave the path for what's becoming a new trend in gun laws -- enacting them on the local, city level. If this law passes constitutional muster, we can be sure to see many more cities enacting them in the future.

It's going to be a busy week for SCOTUS with decisions expected in several cases, and on this dreary Monday, the Court did not disappoint. The order list was released with one cert grant, and many denials. The Court also issued an opinion in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust, and we remember a landmark case beloved to all Torts 1 (and Con Law) students.

Opinion in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust, et al. v. U.S.

The case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust gives us a bit of a lesson in railway history, and examines the application of the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875 to a landowner's interest, if any. The United States had obtained a right of way over petitioners' land for railroads, but later relinquished the rights.

James Holmes Takes Reporter Shield Battle to Supreme Court

James Holmes, the Aurora, Colorado mass murderer, hasn't gone to trial yet, but his attorneys are already reaching out to the Supreme Court. Why?

The reporter's privilege (or "shield") and choice of law issues.

Shortly after the shooting, an unknown source(s) leaked word of a notebook, sent to a University of Colorado psychiatrist, that contained drawings and plans for the movie theater shooting. The notebook was under a gag order. Holmes' attorneys sought to compel testimony of reporter Jana Winter about her sources, but a New York court stepped in and applied that state's reporter's privilege.

The shooting, the notebook, the gag order, and the disclosure all happened in Colorado.

No Tolling of Hague Child Abduction Treaty's One Year Soft Limit

Another year, another child abduction case in the Supreme Court.

This time, the issue is equitable tolling, or to put it in non-legal terms, whether a parent should benefit by hiding a kid away for more than the one-year period for presumptive return of the child.

Diana Montoya Alvarez absconded with her child, first to a battered women's shelter (there was a non-dispositive and disputed issue of abuse), then to France, then to the United States. Manual Lozano, the father, was unable to locate the child to initiate legal proceedings and seek a return until well after a year had passed.

Grants, Denials, and the Funniest Amicus Brief You'll Ever Read

Another Monday morning, another orders list [PDF]. Who made the SCOTUS certiorari cut, and who didn't? There are a few notables on both lists, including a grant to a hand-written cert. petition.

Meanwhile, we have a competitor for most humorous amicus brief, with legal satirist P.J. O'Rourke joining forces with Ilya Shapiro at the Cato Institute to mock a particularly egregious Ohio Election law. The brief contains twenty pages of sarcasm, name-calling, and promoting of free speech and political satire over hurt feelings and terrible statutes.