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March 2015 Archives

SCOTUS Oral Argument Preview: Week of March 31, 2015

The Supreme Court is taking it easy this week, eschewing First Amendment and regulatory cases (the latter being its new favorite thing) in favor of more prosaic patent and bankruptcy cases. The biggest case set for argument this week is probably one regarding executing a mentally retarded inmate, though even that focuses heavily on procedure.

Here's a roundup of the oral arguments the Supreme Court will hear during the week of March 30.

Pregnant UPS Employee Can Proceed With Discrimination Suit

An employment policy that accommodates disabled workers must also accommodate pregnant workers, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday in a 6-3 opinion in Young v. UPS. After becoming pregnant, UPS driver Peggy Young was advised by her doctor not to lift more than 20 pounds; however, UPS requires drivers to be able to lift up to 70 pounds.

Young requested temporary reassignment or an accommodation, but UPS refused, even though it granted such requests to employees for on-the-job injuries or for statutory reasons, like an ADA-protected disability. She sued, claiming disparate treatment under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Alabama 'Racial Gerrymander' Case Sent Back to District Court

In 2012, the Alabama legislature redrew the state's legislative districts. In doing so, it attempted to keep the districts roughly equal in population and, in order to remain compliant with the Voting Rights Act, keep about the same black population percentage in existing majority-minority districts.

These goals were sometimes at odds with each other, and in the end, Alabama added more black voters to existing majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters in those districts from declining. The Alabama Black Legislative Caucus and Alabama Democratic Conference called this an impermissible "racial gerrymander."

No, President Obama Can't Ignore the Supreme Court

Last Tuesday, New York Times op-ed contributor and University of Chicago law professor William Baude floated a fantastic contingency plan in the event the Supreme Court strikes subsidies for residents of states without state health care exchanges.

If the Court affirms the (now-vacated) three-judge panel opinion of the D.C. Circuit, Baude said, the Obama Administration could just ignore it.

Court Looks for Limits in Confederate Flag License Plate Case

Speech is free -- unless it's government speech, in which case, it's a little less free. The question before the Supreme Court in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans involved ostensibly private speech with elements of government speech.

The Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans petitioned to have the state create a license plate with the Confederate flag on it. The state refused, and now we're at the Supreme Court, with a bunch of justices who aren't sure whether a license plate is government speech or a public forum.

SCOTUS Oral Argument Preview: Week of March 23, 2015

The Supreme Court is taking a break from oral arguments, but will resume next week with more of what the Court has become very interested in this term: agency regulatory authority.

On the docket will be some interesting First and Fourth Amendment issues, but dissents to both Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association and Dept. of Transportation v. Assn. of American Railroads, along with oral argument in King v. Burwell, show that the real hot button this term is whether agencies have too much leeway in interpreting their own regulations.

Here's a preview of next week's Supreme Court oral arguments:

In 2 Separate Opinions, SCOTUS Talks Regulatory Authority

Following one of the two most anticipated oral arguments of the year last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two opinions Monday that don't contain the sexiness of, say, the Affordable Care Act or same-sex marriage, but do make a lot of difference for those interested in executive regulatory power (yes, both of you!).

Both of the opinions in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association and Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads were unanimous, but they garnered some explanatory concurrences -- and concurrences complaining that the Court didn't go far enough.

Kagan's Conversational Tone Gets the Public Involved in Opinions

Take a walk through the judicial opinions of Justice Elena Kagan, the most recent addition to the U.S. Supreme Court. You'll probably find something in them that you won't see in the other justices' opinions.

Contractions, for one. Kagan uses them regularly, and that's unusual for someone at the highest echelon of legal writing. Most judges think contractions are too colloquial; judicial opinions are supposed to be formal, with the kind of tone that God probably used when he gave Moses those Ten Commandments.

Kagan thinks differently. Beyond using contractions, her opinions have a supreme readability. For example, in the recent Kansas v. Nebraska opinion, she told a story, breaking down the facts of an otherwise-boring water rights dispute into something easy to understand and, dare we say it, fun.

It didn't hurt that Kagan injected some humor into that story, either, sprinkling water puns throughout just to keep us on our toes. ("All was smooth sailing for decades, until Kansas complained to this Court about Nebraska's increased pumping of groundwater," she says, introducing the 1998 dispute between the states, and then, leading into the most recent dispute, "But there were more rapids ahead.")

King v. Burwell Oral Arguments: 'Such,' Coercion, and Kagan's Clerks

Cases of statutory interpretation are rarely as sexy as those involving constitutional issues. But King v. Burwell is among the most important cases of this term, and the Supreme Court heard oral arguments today.

If the justices agree with the petitioners, then one of the three legs of the Affordable Care Act -- subsidies for low-income Americans -- would be cut off, effectively neutralizing the ACA itself.

SCOTUS Lets Colo. 'Amazon Tax' Suit Proceed in Federal Court

In 2010, Colorado enacted legislation to try and collect some revenue from Internet retailers who have no physical presence in the state but nevertheless sell a lot of stuff to Colorado residents. Called the "Amazon tax" law, the statute requires retailers to tell buyers that they have to pay the state use tax. The retailers also have to send the state tax collector a list of customers who bought more than $500 worth of goods.

A trade group of non-brick-and-mortar retailers, the Direct Marketing Association, sued Colorado in federal court over several issues related to interstate commerce and the dormant commerce clause. But this case isn't even about that. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court determined whether the case could be brought in federal court at all.

SCOTUS Oral Argument Preview: Week of March 2, 2015

After figuring out what a fish is (and is not), then telling us that anyone, not just dentists, can perform teeth-whitening, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a round of contentious cases dealing with unreasonable searches, drawing legislative boundaries, and -- drum roll please! -- the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

Here's a preview of this week's oral arguments: