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

February 2017 Archives

Do registered sex offenders have a First Amendment right to sign up for Facebook or follow the president on Twitter? That was the question before the Supreme Court yesterday. The Court heard oral arguments in the case of Packingham v. North Carolina, involving a North Carolina law that makes it a felony for any sex offender on the state's registry to access social media.

During oral arguments, the justices, who remain social media shy themselves, acknowledged the greater role such websites play in the public sphere and seemed incline the strike down, or at least narrow, North Carolina's social media restrictions.

President Trump rescinded Obama-era protections for transgender students on Wednesday. Those guidelines, now tossed, had interpreted civil rights laws forbidding discrimination 'on the basis of sex' as extending to gender identity. As a result, schools were told to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matched their gender identity, or risk a loss of federal funding.

In abandoning that position, the Trump administration did not just impact the lives of transgender students, he also threw a wrench into the works of a high-profile case the Court is scheduled to hear just over a month from now. Now, the Court is asking how that dispute, Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., should proceed.

All dogs go to Heaven, or so late 80s children's movies promise us, but only some make it to the Supreme Court. One such dog is Wonder, who won his first Supreme Court victory yesterday. Talk about a good boy!

Alright, Wonder didn't technically win -- his family did. Wonder, you see, is a Goldendoodle service dog for a Ehlena Fry, a 13-year-old Michigan girl with cerebral palsy. The Frys had sued after Ehlena's kindergarten refused to allow Wonder to accompany her to school. The school district, however, argued that the Frys needed to jump through several more administrative hoops before they could have their day in court. The Supreme Court disagreed, issuing a unanimous ruling yesterday on behalf of the Frys and, of course, Wonder too.

After years of fruitless appeals, Duane Buck won a decisive victory in the Supreme Court this morning. The Texas inmate had been sentenced to death in part due to expert testimony, presented by his own defense, that Buck posed a greater risk of violence simply because of his race. For almost two decades, Buck challenged that death sentence, most recently by arguing that his counsel was ineffective and that his case merited relief due to the extraordinary circumstances. Today, the Supreme Court agreed, 6-2.

Buck's death sentence, tinged as it was by racism, was "a disturbing departure from a basic premise of our criminal justice system," Chief Justice Roberts wrote from the majority. "Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are."

Sergio Hernandez died in Mexico, but the bullet that killed him was fired from the United States. The 15-year-old child was shot in the head by Jesus Mesa, a Border Patrol agent, in 2010. Mesa contends that the teen was throwing rocks to distract agents from smugglers. His family says he was simply playing with friends.

Officials declined to prosecute Mesa and the U.S. government refused to extradite him to Mexico, so his family filed a civil suit in the U.S., arguing that Mesa's use of deadly force violated the Fourth Amendment. Now, they're before the Supreme Court, arguing today for the right to pursue their claims.

A president looking to make his mark on the Supreme Court, the logic goes, should nominate younger jurists for the bench. After all, a Neil Gorsuch, at age 49, is likely to have a few more years of adjudicating before him than, say, a 63-year-old Merrick Garland.

That common sense assumption is an accurate one, of course. Younger justices end up serving longer on average, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center. But there are a few important exceptions.

No Supreme Court justice is more conservative than Clarence Thomas, right? With his hardline originalism, his narrow reading of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, his rejection of the Dormant Commerce Clause and stare decisis, Justice Thomas sits proudly on the farthest right wing of the Court.

Except, when it comes to conservatism, Justice Thomas could soon find himself out ranked. Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch, is significantly more conservative than both Justices Scalia and Thomas, according to a review of his Tenth Circuit decisions.

Antonin Scalia died one year ago today, yet his influence on American law, and the Supreme Court in particular, remains as large as it ever was. His originalist and textualist approach to the law remains well-established. That approach "changed the way almost all judges, and so almost all lawyers, thank and talk about the law," Justice Kagan said when dedicating the Antonin Scalia Law School in October.

Republicans successfully held off President Obama's nomination for Scalia's replacement in order to ensure that a jurist in Nino's model was able to take "Scalia's seat." Now Neil Gorsuch could be joining the bench, continuing Scalia's legacy.

And while there's plenty to learn from Scalia's approach to statutory interpretation, his skill at writing, or his influence on his colleagues, one recent tribute reminded us of this important lesson from the late justice: always make it home for dinner.

As President Trump's travel ban rockets to the Supreme Court, the administration's Justice Department remains noticeably understaffed -- at least when it comes to the solicitor general. Responsible for arguing on behalf of the federal government in the Supreme Court, the solicitor general's seat remains unfilled. The most likely nominee, Charles J. Cooper, withdrew his name from consideration on Thursday, saying he was no longer interested in the nomination process "after witnessing the treatment of my friend Jeff Sessions."

So, if not Cooper, who might it be?

When a Ninth Circuit panel refused to reinstate President Trump's immigration ban executive order yesterday, the president went straight to Twitter. "We'll see you in court," he said -- in all caps.

We're presuming he means the Supreme Court here. It's possible that an emergency appeal to the highest court in the land will come within a day or two.

But if Washington v. Trump makes its way to SCOTUS, will the outcome change? That's not likely, according to some legal experts.

President Trump has made multiple aggressive critiques of the judiciary in the less than three weeks he's been in office -- and not often in diplomatic terms. Angered by a nationwide temporary restraining order against his executive order on immigration, for example, the president decried a federal judge in Seattle as a "so-called judge" and warned that "If something happens blame him and the court system."

Then, while speaking to law enforcement officers yesterday, the president took aim at the Ninth Circuit panel hearing an appeal from that order, wondering how a court could not grasp concepts that even "a bad high school student would understand."

If such attacks have left the legal community exasperated, they've also started taking a toll on Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch, who reportedly called the attacks "demoralizing" and "disheartening," the New York Times reported yesterday.

With all the attention paid to Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination, and with no oral arguments scheduled until late February, you could be forgiven for losing sight of the Court's important upcoming cases. But we haven't.

The Supreme Court still has plenty of important and interesting arguments ahead in the coming months. Here are three we're looking forward to.

Speaking at Stanford University last night, Justice Ginsburg discussed what makes a meaningful life, her desire to change the Electoral College, and the importance of kale. There's been, you see, some worry that Justice Ginsburg, 83 years old, might not stay on the bench through a full Trump administration, thereby allowing one of her less-favorite political leaders to pick her replacement. There's even been talk that she should eat more kale, apparently for greater health and longevity.

Asked last night who she thought should eat more kale, the justice didn't skip a beat. "Justice Kennedy," she responded.

Since Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court this week, commentators have been pouring through his past opinions, looking for insight into who he is as a jurist and how he might rule on the Supreme Court. (That includes us at FindLaw. You can check out some of our surveys of Gorsuch's opinions in terms of technology, writing style, possible impact on the Supreme Court, and his legacy on the 10th Circuit.)

But Gorsuch doesn't just write for the court. He's also shared his thoughts, and revealed his worldview, through a large series of articles, speeches, and books, works that make up his nonjudicial canon. Here are a few you should be aware of.

"Put simply," Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote in his 2008 Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch concurrence, "it seems to me that in a world without Chevron very little would change -- except perhaps the most important thing." The opinion was the capstone to his opposition to the power of administrative agencies and the judicial doctrines that granted them so much deference.

But it's also appropriate for Gorsuch's own nomination to the Supreme Court, for a Court with Gorsuch on board could change very little -- except, perhaps, where it most counts.