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

April 2017 Archives

No Tribal Immunity for Negligent Driver, Supreme Court Rules

An Indian casino driver cannot claim tribal immunity from suit after he crashed into a car on an interstate highway, the nation's highest court ruled.

The U.S. Supreme Court said that William Clarke was sued in his personal capacity -- not an official capacity -- and so he could not escape responsibility as a driver for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority. The plaintiffs Brian and Michelle Lewis claimed Clarke, and not the tribe, caused their injuries.

"We hold that, in a suit brought against a tribal employee in his individual capacity, the employee, not the tribe, is the real party in interest and the tribe's sovereign immunity is not implicated," Justice Sonia Maria Sotomayor wrote for the court in Lewis v. Clarke.

Trinity Lutheran finally had its day in the Supreme Court and things seem to have gone well. The Missouri church is challenging its exclusion from a state program that provides grants for resurfacing playgrounds with recycled tire material -- except if, like Trinity Lutheran's, those playgrounds are part of churches. That violates its right to free exercise and equal protection, the church argues.

After a year and a half of waiting, the church finally made its case during oral arguments today and many of the justices seemed to be leaning its way.

Courts cannot sanction a party for their bad-faith conduct by forcing the offending litigant to cover all of the opponent's legal fees without first showing but-for causation, the Supreme Court ruled this morning. The case stems from a dispute between Goodyear Tire & Rubber and a family who claimed the company's tires were responsible for their motorhome accident. During discovery, Goodyear withheld important internal reports. Finding the misconduct especially egregious, the district court sanctioned the tire company, ordering it to pay all of the family's attorney's fees and costs since the deception began -- a total of $2.7 million.

But such an award must be "limited to the fees the innocent party incurred solely because of the misconduct," a unanimous Court determined.

Neil Gorsuch participated in his first oral arguments as a Supreme Court justice this morning, in a case involving the judicial review of federal civil service disputes. And if you expected to see a new side of Neil Gorsuch on the bench, well, you might be disappointed.

Gorsuch has claimed, loudly and repeatedly, to be a strict textualist, a judge in the mold of Antonin Scalia. And his questions today remained decidedly within that line of thought, as the new justice returned again and again to the plain language of the statute at issue.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that we've been impatiently awaiting oral arguments and, ultimately, a decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. The case is one of the most interesting of the term, both for its factual background (kindergartens! recycled tires!) and its constitutional questions (the extent to which churches may be denied access to otherwise generally available public programs).

After a long delay, the case is finally set for oral arguments this upcoming Wednesday. But now, given a last minute policy change by the governor of Missouri, the case could be moot.

Ever since the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court has seen itself caught in the middle of a partisan tug-of-war over the future of the Court. First, Senate Republicans blocked any consideration of Merrick Garland, refusing to hold even one hearing on President Obama's nominee. Then, Democrats filibustered Neil Gorsuch's confirmation vote, leading the Senate to "go nuclear" in order to get Gorsuch on the Court.

For the branch of government that must view itself as above the political fray, the battle was jarring. And it could threaten the future of the Court, according to Chief Justice Roberts.

Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice today, becoming the 113th jurist to sit on the Court. The process began this morning, with a private swearing-in ceremony at the Court, involving Gorsuch's family and his new Supreme Court colleagues. Gorsuch then crossed the street for a public event in the White House Rose Garden, where he took a second oath administered by Justice Kennedy, for whom he once clerked.

The ceremony, coming after a year-long vacancy and a tumultuous, historic confirmation battle, is just the start of Justice Gorsuch's journey. Now comes the hard stuff: getting up to speed, making his impact felt, and answering the door. Yes, as the junior most justice on the Court, Justice Gorsuch will be responsible for answering the door when the justices meet for conference.

More than a year after Justice Scalia's passing, the Supreme Court is poised to return to a full nine-justice bench. Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, was confirmed by a divided Senate just moments ago. His wasn't the smoothest path to 1 First Street NE, involving a series of unprecedented conflicts -- the blocking of Merrick Garland's nomination by Republicans, the Democratic filibuster, the Senate's "nuclear option" -- but Gorsuch has made it to the bench, if a bit bruised by the journey.

Gorsuch will be sworn in on Monday, becoming the 113th justice in the Supreme Court's history. Here's what he can expect in the days and weeks ahead.

The fight over the future of the Supreme Court reached its culmination in the Senate today. Senate Democrats attempted to filibuster the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, refusing to end debate and allow the Senate to proceed to a full vote. The Republicans, in turn, upended decades of Senate practice, deploying the so-called "nuclear option" and allowing Supreme Court justices to be confirmed with the support of only a simple majority of senators.

The final vote to confirm Gorsuch won't come until tomorrow evening, but this much is clear: Gorsuch will be confirmed, while the Senate and the Supreme Court may be fundamentally changed for years to come.

When it comes to the Supreme Court, all eyes are on the Senate this week, as the battle over Neil Gorsuch's confirmation plays out. But just across the street, the work of the Court continues uninterrupted.

Yesterday, the Court issued two opinions -- one regarding EEOC subpoenas, the other on sentencing for drug offenses -- and granted cert in two new cases. Here's a quick roundup, in case you need a break from all the Senatorial drama.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11 to 9 this morning to advance Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the full Senate. That vote split down party lines, much as the full Senate vote is likely to split as well.

That puts the Senate on track for a messy filibuster showdown and a heated debate in the days ahead. Here's what you can expect.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been many things in her long life: an activist, an advocate, a disc jockey, an opera star, not to mention a Supreme Court justice. Now, she's about to add another row to her resume: Justice Ginsburg, spoken-word artist.

That's right, Her Notoriousness has been working on a short spoken-word album, the justice revealed last night at a speech at the Kennedy Center. "Some thoughts can't be expressed in a majority opinion," Ginsburg explained. "Or in an opera, for that matter."