“This is going to sound like a joke” Justice Alito said, “but, you know, it’s not.”
The not-joke was addressed to the lawyer for Abercrombie & Fitch who was defending the preppie fashion retailer’s decision not to hire an otherwise qualified teenager because she wore a hijab to her interview. Abercrombie says that her head covering was not in line with the company’s “classic East Coast collegiate style”. The EEOC sued the company on behalf of the teenager, Samantha Elauf, now 24, for not accommodating her religion.
Abercrombie’s defense: It couldn’t question her about her religion when she applied for a job, and she never informed them about her Muslim faith.
Which brings us back to Alito’s set-up: A Sikh wearing a turban, an Hasid wearing a shtreimel, a Muslim wearing a hijab, and a Catholic nun in habit go to the employment office and say, “we just want to tell you, we’re dressed this way for a religious reason. We’re not just trying to make a fashion statement”.
SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe reports on the argument here.
It was bitterly cold outside the Supreme Court this morning which may explain why there were fewer spectators than usual for today’s arguments.
These sketches are of the first argument, Henderson v. U.S., concerning a felon’s attempt to transfer ownership of a gun collection that as a result of his conviction he was no longer allowed to possess. Tony Henderson, who pleaded guilty to marijuana distribution, asked that the firearms, which had no part of his crime, be sold to a friend or transferred to his wife. The government refused, of course, pointing out that such a close connection to the recipient amounted to “constructive possession“.
Henderson’s lawyer, UVa law professor Daniel Ortiz, began his argument stating that his client was willing to have the guns sold by a federally dealer, though that was not his preference. That seemed fairly reasonable and straight forward to me – hey, even a non-lawyer like me might be able to follow this argument. But then they pulled out the scalpels and started dissecting the meaning of possession, forfeiture, due process, dominion and takings. “Well, it’s a kind of complicated transaction . . . , Your Honor”, responded Ortiz to a question from Justice Kagan.
For its part, the government was okay with letting a dealer sell the guns. But when it came to who picks the dealer the lawyer for the government faced some tough questions, especially from Scalia.
Back on the bench after their winter break the first case argued before the Justices was on the subject of consular nonreviewability.
There’s a long history of leaving the power to regulate immigration to the legislative and executive branches. The courts have generally declined to review how the State Department decides who comes into the country. But the door to review may have been opened a bit by a 1972 Supreme Court opinion, Kleindienst v. Mandel, where, while upholding the Attorney General’s right to refuse entry to a Belgian Marxist, the Court said the “executive exercises the power . . on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason”.
Today’s case, Kerry v. Fauzia Din, involves a U.S. citizen who sought an immigration visa for her Afghani husband. The embassy rejected the visa application citing “security and related grounds”, i.e. “terrorist activity”. No further details for the rejection or review of the decision were forthcoming, so Din filed suit in District Court. The lower court dismissed but the Ninth Circuit reversed and found that the government owed her “a facially legitimate reason”.
And no, Justice Sotomayor did not break her arm over winter break. The black cast she is sporting is from a surgical procedure and due to come off later this week. It did not slow her down as she jumped into this morning’s argument with the first question.