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Sketches of Supreme Court arguments

Last Week’s SCOTUS Sketches

I’m really falling behind here and would be at the Court today if it weren’t for thirty inches of snow filling the alley where my car is entombed. It’s appropriate that the first snowfall of the season came on the same day as an Alaska case, Sturgeon v. Frost, about a moose hunter’s right to use a hovercraft on federal land was argued.

Also argued last Wednesday was a Nebraska case originating from a dispute over a tribe’s ability to tax liquor sales in a town within the borders but not part of the reservation. I didn’t sketch the argument, but this spectacular spectator in the very back of the courtroom caught my eye . . .

On Tuesday two cases were argued (Monday was the MLK holiday). In the first, Heffernan v. City of Paterson, a Paterson, NJ police detective was demoted after being mistakenly perceived as supporting a challenger to the incumbent mayor during an election campaign. Jeffrey Heffernan, a twenty-year veteran of the police force, was seen picking up a lawn sign for his mother who supported the mayor’s opponent. Had Heffernan been picking up the sign for himself and put it on his own lawn, as a government employee he would have been protected from retaliation by his boss. But because everyone agrees that he was in fact neutral in his support of candidate Heffernan may have no recourse under the First Amendment.

The second of Tuesday’s arguments, Americold Realty Trust v. Conagra Foods, is beyond my ability to explain. It involves the “citizenship” of certain trusts and how they are, or are not, like partnerships or corporations. Fascinating stuff . . . for lawyers.

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Three Arguments

Moving into a new house can be very stressful, and we’re in the middle it. So forgive me if I just lump together all the sketches from Tuesday’s one argument, Molina-Martinez v. USand Wednesday’s two, Bank Markazi v. Peterson and Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle.

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Of Course The Justices Don’t Do Politics

On Monday the Supreme Court heard a case on money, speech and unions. The argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is over “agency fees” that public-sector unions, in this case the one representing California’s teachers, can charge non-members for negotiating on behalf of all workers. The non-union teachers in whose name the case was brought object to paying the fee because they say everything a government union negotiates is political, and therefor their First Amendment speech is hijacked.

Lawyer Michael Carvin argued the case for the petitioners – really for the Koch brothers funded Center for Individual Rights.

In the end, it appeared that a majority of the Justices will have no problem overturning the Court’s forty-year precedent.

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The Court Revisits Affirmative Action On Campus

The Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments for the second time in the case of Abigail Fisher, a white student who claims she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of a policy that favored black applicants. Last time the Justices sent the case back to the circuit court, this time Justice Kennedy seemed to toy with the idea of sending it all the way back to the trial court; not likely.

You can read Lyle Denniston’s analysis here.

There’s also a lot of buzz today about Justice Scalia’s remark, “There are ­­those who contend that it does not benefit African ­Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less­ advanced school, … a slower ­track school where they do well.”

Opinion: White v. Woodall, No. 12-794

He probably meant that black students more often come from high schools where the curriculum is less demanding and may be unprepared for UT’s more rigorous course load. While it sounded racist to some, it’s more likely just Scalia being his bad un-PC self.

 

 

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It Was All About Voting

I prepared the banner you see above for SCOTUSblog because the Court was to hear arguments today in two voting related cases, Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission and Evenwel v. Abbott. But I didn’t expect the trifecta that came with Justice Scalia’s opinion in a Maryland voting redistricting case, Shapiro v. McManus, especially since it was argued just last month. My lucky day.

Anyway, here are the sketches from today’s two argument:

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Class-Action and Tainted Assets

Umbrellas on the Supreme Court plaza yesterday morning, while inside I sketched two arguments.

The first argument, Tyson Foods v Bouaphakeo, concerned Iowa slaughterhouse workers and whether they could meet the test for a class-action lawsuit.  Lyle Denniston reports on it here.

In the second argument, Luis v. U.S., Sila Luis, who bilked Medicare for tens of millions of dollars and had her assets frozen, wants to be allowed to use the “untainted” portion of her frozen assets to pay for her Sixth Amendment guaranteed lawyer of her choice. SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe has the story here.

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Redistricting and Three-Judge Panels

A dazzling fall morning on the Supreme Court plaza as spectators line up for oral arguments.

One of those arguments, Shapiro v. McManus, was about whether a lawsuit challenging Maryland redistricting should be decided by a three-judge panel. It’s a bit technical and I won’t attempt to explain. The New York Time’s Adam Liptak reports on the argument here.

Be sure to read to the end of Liptak’s article for the exchange between Maryland Assistant Attorney General Steven Sullivan and Justice Scalia on the topic of “little green men and extraterrestrials”.

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A Statuary . . I Mean Statutory Argument

“. . . under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward . . . “

Today’s argument in Lockhart v. United States turned on what Congress meant in a statute so poorly drafted Justice Alito gives it a “D”.

The petitioner in this case, Avondale Lockhart, was caught in a child pornography sting and pleaded guilty. At sentencing he faced a mandatory minimum ten-year enhancement because of a previous state conviction for attempted rape of his girlfriend. Lockhart argues that the sentencing enhancement only applies if the prior conviction was for an offense “. . . involving a minor or ward”, and that in the language quoted above “aggravated sexual abuse” and “sexual abuse” are qualified in the same as “abusive sexual conduct”. 

The lower courts, of course, found otherwise.

It sounded like a lively and perplexing argument, and I hear form some of the reporters present that Lockhart may win to some degree.

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Today’s SCOTUS Sketches

As arguments were about to begin today Chief Justice Roberts reminded lawyers of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s admonition to not look up at the courtroom clock. The reason, not the same as Rehnquist’s, was that the two clocks in the courtroom were showing different times, neither of which was correct, and the minutes hands were moving in stops and starts. It seems that, just like last year, setting the Court’s clocks back an hour at the end of Daylight Saving is no easy matter.

The Court heard two interesting arguments, neither of which I’ll comment on since I’m about as good at explaining as the Court is at setting a clock.

The first argument, Foster v Chatman :

. . . and the second argument, Spokeo v. Robins :

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A Couple Of Sentencing Arguments

Last week seems like a long time ago. I’ve been busy with some personal business – all good – and never got around to posting the sketches from last weeks arguments in Montgomery v. Louisiana and Hurst v. Florida.

The first argument concerned inmates who as juveniles were automatically sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The Court three years ago, in Miller v. Alabamaruled that although juveniles could receive a life sentence it couldn’t be automatic. The issue here is whether that applies retroactively.

The second argument looked at the role of juries in determining sentence in Florida death penalty cases.

 

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