Chief Justice Roberts started his second job last Tuesday, presiding over the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump which on the first day when into the wee hours of the next. Nevertheless, after what must have been a tedious employ, Roberts appeared rested and engaged Wednesday morning when the Court heard argument in a significant establishment clause case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The case began when parents sued the state revenue department after it ruled that tax credit scholarship programs could not be used for religious schools, which the majority of recipients were. The Montana Supreme Court invalidated the entire program, for both religious and secular schools. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who favors a similar federal tax credit program, was in the audience.
On Tuesday, before heading over to the Senate for that first, long day, I did just one sketch of the 10:00 o’clock Armed Career Criminal Act argument, Shular v. United States.
Note, the original version of this post mysteriously vanished without a trace so I’ve had to re-create a lesser version.
The case that drew the most attention during last week’s arguments was one brought by a former ally of New Jersey governor Chris Christie. The petitioner, Bridget Anne Kelly, a former aide to Gov. Christie, and William Baroni, a former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were convicted of conspiracy and fraud for their part in a scheme to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, NJ for refusing to endorse Christie’s reelection bid. In what came to be known as “Bridgegate”, they and another official, David Wildstein, ordered several lanes to the George Washington Bridge toll plaza closed in 2013 during rush hour causing massive backups. When the scandal came to light it pretty much sank Christie’s 2016 presidential campaign.
As expected, both Kelly and Baroni were in the courtroom for Tuesday’s argument in Kelly v. United States. What nobody expected was that Chris Christie would show, and be seated directly in front of Kelly.
On Monday the Court heard a trademark case, Lucky Brand Dungarees Inc. v. Marcel Fashion Group Inc., and a case related to employee retirement benefits. Thole v. U.S. Bank, N.A..
The Chief Justice drew some laughs Wednesday when, during an argument involving the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Babb v. Wilkie, he asked the following hypothetical, “The hiring person is younger, [and] says, you know, ‘OK, boomer’ … once to the applicant.”
The best part of sketching the Court for SCOTUSblog is doing these banners. It’s been close to forty years since I actually watched a Star Wars episode so I needed some help with the cast of characters. Thankfully fellow SCOTUSblog contributor, and Education Week correspondent, Mark Walsh came to the rescue. One change suggested by Mark, that Justice Kagan might better be depicted as major protagonist Rey instead of bit player Mon Motha, I was unfortunately unable to make in time.
May the force be with you.
The big case for December, NY State Rifle & Pistol v. City of New York, could fizzle for mootness. New York City restricted the transportation of firearms to within the city limits but that regulation has since been rescinded, and, as several justices pointed out during the argument, the petitioner has got what they asked for.
There were, of course, other important cases argued this month but since I have fallen so far behind in my blog postings I will simply post the sketches and let the viewer search for the details. I know, I’m lazy.
After just six days of testimony and closing arguments the fate of Roger Stone is in the hands of the jury this morning. It was an unusual trial from the start, but who would expect anything less when the defendant has a reputation for political dirty tricks going as far back as Watergate. He famously has the image of Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, after all. Nevertheless, in spite of a courtroom full of kooks, the trial progressed in an orderly and efficient manner. I wasn’t there every day, and unfortunately missed most of the witnesses’ testimony. Politico has a good story on the trial here.