No justices were actually sitting in the courtroom on the first Monday of the October 2020 term, nor where any lawyers or the public. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced all of us to adapt to new conditions of social distancing. For the Supreme Court that has meant hearing arguments by conference call, with the bonus that the audio is live-streamed to the public. For me, while it’s great to listen to the arguments from the comfort of my studio, there’s not much to draw. At least there wasn’t until arguing counsel started sending me photos of their kitchen-table set-ups ( not really, at least not yet. But I’m hoping for a kitchen setting ). I’m enjoying the change after forty years of lawyers in suits arguing from the lectern.
From CUNY Law School, Ramzi Kassem argues for respondents
Deepak Gupta for respondent
Sean Marotta for petitioner
Stephen I. Vladeck for respondents
Kelsi B. Corkran for petitioner
Mark D. Standridge for respondents
Texas Solicitor General Kyle D. Hawkins
Nicholas J. Bronni, Arkansas Solicitor General petitioner
Craig Goldblatt for petitioner
Brian P. Goldman for petitioner
Demonstrators on both sides of the abortion issue gathered outside the Supreme Court for yesterday’s argument in June Medical Services. The Center for Reproductive Rights distributed the teal colored knit caps shown in the banner sketch above. Below is a bird’s-eye ( drone’s-eye? ) view of the courtroom with virtually every seat filled for the argument. Actually, more seats were added in the aisles of the public section, and I should have added them.
On Tuesday, in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, the Court heard argument on the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Board and whether the director of the board can be removed by the president “at will” or only “for cause”.
Also on Tuesday, the Court heard Liu v. SEC, for which I stuck around for one sketch.
Cowpasture! What a great title. And an excuse to put the justices on the Appalachian Trail. United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, concerning a proposed natural gas pipeline running under the AT, is also of interest to my wife, a longtime member of one of the Appalachian Trail Conference associated clubs. She also happens to be involved in different gas pipeline lawsuit, this one in Baltimore’s Leakin Park. She was able to get a seat for the argument so I had the rare pleasure of driving into work with Bridget.
There were, of course, other arguments as well as opinions to sketch in this first week of the February sitting, and I sketched a few. But mostly I used my time in the courtroom preparing for next week’s blockbusters on abortion and the CFPB.
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 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.