April is the last argument siting of the Supreme Court. From now until the end of June the Justices will only sit to announces opinions, and no maybe a few dissents. After a fairly quiet term with no real blockbusters things picked up in this month. Last week the Court heard arguments in CENSUS, about the citizenship question on the 2020 census, and the week before there were arguments in Brunetti, about registering an “immoral” or “scandalous” trademark.
It’s Monday, April 1st, and surprise! I’m not at the Court. I meant to be there but with so much to do before heading up to Boston for the celebrity college admissions scandal, and low expectations of any really momentous opinions, I choose to play hooky. Nevertheless, here’s an April Fools banner.
The big arguments last week were a pair of gerrymandering cases, Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek, that never made it to network prime time because of the Jussie Smollett breaking news. Again with the celebrities!
Tuesday’s gerrymander arguments were bookended by Administrative Law arguments on Monday, PDR Network v. Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, . . .
. . . and on Wednesday, Kisor v. Wilkie.
We also had an Admiralty Law case, The Dutra Group v. Batterton, argued last week, and though I didn’t sketch the argument I felt it was time for a maritime themed banner.
Spring is coming – slowly – to DC as the Supreme Court begins its March sitting.
March is gerrymander month at the court this term with an argument on race-based redistricting in Virginia on Monday, and two more to be argued next week.
On Tuesday, the Court announced opinions is three cases. The first, dealing with maritime law, was of limited interest . . .
. . . but the second, Nielsen v. Preap, significantly expands a mandatory-immigration-detention without-bond statute.
To signal the seriousness of the decision Justice Breyer announced from the bench his dissent, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan.
Since Breyer also announced the opinion in Cougar Den I did not bother to draw him again. The Court then heard argument in Cochise Consultancy v. U.S.
Wednesday’s argument, like Monday’s, involved a question of race. In Flowers v. Mississippi a local district attorney tried the same defendant six times for murder. The first two verdicts were overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct. The third was overturned because during jury selection the DA struck all African-Americans from the jury pool. The fourth and fifth trials resulted in hung juries which brings us to the case before the Court where Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of four people during the robbery of a furniture store in the town of Winona, Mississippi. At this sixth trial all but one of the six African-Americas jurors in the pool were struck leaving a jury of 11 whites and one black. The question before the Court is whether race was a factor when the prosecutor used his peremptory strikes in violation of the Court’s opinion in Batson v. Kentucky.
At the very end of the argument in Flowers, just as the lawyer for the petitioner was about to cede her time for rebuttal, Justice Thomas chimed in with a question breaking a three year silence.
After sketching Justice Ginsburg’s return to the bench on the first day of the Court’s February sitting I wimped out the second day because of a little bit of snow. I’m not nearly as tough as RBG. I’m also way more lazy which is why I’m only now getting it together to lump all the rest of February’s sketches into this one post.
Last week’s argument calendar started off with a First Amendment public-access TV case, Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck . . .
On Tuesday an argument on the constitutionality of a sex-offender law, United States v. Haymond . . .
. . . and lunch.
The big argument of a quiet month came on Wednesday in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, an establishment clause case over a giant cross shaped WWI memorial in Bladensburg, Md, just outside DC.
Also on Wednesday, Justice Kagan had the opinion in a major death penalty case, Madison v. Alabama.
And, as if we needed further proof that RBG is no slouch, Justice Ginsburg on Monday announced her second and third opinions since returning to the bench, one of which was a case that she participated in through the briefs and argument transcript while recuperating from cancer surgery at home.
Appearing strong as ever, Justice Ginsburg returned to the bench yesterday for the first argument of the February sitting. Sitting more upright – she’s usually hunched over and hard to see – Justice Ginsburg asked the very first question during arguments in Returned Mail, Inc. v. USPS. She continued to participate actively; as The Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin tweeted, “RBG Electrifies Courtroom with Questions on Estoppel and Issue Preclusion!”
January has been a bit of a snooze at the Supreme Court but I did get to learn about the Dormant Commerce Clause ( Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers v. Blair ).
There was plenty of other news from the Court today: cert denial in a school prayer case, cert granted in a Second Amendment case to be heard next term, stay grants in a pair of transgender cases, and action on the Mueller mystery grand jury subpoena. But from the bench just one 9-0 opinion from Justice Thomas in a patent case.
Below are some sketches from some of last week’s arguments and opinions. Fingers crossed that Justice Ginsburg will be back on the bench after the mid-winter break.