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.
United Parcel Service came to the Supreme Court this morning to argue that it is pregnancy-blind, that it treats expectant female employees the same as any other employee injured off the job.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978 says, “. . women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” The language sounds plain and the intent of the law obvious, but when applied it seems to be ambiguous.
When Peggy Young became pregnant and her doctor ordered her to not lift heavy objects she asked her employer, UPS, to put her on light-duty. Instead UPS placed her on unpaid leave, so she sued.
Young’s lawyer, University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos, argued that UPS made accommodations for three similar groups: those injured on the job, those covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act and employees whose driving licenses were suspended or revoked.
“Well, Ms Halligan, for the democratic process to work as it should, the PDA has to be given a fair reading,” said Justice Kagan. “And what we know about the PDA is that it was supposed to be about removing stereotypes of pregnant women as marginal workers.”
The lawyer for UPS, Caitlin Halligan, was questioned aggressively by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan. They asked so many questions that it was hard to get a sketch of Halligan since she was turned away when facing the two justices.
Lyle Denniston’s SCOTUSblog analysis of the argument is here.
. . . thirteen yet to come (counting the two cell-phone search cases as one).
In Argentina v. NML Capital the Court sided with investors seeking to locate Argentina’s overseas assets in order to collect on bonds that went into default. Justice Scalia wrote for the majority while Justice Ginsburg, pictured here on the right, was the sole dissenter.
Justice Kagan, above, had the opinion in Abramski v. U.S., a case concerning “straw purchasers” of firearms. And Justice Thomas, below, announced the unanimous opinion in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that state laws criminalizing false statements made about a candidate in an election can be challenged on First Amendment grounds even before anyone is actually prosecuted.
. . . and the considerably larger Supreme Court chamber.A challenge to the Massachusetts law creating a 35 foot buffer zone around the entrance to abortion clinics, McCullen v. Coakley, was argued before the Supreme Court today. The last time the Court visited this issue was in 2000 when it approve a protective “bubble” for anyone entering a clinic. Catholic University law professor Mark L. Rienzi, pictured above, argued for the 77 year-old grandmother, Eleanor McCullen, who has stood outside a Boston Planned Parenthood clinic a couple days a week for the past ten years, or so.
Justice Scalia repeatedly made the point that “it’s a counseling case . . . not a protest case”, and that 35 feet was too far to hold a conversation. Justice Kagan seemed to agree when she said to Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Miller, “. . it’s more than a few feet. You know, 35 feet is a ways. It’s from this bench to the end of the court.” At this several in the courtroom started to scratch their heads. According to the visitor’s guide the courtroom measures 82 by 91 feet.
Lyle has the story here.
A couple sketches from the Supreme Court yesterday:
Justice Kagan annouced the Court’s unanimous opinion supporting Monsanto’s patent rights on its herbicide resistant genetically altered Roundup Ready seed.
NYT’s Adam Liptak has the story here.
It was also Justice Breyer’s first appearance on the bench since breaking his shoulder in a bicycle mishap two weeks ago.