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.
I’ve been neglecting the blog lately. My excuse is that it was being updated, but really I’m just lazy and reluctant to tackle the minor changes that have been made. With that said, I’ll just post the sketches from the second week of October arguments, without comment, before it’s too late. The November sitting begins tomorrow.
Justice Thomas was absent from the bench – “indisposed due to illness” said the Chief Justice after formally announcing the beginning of the new term.
The Justices then heard argument in the first case, Kahler v. Kansas, on whether states can abolish the insanity defense. Under a recent change to the “Guide for Counsel Arguing Cases” lawyers are now allowed two minutes, uninterrupted, to make their case before the justices jump in with questions. A light on the lectern briefly flashed before Justice Ginsburg jumped in with the first question of the term.
In addition to another morning argument, which I did not attend, the Court heard a rare afternoon argument in Ramos v. Louisiana on the requirement for state juries to reach unanimous verdicts.