SCOTUS Opinions and Orders Update
|Topics:||Federalism & Separation of Powers|
The Supreme Court issued opinions in the 3 remaining argued cases from OT 15, as well as a new Order List. A summary follows:
(1) Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt: By a vote of 5-3 the judgment of the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is reversed and the case remanded. Per Justice Breyer's opinion for the Court: "In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 878 (1992), a plurality of the Court concluded that there 'exists' an 'undue burden' on a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion, and consequently a provision of law is constitutionally invalid, if the 'purpose or effect' of the provision 'is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.' (Emphasis added.) The plurality added that '[u]nnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right.' Ibid. We must here decide whether two provisions of Texas’ House Bill 2 violate the Federal Constitution as interpreted in Casey. The first provision, which we shall call the 'admitting-privileges requirement,' says that '[a] physician performing or inducing an abortion...must, on the date the abortion is performed or induced, have active admitting privileges at a hospital that...is located not further than 30 miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.' Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §171.0031(a) (West Cum. Supp. 2015). This provision amended Texas law that had previously required an abortion facility to maintain a written protocol 'for managing medical emergencies and the transfer of patients requiring further emergency care to a hospital.' 38 Tex. Reg. 6546 (2013). The second provision, which we shall call the 'surgical center requirement,' says that 'the minimum standards for an abortion facility must be equivalent to the minimum standards adopted under [the Texas Health and Safety Code section] for ambulatory surgical centers.' Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §245.010(a). We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, Casey, supra, at 878 (plurality opinion), and each violates the Federal Constitution. Amdt. 14, §1." [The majority also rejected the Fifth Circuit's procedural ruling that Petitioners' constitutional claims were barred by res judicata].
Justice Breyer's majority opinion was joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Ginsburg filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Alito also dissented, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas.
(2) McDonnell v. United States: By a vote 8-0 of the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is vacated and the case remanded. Per the Chief Justice's opinion for a unanimous Court: "In 2014, the Federal Government indicted former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, on bribery charges. To convict the McDonnells of bribery, the Government was required to show that Governor McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an 'official act' in exchange for the loans and gifts.... The issue in this case is the proper interpretation of the term 'official act.' Section 201(a)(3) defines an 'official act' as “any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit.'.... Taking into account the text of the statute, the precedent of this Court, and the constitutional concerns raised by Governor McDonnell, we reject the Government’s reading of §201(a)(3) and adopt a more bounded interpretation of 'official act.' Under that interpretation, setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an 'official act.'.... In sum, an 'official act' is a decision or action on a 'question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.' The 'question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy' must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee. It must also be something specific and focused that is 'pending' or 'may by law be brought' before a public official. To qualify as an 'official act,' the public official must make a decision or take an action on that 'question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,' or agree to do so. That decision or action may include using his official position to exert pressure on another official to perform an 'official act,' or to advise another official, knowing or intending that such advice will form the basis for an 'official act' by another official. Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event (or agreeing to do so)—without more—does not fit that definition of 'official act.'.... Because the jury was not correctly instructed on the meaning of 'official act,' it may have convicted Governor McDonnell for conduct that is not unlawful. For that reason, we cannot conclude that the errors in the jury instructions were 'harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.' Neder v. United States, 527 U. S. 1, 16 (1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). We accordingly vacate Governor McDonnell’s convictions....If the court below determines that there is sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Governor McDonnell of committing or agreeing to commit an 'official act,' his case may be set for a new trial. If the court instead determines that the evidence is insufficient, the charges against him must be dismissed. We express no view on that question."
(3) Voisine v. United States: By a vote of 6-2 the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is affirmed. Per Justice Kagan's opinion for the Court: "Federal law prohibits any person convicted of a 'misdemeanor crime of domestic violence' from possessing a firearm. 18 U. S. C. §922(g)(9). That phrase is defined to include any misdemeanor committed against a domestic relation that necessarily involves the 'use...of physical force.' §921(a)(33)(A). The question presented here is whether misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless (as contrasted to knowing or intentional) conduct trigger the statutory firearms ban. We hold that they do."
Justice Kagan's majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito. Justice Thomas dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayor as to Parts I and II only.
Cert grants. In addition to several GVRs, there were two cert grants and a noting of probable jurisdiction:
(1) Life Technologies Corp. v. Promega Corp (limited to Question 2): whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that supplying a single, commodity component of a multi-component invention from the United States is an infringing act under 35 U.S.C. § 271(f)(1), exposing the manufacturer to liability for all worldwide sales.
(2) Beckles v. United States (Justice Kagan is recused): (1) Whether Johnson v. United States applies retroactively to collateral cases challenging federal sentences enhanced under the residual clause in United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.) § 4B1.2(a)(2) (defining “crime of violence”); (2) whether Johnson's constitutional holding applies to the residual clause in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2), thereby rendering challenges to sentences enhanced under it cognizable on collateral review; and (3) whether mere possession of a sawed-off shotgun, an offense listed as a “crime of violence” only in commentary to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2, remains a “crime of violence” after Johnson.
(3) McCrory v. Harris: (Probable jurisdiction noted) : (1) Whether the court below erred in presuming racial predominance from North Carolina's reasonable reliance on this Court's holding in Bartlett v. Strickland that a district created to ensure that African Americans have an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidate of choice complies with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) if it contains a numerical majority of African Americans; (2) whether the court below erred in applying a standard of review that required the State to demonstrate its construction of North Carolina Congressional District 1 was “actually necessary” under the VRA instead of simply showing it had “good reasons” to believe the district, as created, was needed to foreclose future vote dilution claims; (3) whether the court below erred in relieving plaintiffs of their burden to prove “race rather than politics” predominated with proof of an alternative plan that achieves the legislature's political goals, is comparably consistent with traditional redistricting principles, and brings about greater racial balance than the challenged districts; (4) whether, regardless of any other error, the three-judge court's finding of racial gerrymandering violations was based on clearly erroneous fact-finding; (5) whether the court below erred in failing to dismiss plaintiffs' claims as being barred by claim preclusion or issue preclusion; and (6) whether, in the interests of judicial comity and federalism, the Court should order full briefing and oral argument to resolve the split between the court below and the North Carolina Supreme Court which reached the opposite result in a case raising identical claims.
-No action taken on the petition for rehearing in Friedrichs or on the Stormans case.