The Supreme Court has issued orders and opinions; a summary follows:
ORDER LIST: No new grants, save one GVR:
- GVR in United States ex rel. Shea v. Cellco P'shp to the D.C. Circuit for further consideration in light of the Court's recent decision in Kellog Brown & Root Servs. v. United States ex rel. Carter
- No action taken on Fisher v. Univ. of Texas (affirmative action case) or Currier v. Jackson Women's Health Organization (Mississippi abortion case)
- Denial of cert. in County of Maricopa v. Lopez-Valenzuela (Arizona immigrant bail case). Justices Alito, Thomas, and Scalia dissent from the denial.
- Denial of cert in Manzano v. Indiana (ineffective assistance-guilty plea case). Justice Sotomayor dissented without opinion.
- CVSG in Smith v. Aegon Companies Pension Plan
(1) Taylor v. Barkes: (Order list p. 9) Per curiam: Respondent, a mentally disturbed individual, hanged himself while in a correctional institution. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to prison officials. By a vote of 9-0 the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Third Circuit. "[E]ven if the Institution’s suicide screening and prevention measures contained the shortcomings that respondents allege, no precedent on the books in November 2004 would have made clear to petitioners that they were overseeing a system that violated the Constitution. Because, at the very least, petitioners were not contravening clearly established law, they are entitled to qualified immunity. The judgment of the Third Circuit is reversed."
(2) Mellouli v. Lynch: By a vote of 7-2 the judgment of the Eighth Circuit is reversed. Per Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court: "This case requires us to decide how immigration judges should apply a deportation (removal) provision, defined with reference to federal drug laws, to an alien convicted of a state drug-paraphernalia misdemeanor. Lawful permanent resident Moones Mellouli, in 2010, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense under Kansas law, the possession of drug paraphernalia to 'store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale or otherwise introduce a controlled substance into the human body.' Kan. Stat. Ann. §21–5709(b)(2) (2013 Cum. Supp.). The sole 'paraphernalia' Mellouli was charged with possessing was a sock in which he had placed four orange tablets. The criminal charge and plea agreement did not identify the controlled substance involved, but Mellouli had acknowledged, prior to the charge and plea, that the tablets were Adderall. Mellouli was sentenced to a suspended term of 359 days and 12 months’ probation. In February 2012, several months after Mellouli successfully completed probation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested him as deportable under 8 U. S. C. §1227(a)(2)(B)(i) based on his Kansas misdemeanor conviction. Section 1227(a)(2)(B)(i) authorizes the removal of an alien 'convicted of a violation of . . . any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of Title 21).' We hold that Mellouli’s Kansas conviction for concealing unnamed pills in his sock did not trigger removal under §1227(a)(2)(B)(i). The drug paraphernalia possession law under which he was convicted, Kan. Stat. Ann. §21–5709(b), by definition, related to a controlled substance: The Kansas statute made it unlawful 'to use or possess with intent to use any drug paraphernalia to . . . store [or] conceal . . . a controlled substance.' But it was immaterial under that law whether the substance was defined in 21 U. S. C. §802. Nor did the State charge, or seek to prove, that Mellouli possessed a substance on the §802 schedules. Federal law (§1227(a)(2)(B)(i)), therefore, did not authorize Mellouli’s removal."
The Chief Justice and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined Justice Ginsburg's majority opinion. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Alito.
(3) Bank of America, NA v. Caulkett: By a vote of 9-0 the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit is reversed and the case is remanded. Per Justice Thomas's opinion for the Court: "Section 506(d) of the Bankruptcy Code allows a debtor to void a lien on his property '[t]o the extent that [the] lien secures a claim against the debtor that is not an allowed secured claim.' 11 U. S. C. §506(d). These consolidated cases present the question whether a debtor in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding may void a junior mortgage under §506(d) when the debt owed on a senior mortgage exceeds the present value of the property. We hold that a debtor may not, and we therefore reverse the judgments of the Court of Appeals." The opinion was unanimous except that Justices Kennedy, Breyer, and Sotomayor did not join the sole footnote in Justice Thomas' opinion.
(4) EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.: By a vote of 8-1 the judgment of the Tenth Circuit is reversed and the case is remanded. Per Justice Scalia's opinion for the Court: "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that it could accommodate without undue hardship. The question presented is whether this prohibition applies only where an applicant has informed the employer of his need for an accommodation....Abercrombie urges this Court to adopt the Tenth Circuit’s rule 'allocat[ing] the burden of raising a religious conflict.' .....This would require the employer to have actual knowledge of a conflict between an applicant’s religious practice and a work rule. The problem with this approach is the one that inheres in most incorrect interpretations of statutes: It asks us to add words to the law to produce what is thought to be a desirable result. That is Congress’s province. We construe Title VII’s silence as exactly that: silence. Its disparate-treatment provision prohibits actions taken with the motive of avoiding the need for accommodating a religious practice. A request for accommodation, or the employer’s certainty that the practice exists, may make it easier to infer motive, but is not a necessary condition of liability."
The Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined Justice Scalia's majority opinion in full. Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.
(5) Elonis v. United States: By a vote of 7-2 the judgment of the Third Circuit is reversed and the case is remanded. Per Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court: "Federal law makes it a crime to transmit in interstate commerce 'any communication containing any threat . . . to injure the person of another.' 18 U. S. C. §875(c). Petitioner was convicted of violating this provision under instructions that required the jury to find that he communicated what a reasonable person would regard as a threat. The question is whether the statute also requires that the defendant be aware of the threatening nature of the communication, and—if not—whether the First Amendment requires such a showing....Elonis’s conviction cannot stand. The jury was instructed that the Government need prove only that a reasonable person would regard Elonis’s communications as threats, and that was error. Federal criminal liability generally does not turn solely on the results of an act without considering the defendant’s mental state. That understanding 'took deep and early root in American soil' and Congress left it intact here: Under Section 875(c), 'wrongdoing must be conscious to be criminal.' Morissette, 342 U. S., at 252. There is no dispute that the mental state requirement in Section 875(c) is satisfied if the defendant transmits a communication for the purpose of issuing a threat, or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 25, 56. In response to a question at oral argument, Elonis stated that a finding of recklessness would not be sufficient. See id., at 8–9. Neither Elonis nor the Government has briefed or argued that point, and we accordingly decline to address it. See Department of Treasury, IRS v. FLRA, 494 U. S. 922, 933 (1990) (this Court is 'poorly situated' to address an argument the Court of Appeals did not consider, the parties did not brief, and counsel addressed in 'only the most cursory fashion at oral argument'). Given our disposition, it is not necessary to consider any First Amendment issues."
Justice Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined the Chief Justice's majority opinion. Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion.