Supreme Court Overview

Gerrymandering- Redistricting

 

Gill v. Whitford

No. 16-1161, consent to hearing the case on the merits granted June 19, 2017

Appeal of 218 F. Supp. 3d 837 (D.C. WD Wis., 2016)

 

In 2011, Wisconsin adopted a plan for state legislative district boundaries under which elections to the Wisconsin State Legislature were held in 2012, 2014, and 2016.  Plaintiffs in the underlying District Court case are 12 registered Democrats who allege that the redistricting plan intentionally diluted the voting strength of Democratic voters and therefore constitutes unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.  A divided three judge panel for the District Court of the Western District of Wisconsin agreed with the Plaintiffs and invalidated the redistricting plan.  The Supreme Court prevented enforcement of the District Court’s ruling and consented to hear the case on the merits and postponed its decision regarding jurisdiction until after such hearing.  The questions presented on appeal are (1) “[d]id the district court violate Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267 (2004), when it held that it had the authority to entertain a statewide challenge to Wisconsin's redistricting plan, instead of requiring a district-by-district analysis;” (2) “[d]id the district court violate Vieth when it held that Wisconsin's redistricting plan was an impermissible partisan gerrymander, even though it was undisputed that the plan complies with traditional redistricting principles;” (3) “[d]id the District Court violate Vieth by adopting a watered-down version of the partisan gerrymandering test employed by the plurality in Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U.S. 109 (1986);” (4) [a]re Defendants entitled, at a minimum, to present additional evidence showing that they would have prevailed under the District Court's test, which the court announced only after the record had closed;” and (5) “[a]re partisan-gerrymandering claims justiciable.” Oral argument was held on October 3, 2017. Adjudication of this case is still pending.

 

Benisek v. Lamone

No. 17-333, consent to hearing the case on the merits granted May 28, 2017

Appeal of 241 F. Supp. 3d 566 (D. Md. 2017)

 

In October of 2011, the State of Maryland changed the congressional districts through the creation and approval of a new legislative map, a referendum on the new map was added to the Maryland ballot on November 6, 2012, and was approved by the voters.  On November 5, 2013, opponents to the map filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.  Both the District Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in 2014.  On June 8, 2015, the Supreme Court heard this case for the first time based solely on the question of whether a single judge District Court may hear a case regarding congressional redistricting, which was required under the Three Judge Court Act (28 U.S.C. §2284) to be tried before a three-judge panel.  The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Fourth Circuit and remanded the case back to the District Court to be tried before a panel of three judges.  On August 24, 2017, the panel upheld the validity of the redistricting map in a 2-1 vote.  The panel also ordered a stay of the proceedings pending the outcome of Gill v. Whitford.  Plaintiff’s request that the Supreme Court hear this case was initially denied on September 13, 2017, however was subsequently granted on December 8, 2017.  The questions presented to the Supreme Court are (1) “[d]id the majority err in holding that, to establish an actual, concrete injury in a First Amendment retaliation challenge to a partisan gerrymander, a plaintiff must prove that the gerrymander has dictated and will continue to dictate the outcome of every election held in the district under the gerrymandered map;” (2) “[d]id the majority err in holding that the Mt. Healthy burden-shifting framework is inapplicable to First Amendment retaliation challenges to partisan gerrymanders;” and (3) “[r]egardless of the applicable legal standards, did the majority err in holding that the present record does not permit a finding that the 2011 gerrymander was a but-for cause of the Democratic victories in the district in 2012, 2014, or 2016.” Oral argument on this case was heard on March 28, 2018. Adjudication of this case is pending.

 

 

Abbott v. Perez

No. 17-586, consent to hearing the case on the merits granted January 12, 2018

No. 17-626 has been consolidated into 17-586

Appeal of 2017 WL 3668115 (W.D. Tex. 2017)

 

In 2012, the Supreme Court ordered the District Court for the Western District of Texas to draw interim maps for the State of Texas 2012 elections which did not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act Perry v. Perez, 565 U.S. 388 (2012).  The District Court followed this command and placed Texas under a court ordered remedial plan, H309, for the 2012 elections.  This was done due to allegations related to gerrymandering in relation to the redistricting plan passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011.  In 2013, The Texas Legislature repealed their 2011 Plan and enacted Plan H358, which the Appellants contend is largely unchanged from H309.  The District Court then permitted the Plaintiffs in the original District Court case to amend their claims to include allegations related to Plan H358.  After 4 years of litigation in the District Court which Appellant contends was related to both the now defunct 2011 Plan and Plan H358, the District Court found that Texas had engaged in racial gerrymandering in Plan H358 and invalidated it.  The questions posed are (1) whether the District Court issued an appealable interlocutory injunction when it invalidated Texas’ duly enacted redistricting plan and ordered the parties to appear at a remedial hearing to redraw state congressional districts unless the governor called a special legislative session to redraw the congressional map within three days; (2) whether the Texas legislature acted with an unlawful purpose when it enacted a redistricting plan originally imposed by the District Court to remedy any potential constitutional and statutory defects in a prior legislative plan that was repealed without ever having taken effect; (3) whether the Texas legislature engaged in intentional vote dilution when it adopted Congressional District 27 in 2013 after the District Court found, in 2012, that CD27 did not support a plausible claim of racially discriminatory purpose and did not dilute Hispanic voting strength because it was not possible to create an additional Hispanic opportunity district in the region; and (4) whether the Texas legislature engaged in racial gerrymandering in Congressional District 35 when it simply adopted the district unchanged as part of the court-ordered remedial plan.  Oral argument is scheduled for April 24, 2018.  Adjudication of this case is still pending.

 

Civil Rights

 

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

No. 16-111, cert. granted June 26, 2017

Appeal of 370 P.3d 272 (Colo. App. 2015)

 

In July of 2012, a same sex couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, solicited Masterpiece Cakeshop to make a cake for their wedding.  At the time, same sex marriage was prohibited in Colorado.  The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack C. Phillips, refused to design the wedding cake for the couple citing religious reasons.  Craig and Mullins filed a complaint with the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts alleging that Masterpiece Cakeshop had discriminated against them in a place of public accommodation due to their sexual orientation, a violation of the Colorado anti-discriminatory Act (CADA).  The administrative law judge (ALJ) decided in favor of Craig and Mullins, and required Masterpiece Cakeshop to take remedial measures and file quarterly compliance reports.  On appeal, a three judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously found in favor of the order issued by the ALJ and determined that (1) the CADA did not permit Masterpiece Cakeshop to refuse to design a wedding cake for Craig and Mullins; (2) that no violation of Masterpiece Cakeshop’s First Amendment Right to Free Speech had occurred, (3) that the CADA and the order did not violate the right to religious exercise under the Colorado Constitution, and (4) denied the validity of Masterpiece Cakeshop’s remaining issues related to procedural matters and the scope of the ALJ’s authority.  The question presented on appeal is “[w]hether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel Phillips to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment."  Oral argument was held on December 5, 2017 on this matter.  Adjudication of this case is still pending.

 

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

No. 16-1435, cert. granted November 13, 2017

Appeal of 849 F.3d 749 (8th Cir. 2017)

 

Minnesota Statute § 211B.11 prohibits the wearing of a political badge, political button, or other political insignia at or about a polling place on primary or election day and was interpreted broadly to encompass a range of materials designed to influence or impact voting.  If a person refused to remove or the political item, the election judge was required to record their name and address for potential misdemeanor prosecution.  At issue is an allegation that the blanket prohibition on political insignia and logos violated an individual’s right to free speech. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling that Minnesota Statute § 211B.11 was not an unconstitutional restriction of the right to free speech under the First Amendment, that polling places are nonpublic forums, and that the state had a legitimate interest in maintaining peace, order, and decorum at the polling place in order to preserve the integrity of the election process. The Supreme Court must answer [i]s Minnesota Statute Section 211B.ll, which broadly bans all political apparel at the polling place, facially overbroad under the First Amendment.”  Oral argument on this case was held on February 28, 2018.  Adjudication of this case is pending.

 

District of Columbia v. Wesby

No. 15-1485, cert. granted June 8, 2016

Appeal of 765 F.3d 13 (D.C. Cir. 2017)

 

On March 16, 2008, DC police were notified of potentially illegal activities occurring at a house party which was “consistent with activity being conducted in strip clubs for profit” (internal quotations omitted).  Officer investigated and discovered that an individual known only as “Peaches” had given everyone permission to use the house.  Peaches was not in the house at the time the police arrived at the house, nor was any other occupant or owner of the house. No one at the house was able to identify the owner of the house when the officers arrived. The owner of the house was later identified as a Mr. Hughes, who did not give anyone, including Peaches, permission to use the house.  The District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department arrested all 16 attendees for unlawful entry, which was later changed to disorderly conduct, a charge which was not sufficiently backed by the evidence.  All 16 party attendees brought suit in the District Court against the District of Columbia and the arresting officers for false arrest and negligent supervision. The District Court ordered an award of between $30,000 and $50,000 for each plaintiff in the suit. A three judge panel for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s ruling. The questions presented to the Supreme Court were (1) “[w]hether the officers had probable cause to arrest under the Fourth Amendment, and in particular whether, when the owner of a vacant home informs police that he has not authorized entry, an officer assessing probable cause to arrest those inside for trespassing may discredit the suspects' questionable claims of an innocent mental state; and (2) “[w]hether, even if there was no probable cause to arrest the apparent trespassers, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established in this regard.” On January 22, 2018, following oral argument on October 4, 2017, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals stating “the totality of the circumstances gave the officers plenty of reason to doubt the partygoer’s protestations of innocence,” and therefore detain the partygoers. The Supreme Court used this opinion to reinforce its precedent regarding immunity under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and extended this protection to the officers in this case. Because the officers did not know that they violated a right of the partygoers granted by federal statute or the Constitution and the illegality of their actions was not clearly established at the time of their actions, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity under 42 U.S.C. §1983, and could not be held liable for the false arrest and negligent supervision. The Court’s opinion further stated that in order for an officer to not qualify for immunity under 42 U.S.C. §1983, their actions would need to be either intentional or grossly incompetent. If you would like to read the Supreme Court’s opinion for this case, please use the following link: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/15-1485_new_8n59.pdf.

 

Water War

 

Florida v. Georgia

Docket No. 220142
Original Jurisdiction

 

In 2013, Florida filed a complaint against Georgia alleging that its use of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin was inequitable. In 2014, the Supreme Court granted Florida permission to file a complaint and appointed a Special Master to investigate the case, based on Florida’s claims of widespread environmental, ecological, and economic harm caused by Georgia’s use of the ACF River Basin.  Florida and Georgia further disagreed regarding the Army Corps of Engineer’s rules regarding the Corps’ water storage reserves and the flow of water from said reserves.   On February 16, 2017, the Special Master submitted his final report, recommending that the Supreme Court deny Florida’s request for relief in that any relief which Florida would receive from Georgia would be insufficient given the high degree of control that the Army Corps of Engineers exercises over the ACF River Basin. Florida has submitted exceptions to the Special Master’s findings, arguing that the Supreme Court should decline to adopt said findings as the Special Master used a heightened standard for establishing redressability; improperly concluded that after establishing injury, Florida was still required to prove redressability; improperly stated that the Army Corps of Engineers' discretion in its operations precludes redressability; failed to address how Florida’s injuries would be redressed, regardless of how the Corps exercised discretion; and a number of other flaws in the Special Master’s analysis.  Oral argument was held on January 8, 2018.  Adjudication of this case is pending.

 

National Voter Registration Act

 

Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute

No. 16-980, cert. granted May 30, 2017

Appeal of 838 F.3d 699 (6th Cir. 2016)

 

The State of Ohio maintains a process referred to as the Ohio Suppmental Process (OSP), under which a registered voter who has been inactive for a period of two years due to either not voting, not filing a change of address with a state agency, or not filing for a voter’s registration card was sent a confirmation of address letter by the county voter registration office, and subsequently removed from the voter rolls if they did not either register to vote or respond to the notice within four years.  The A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and Larry Harmon (an Ohio resident who failed to respond to the notice and was subsequently removed from the voter rolls), filed suit claiming that the OSP violated provisions of the National Voter Registration Act.  The District Court upheld the OSP, stating that to require Ohio to coach individuals who had moved to another state on how to register in that state “defied logic” and further stated that the voters were not merely removed for inactivity but also for failing to respond to the notice.  On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed and found that as failure to vote was one of the triggers which began the process of removing a voter from registration, the entirety of the OSP was in violation of the National Voter Registration Act.  The question presented before the Supreme Court was “whether 52 U.S.C. § 20507 permits Ohio's list-maintenance process, which uses a registered voter's inactivity as a reason to send a confirmation notice to that voter under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.”  Oral argument was heard on January 10, 2018.  Adjudication of this case is pending.

 

State Sales Tax - Internet

 

South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc.

No. 17-494, cert. granted January 12, 2017

Appeal from 229 F. Supp. 3d 1026 (S.D. 2017)

 

In 2016, the South Dakota Legislature passed Senate Bill 106, requiring internet retailers with no physical presence in South Dakota to remit sales tax to South Dakota. South Dakota then proceeded to issue notice to sellers outside of the state that it believed were required to remit sales taxes and register for tax IDs with South Dakota. Some sellers requested a declaratory judgment from the South Dakota circuit court, concluding that Senate Bill 106 was unconstitutional and citing the long-standing precedent in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992). This opinion was affirmed by the South Dakota Supreme Court. The following question has been presented to the Supreme Court, “[s]hould this Court abrogate Quill's sales-tax-only, physical-presence requirement?” Oral argument on this case is scheduled for April 17, 2018.  Adjudication of this case is still pending.

 

Procedural 

 

 

Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District v. Tesla Energy Operations Inc.

No. 17-368, cert. granted December 1, 2017

Appeal of 859 F.3d 720 (9th Cir. 2917)

 

This case springs from SolarCity’s allegation that the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District was attempting to entrench its monopoly on power provision by setting prices unfavorable to solar power providers.  The Power District immediately moved to dismiss the case under the state-action immunity doctrine.  The District Court denied the motion, citing uncertainties about the Power District’s authority, and the Power District appealed.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Power District’s appeal and joined the Fourth and Sixth Circuits holding that a defendant may not invoke the collateral-order doctrine to immediately appeal the rejection of a state-action immunity defense. The question presented to the Supreme Court was “[w]hether orders denying state-action immunity to public entities are immediately appealable under the collateral-order doctrine.”  The parties jointly consented to the dismissal of this case on Mar. 20, 2018, and the matter was dismissed on Mar. 22, 2018.

 

Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania

No. 17-647, cert granted March 5, 2018

Appeal of 862 F.3d 310 (3rd Cir. 2017)

 

On December 20, 2012, The Township of Scott enacted a local ordinance related to the maintenance of cemeteries and burial places.  Knick, the Plaintiff in the case before the District Court, raised a number of claims against the Township related to alleged harm she suffered as a result of the ordinance.  The District Court dismissed Knick’s claims as she had failed to exhaust state remedies as a property owner prior to raising federal takings claims, a requirement first addressed in Williamson County Regional Planning v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985). On appeal the 9th Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling.  The questions presented to the Supreme Court are (1) “[w]hether the Supreme Court should reconsider the portion of Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank that requires property owners to exhaust state court remedies to ripen federal takings claims;” and (2) “[w]hether Williamson County’s ripeness doctrine bars review of takings claims that assert that a law causes an unconstitutional taking on its face, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 3rd, 6th, 9th and 10th Circuits hold, or whether facial claims are exempt from Williamson County, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 1st, 4th and 7th Circuits hold.” Oral argument has not yet been scheduled for this case. Adjudication of this case is still pending.

 

Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA)

 

Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido

No. 17-587, cert. granted February 26, 2018.

Appeal of 859 F.3d 1168 (9th Cir. 2017)

 

Two employees, John Guido and Dennis Rankin were hired in 2000 by the Mount Lemmon Fire District.  They were the two oldest full-time employees when they were terminated on June 15, 2009.  Both employees filed separate age discrimination charges before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ruled in both of their favors, finding that the Fire District had committed age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).  Guido and Rankin then filed suit in the District Court.  The District Court granted summary judgment for the Fire District and found that the Fire District did not qualify as an employer under the ADEA. The 9th Circuit reversed stating that the 20 employee minimum did not apply to the determination of whether or not a political subdivision qualified as an employer.  The question presented to the Supreme Court is “[w]hether, under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the same 20-employee minimum that applies to private employers also applies to political subdivisions of a state, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th Circuits have held, or whether the ADEA applies instead to all state political subdivisions of any size, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held in this case.” Oral argument has not yet been scheduled for this case.  Adjudication of this case is still pending.