21 June 2013

Supreme Court final week preview and predictions

There are 11 remaining cases in the Supreme Court's current term. Here are the important questions in each case:

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin: Does the University's use of race in admissions decisions as a means of affirmative action violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Prediction: The convention wisdom (which I see no reason to depart from) suggests that the Court will rule 5-3 (Justice Kagan is recused) that the affirmative action policy violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Opinion author is likely to be Justice Kennedy.

Shelby County v. Holder: Did Congress’ decision to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) of the VRA exceed its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violate the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution?

Prediction: Chief Justice Roberts will write for a 5-4 majority that the VRA is unconstitutional.

Hollingsworth v. Perry: (1) Does Hollingsworth have standing to defend Prop 8? and (2) Does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman (it is important to note that the first question was threshold question, meaning it must be decided in the affirmative for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality question)?

Prediction: A majority of the Court will decide that Hollingsworth does not have standing to defend Prop 8. As a result, the Court will not rule on the merits. Same sex marriage will remain legal in California, but the ruling will be limited and won't apply elsewhere.

United States v. Windsor: (1) Did the federal government's decision not to defend DOMA take away jurisdiction from the Supreme Court to hear the case? and (2) Does the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group have standing to defend DOMA? and 3) Is DOMA unconstitutional by violating the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection?

Prediction: BLAG will have standing, and the Court will strike down DOMA. However, I won't be surprised to see a plurality opinion on the reasoning.

Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District: (1) Is it a "taking" to deny a development permit for failing to satisfy government-imposed conditions? and (2) Does the taking violate the essential nexus (a sufficient link between the demand on the property owner and the public policy at issue) and rough proportionality (any attempt by a local government to require dedication of a part of private property to a public use has to be proportional to the public impact of the project) tests set out in the Court's prior takings decisions?

Prediction: A narrow majority of the Court will rule that denial of the development permit was not a taking.

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl: Can a non-custodial parent could invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-63, to block an adoption voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent under state law? and (2) Does the ICWA define “parent” in 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9) to include an unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent?

Prediction: Personally, I've love to see the Court reverse the South Carolina Supreme Court's ruling, but I am pessimistic that this will happen. It seems more likely they will affirm and let the biological father keep the child.

Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett: Did the the First Circuit Court of Appeals err when it held that federal law does not preempt state law design-defect claims targeting generic pharmaceutical products because the conceded conflict between such claims and the federal laws governing generic pharmaceutical design allegedly can be avoided if the makers of generic pharmaceuticals simply stop making their products?

Prediction: Justice Alito will write for a 5-4 majority and reverse the First Circuit.

United States v. Kebodeaux: Did the court of appeals err in conducting its analysis on the premise that respondent was not under a federal registration obligation until the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) was enacted, when pre-SORNA federal law obligated him to register as a sex offender? and (2) Did the court of appeals err in holding that Congress lacks the Article I authority to provide for criminal penalties as applied to a person who was convicted of a sex offense under federal law and completed his criminal sentence before SORNA was enacted?

Prediction: The Court will reverse the Fifth Circuit, finding that Congress did not have the authority to require the defendant to register as a sex offender.

Sekhar v. United States: Does the "recommendation" of an attorney, who is a salaried employee of a governmental agency, in a single instance, constitute intangible property that can be the subject of an extortion attempt under the Hobbs Act?

Prediction: The Court will reverse in a unanimous decision.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar: Does the retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similarly worded statutes require a plaintiff to prove but-for causation (i.e., that an employer would not have taken an adverse employment action but for an improper motive), or instead require only proof that the employer had a mixed motive (i.e., that an improper motive was one of multiple reasons for the employment action)?

Prediction: A 5-4 majority will reverse and find that the retaliation provision requires a plaintiff to prove but-for causation.

Vance v. Ball State University: Does another employee who was responsible for assigning work on a day-to-day basis, but wasn't otherwise responsible for hiring, firing, transferring, demoting, disciplining, or promoting decisions qualify as "supervisor" which would subject the University to harassment claims?

Prediction: A 7-2 majority will affirm the lower court's decision.
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