The Court began the week by welcoming Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench. As Richard Wolf of USA Today reports, Gorsuch was not shy about asking questions, and his questions focused forcefully on the text of the statutes the Court was considering. On Monday, the Court also issued its Orders List from the first Conference that Justice Gorsuch participated in. [Correction: Justice Gorsuch did not in fact participate.] It did not issue any new grants of certiorari, and it denied certiorari in one closely watched case: Mickelson v. County of Ramsey, which challenged charging fees to people who have been arrested but not convicted. Once again, however, the Court did not act in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Commission on Civil Rights, a case about the clash between a baker’s religious convictions and a state’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. ISCOTUSnow discussed Mickelson and Masterpiece Cakeshop here, along with several other cases the Court has yet to act on.
On Monday, the Court heard arguments in Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board, Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates, Inc., and – in a rare afternoon session – California Public Employee’s Retirement System v. ANZ Securities, Inc. Perry addresses whether a Merit Systems Protection Board decision is subject to review in the district court or in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Howard Wasserman in a USA Today article notes that this is the type of “detailed, procedural, one-off” opinion that is usually pawned off on the junior-most justice. Justice Gorsuch was particularly active in the questioning in this case, as SCOTUSblog reports
Town of Chester focuses on whether a party that does not itself have Article III standing may nonetheless intervene in a suit over which a federal court has jurisdiction. Neal Katyal of Hogan Lovells argued the case on behalf of the Town of Chester. Katyal, who served as Acting Solicitor General in the Obama Administration, supported Gorsuch’s nomination both by writing an op-ed in The New York Times entitled Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch and by introducing Gorsuch at his confirmation hearing. As a result of Katyal’s vocal support for Gorsuch’s confirmation, there was speculation about whether Gorsuch would recuse himself from Town of Chester, as the National Law Journal reported. Justice Gorsuch in fact stayed on the bench during the argument, although he did not ask Katyal any questions, according to USA Today.
Lastly on Monday, in California Public Employee’s Retirement Systems (CalPERS), the Court heard argument about the timely filing of class actions in securities cases. Alison Frankel of Reuters explains the background of the case, including delving into the differences between statutes of limitation and statutes of repose, and also reports on the “trash talking” that ensued among the advocates on either side before the argument.
On Tuesday, the Court will hear oral arguments in Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission and Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc. In Kokesh, the Court’s second securities case of the week, the Court will consider whether a five-year statute of limitations applies to claims for “disgorgement” sought by the SEC. Disgorgement is an action against a wrongdoer to return to the rightful owner whatever profits the wrongdoer gained in the course of the illegal activity. BloombergBNA discusses the case further, here. In Henson, the Court will decide what constitutes a “debt collector” for purposes of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Lexology explains that the circuits are split on the issue, and how important this issue is to state debt collection and enforcement activity.
On Wednesday the Court will hear arguments in cases with less technical issues, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer and Weaver v. Massachusetts. Trinity stems from a challenge to Missouri’s denial of grant to resurface a daycare playground. The denial stems from a provision of the state constitution that prohibits state aid from going to religious institutions. The Church argues this is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Above the Law addresses how Judge Gorsuch, given his prior decisions about the separation between church and state, could affect this case. And the case presents a new procedural twist. Last week, the Missouri governor announced that the state would now allow churches to receive funds under the playground surfacing program. The Court ordered the parties to submit letter briefs about whether this decision moots the case by noon on the day before argument.
In Weaver, the Court will analyzes ineffective counsel, structural error, and prejudice. The case involves a criminal defendant whose lawyer failed to object to the public (including the defendant’s mother and other supporters) being excluded from the courtroom during jury selection. Normally, the denial of a public trial is considered a “structural error” and the defendant does not need to demonstrate that he was prejudiced to receive a new trial. Here, however, the defendant’s public-trial claim is nested within an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. To win a new trial for ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant must show that he was prejudiced by his attorney’s ineffectiveness. The state and intermediate federal courts have split on whether prejudice must be shown where structural error is the underlying basis for an ineffectiveness claim. And aside from the core issue of this case, there is a question of what constitutes a “public trial,” and what happens if a courtroom cannot accommodate everyone who would like to observe? Rory Little of SCOTUSblog explores further.
Finally, the Court may release opinions on Tuesday and/or Wednesday this week, and it will meet for Conference on Friday.