This week, the Court heard arguments in seven cases and issued an opinion in one.
Perhaps the most high profile case of the week was the last one, particularly in light of the Trump administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws. Maslenjak v. United States asks whether a naturalized citizen may be stripped of her citizenship in a criminal proceeding because of an immaterial false statement made during her application process. The government argued that when Divna Maslenjak applied to become a citizen, she knew that she had lied to immigration officials when seeking refugee status. Christopher Landau, representing Maslenjak, argued that because the government had not established that lie she told, regarding her husband’s service in the Bosnian Serb military, was “material” to the granting of citizenship, it should not cause her to be stripped of her citizenship.
Robert Barnes of the Washington Post provided a particularly detailed summary of the argument, in which the justices appeared skeptical of the government’s position, noting that Justice Kennedy criticized the government’s position for “demeaning the priceless value of citizenship.” Barnes then summarized an amusing, but important, discussion:
[T]he Justice Department lawyer said that because “naturalization is the highest privilege the United States can bestow upon on individual,” Congress has required that individuals “scrupulously comply with every rule governing the naturalization process.”
Roberts, who had asked no questions of Landau, lay in wait.
The chief justice noted that question 22 on the naturalization form asked “Have you ever committed, assisted in committing, or attempted to commit a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?”
Roberts then confessed: “Some time ago, outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone.” There was laughter in the courtroom and more confessions followed.
His point, the Chief Justice explained, was “that if he was in an immigrant’s position and had answered ‘no’ on question 22, ‘20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, “Guess what, you’re not an American citizen after all.” ’ ”
On Monday, the Court started its week with two habeas cases. The first was McWilliams v. Dunn, which analyzed whether the experts assisting indigent defendants in their defense must be independent of the case’s prosecution under Ake v. Oklahoma. Attorney Stephen Bright arguing for James McWilliams, argued that his client’s clearly established constitutional rights under Ake were violated when an Alabama judge denied his plea to consult with an independent psychiatrist. Adam Liptak of the New York Times discusses the highlights of the McWilliams arguments and the justices’ apparent disagreement with how to read Ake. And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution profiles Stephen Bright, who is stepping down from the Southern Center for Human Rights, which he took over in 1982. McWilliams was Bright’s fourth argument before the Court, and he prevailed in the other three, all of which were also death penalty cases.
Also on Monday, the Court heard Davila v. Davis, which asks whether the Court’s precedent that ineffective state habeas counsel can overcome the procedural default of an ineffective assistance of trial claim should also apply to the procedural default of claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Attorney Seth Kretzer argued that the Court should excuse Erick Davila’s failure to raise the ineffectiveness of his appellate lawyer in a post-conviction proceeding because of the ineffectiveness of Davila’s post-conviction lawyer. Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller said that for the Court to hold that such a failure is excusable on those grounds would “have a huge systemic cost by opening up the entire trial and everything that happened at trial to Federal habeas review.”
On Tuesday the Court heard cases involving jurisdiction. In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, they are considering whether a plaintiff’s claims sufficiently arise out of, or relate to, a defendant’s forum activities to create specific jurisdiction when the plaintiff’s claims would be the same even if the defendant had no forum contacts. Neal Katyal, representing the pharmaceutical company, argued that state courts should not usually have jurisdiction over nonlocal claims involving nonresidents of the state. Thomas Goldstein, representing nonresident plaintiffs, argued that the company’s contacts with California residents should render the company vulnerable to a suit filed in that state. The company marketed across the nation. Both Katyal and Goldstein are particularly experienced and impressive Supreme Court advocates. Katyal was Acting Solicitor General for the Obama Administration after Justice Kagan’s appointment, and Goldstein is the founder and publisher of SCOTUSblog.
Also on Tuesday the Court heard arguments in BNSF Railway v. Tyrell. This case analyzes suits filed under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act and decides if a state court may decline to follow Daimler AG v. Bauman, which held that a state court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant that is not “at home” in the forum state. Attorney Andrew Tulumello, representing the railroad, argued that the Montana law requiring a company to register in the state specifically states that such registration cannot be the sole basis of personal jurisdiction. Attorney Julie Murray, representing the plaintiffs, argued that when Congress passed the Act, it considered the mobile nature of rail work and therefore intended for rail workers to be allowed to sue in states where neither the worker nor the injury is connected.
On Wednesday, in addition to Malsenjak, the Court heard arguments in Sandoz Inc. v. Amgen Inc., which presents technical questions involving requirements that companies give notice before marketing “biosimilar product” under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009. Bloomberg BNA offers more information about the case, here.
The Court issued only one opinion this week, in Lewis v. Clarke. There, the Court declined to extend sovereign immunity to a tribal employee in a case in which the employee, and not the Tribe, is the real party in interest. Todd Henderson provides more analysis at SCOTUSblog.