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The Supreme Court had only two days of argument this week and an unusual schedule. In addition to observing Martin Luther King, Jr Day on Monday, the Court held its Conference on Thursday rather than Friday due to Inauguration Day, when Chief Justice Roberts swore in Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. In honor of the occasion, Tony Mauro of Law.com provides a run-down of memorable Supreme Court moments from previous inaugurations.
On Tuesday, the Court heard arguments in Lynch v. Dimaya and Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson. Lynch concerns part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which authorizes the deportation of any non-citizen convicted of an aggravated felony. The issue in Lynch is whether or not the INA definition of an “aggravated felony” is unconstitutionally vague. This case involves a constitutional challenge generally brought to criminal statutes, and immigration law has typically been evaluated differently. In a 1951 case, however, the Court considered a similar challenge to an immigration law. Kevin Johnson of SCOTUSBlog analyzed the argument. Johnson observed that while the justices might not agree that the particular statute is unconstitutionally vague, the Court seemed unlikely to reject the possibility that this challenge to immigration law could ever be brought.
Midland Funding, LLC questions whether it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for a collection agency to file a proof of claim for an unpaid debt after the statute of limitations on the debt has expired. It also addresses whether the U.S. Bankruptcy Code authorizes a creditor to file proof of claim despite the statute of limitations. Diane Davis of Bloomberg BNA provides a summary of the argument.
On Wednesday, the Court heard arguments in Lee v. Tam and Ziglar v. Abbasi. Lee concerns a provision of the Lanham Act that bans the registration of trademarks determined to be “disparaging” to “persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cited this provision when it denied the Asian-American band, “The Slants,” the trademark of their band name. Sarah Jeong of the New York Times provided an in-depth look at how Lee arrived at the Supreme Court, published the day before the argument. Jeong describes how Simon Tam decided to name his band “The Slants” in order to reclaim a stigmatizing label often associated with Asian-Americans. Jeong writes, “On Jan. 18, Tam’s lawyers will be facing down Lee’s lawyers before eight justices, none of whom are Asian, to decide the fate of the Slants and whether trademark law can accommodate ‘taking a word back.’” The Economist provides a description of the argument — and the justices’ apparent skepticism of the law.
Ziglar is a consolidation of three cases brought by a group of Muslim men detained following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The former detainees argue that their Constitutional rights were violated during their detention and seek to hold specific government officials individually liable. The issues in the case largely revolve around the scope of the government officials’ immunity. The Washington Post reports on the argument, and adds that “[h]uman rights and immigrant advocates say the outcome of the case is even more significant with the inauguration Friday of President-elect Donald Trump.” The arguments were heard by a six-justice court, as Justices Sotomayor and Kagan were recused.
Also on Wednesday, the Court issued the only opinion of the week in Lightfoot v. Cendant Mortgage Corporation. Justice Sotomayor delivered the unanimous decision, which examined whether or not the language “to sue or be sued, and to complain and to defend, in any court of competent jurisdiction, State or Federal” in the federal charter of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) granted jurisdiction in federal court in any case in which Fannie Mae is a party. The Court concluded that this clause did not confer federal courts jurisdiction in all such cases. Ronald Mann of SCOTUSBlog provides an analysis of the opinion, arguing that the “decision in this case should surprise no one” because of the Court’s fear that accepting the clause in the charter would lead to an explosion of cases introduced to federal court.
On Thursday, the Court met for Conference and granted cert in two cases: District of Columbia v. Wesby, a case examining Fourth Amendment probable cause concerns and the qualified immunity of police officers. And Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, a case concerning the standard for determining when a state court has “specific jurisdiction” in a lawsuit. Amy Howe of SCOTUSBlog provides a review of these cases, which could potentially be argued in April, with a new justice on the bench.