The Week Ahead at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has four oral arguments scheduled this week. On Tuesday, the Court hears Heffernan v. City of Paterson, a First Amendment case regarding a police officer who was demoted based on his perceived political affiliation. Officer Heffernan was demoted because his superiors believed he was supporting the incumbent police chief’s opponent in an upcoming election. But they were wrong. Can Officer Heffernan claim his First Amendment rights were violated when he had not sought to exercise his free speech rights, but his superiors thought he had? This decision could have an effect on public employees’ job security, reports. Howard M. Wasserman offers a preview of the case at SCOTUSblog.

The other argument the Court hears on Tuesday is Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. This case involves the issue of whether there is “diversity” between litigants, when one litigant is a trust, so that a case can be moved from state to federal court. It raises some very lawyerly questions. How should a court determine which state a trust is a citizen of? Should a court look only to the citizenship of the trustees, or can it also consider the citizenship of the trust’s beneficiaries for purposes of diversity jurisdiction? This problem “regularly pops up in litigation,” Law 360 reports, and the lower courts have been divided on it.

On Wednesday, the Court will hear oral arguments in two cases involving land disputes and federal authority. In Sturgeon v. Masica the Court will consider whether the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act limits National Park Service control over certain disputed lands. This case turns on whether non-federal Alaska land is subject to federal regulations. Congress intended for some regulations to have “general applicability,” like the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act, explains Law 360. Here, the Court will decide if federal land regulations have a similar general applicability.

Also on Wednesday is Nebraska v. Parker. In Nebraska, the Court will determine whether tribes retain control over land they sold over a hundred years ago. Does the long-ago sale of tribal lands to non-Indian settlers diminish the original boundaries of the Omaha Indian Reservation? If not, then tribes can exercise their taxing authority within the boundaries of the sold land. Lyle Denniston previews the case at SCOTUSblog. asks whether this case may be the “tipping point for the next phase of Indian policy for the human rights era.”

In other Supreme Court news we’ll be following this week, the Court remains a popular topic in the presidential primary contests. The next President is likely to have the opportunity to appoint at least one justice. Check out Constitution Daily for a report on what the candidates have said on the Supreme Court.

Also, people are talking about a potential future Supreme Court opinion striking down the death penalty.  This possibility gained newfound attention in the wake of Justice Breyer’s dissent in Glossip v. Gross last June. The New York Times recently published an editorial under the headline “The Death Penalty Endgame,” noting a petition currently before the Supreme Court in a Pennsylvania case that directly challenges the constitutionality of the death penalty.

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