Week in Review – March 24, 2016

Did you miss your Supreme Court news this week? Let our Weekly Roundup help. (To stay on top of the latest Supreme Court happenings, follow @ISCOTUS on Twitter.)

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in six cases this week: Murr v. Wisconsin, Howell v. Howell, City of Los Angeles v. Mendez, Water Splash v. Menon, Microsoft Corp. v. Baker and Impression Products v. Lexmark International. Descriptions of the cases provided by ISCOTUSnow can be found here.

The Court also issued opinions on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, the Court issued opinions for three cases: Manuel v. City of Joliet, SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products LLC, and National Labor Relations Board v. Southwest General Inc. Manuel, involved a man who brought a civil rights action against police officers for his false arrest and prolonged detention after his arrest. Justice Kagan delivered the majority opinion in favor of Manuel, concluding that Fourth Amendment protections extend to pretrial detention. In SGA Hygiene Products, the Court examined whether unreasonable delay in litigation can bar a claim for patent infringement brought within the six-year statutory period of limitations. Justice Alito delivered the majority opinion, stating that unreasonable delay cannot bar such a claim. Finally, in National Labor Relations Board, the Court looked at the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 which determines who may fill a vacant office that requires presidential appointment and Senate confirmation in an acting capacity. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the majority opinion, holding that once the President has nominated someone to a position, that person may not serve in that job in an acting capacity. As a practical matter, this restricts the President’s ability to appoint acting officials while waiting for Senate confirmation.

On Wednesday, the Court issued opinions for three cases: Czyzewski v. Jevik Holding Corp., Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, Inc., and Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. In Czyzewski, Justice Breyer delivered the opinion on behalf of six justices (Justices Thomas and Alito dissented, holding that a bankruptcy court cannot authorize a settlement that provides for the distribution of assets in a way inconsistent with the priorities set by the Bankruptcy Code Czyzewski thus establishes that a corporation cannot pick and choose which creditors to pay by using settlement instead of going through the normal bankruptcy process.

Star Athletica examines the federal Copyright Act of 1976 and the standard that should be applied to determine if a feature of a design is copyrightable. Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court, affirming the decision of the Sixth Circuit, stating: “An artistic feature of the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection if the feature can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work either on its own or in some other medium if imagined separately from the useful article.” Jeff Webb, founder of Varsity Brands, which makes the cheerleader uniforms at issue in the case, issued a statement following the decision. “We were honored to serve as advocates and fighters for the basic idea that designers everywhere can create excellent work and make investments in their future without fear of having it stolen or copied.”

Endrew F. analyzes the level of “free appropriate public education” guaranteed by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Endrew, an autistic student, was enrolled in a private school because his parents believed that the public school he attended could not adequately address his needs. The Court concluded that to satisfactorily provide a free appropriate public education, the school district must offer “individualized education programs” for students with disabilities that enable students to make “progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” Chief Justice Roberts delivering the majority opinion, stating:

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing “merely more than de minimis” progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to “sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’”

Anya Kameyetz of NPR published an article about the decision, mentioning that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, in similar cases, has consistently ruled in favor of school districts, stating: “Gorsuch’s opinions in eight out of 10 cases involving students of disabilities all tended toward limiting the responsibilities of school districts — for example, if they leave school of their own accord out of frustration. IDEA’s standard of a “free appropriate public education,” reads Gorsuch’s opinion in one of these cases, ‘is not an onerous one.’”

Throughout the week, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been conducting its confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch. ISCOTUSnow has provided daily updates on the hearings, the first three of which can be found here: day one, day two, and day three.

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