27 June 2017

Yet More SCOTUS Rulings

There were five new merits decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday which combined with orders entered today, wraps up the year (the October 2016 session) for the court.

* CALPERS v. ANZ Securities. The three year statute of repose for a suit alleging false statements in a registration statement is not tolled for individual claims while a class action lawsuit is pending. The decision is 5-4 involving the usual suspects. The dissent argues that individual claims of people who opt out of a class action are effectively part of the same civil action and hence are not untimely. But, the court takes an anti-class action stance once again.

* Davila v. Davis. A trial lawyer for a defendant convicted and sentenced to death preserved an arguably valid legal objection at trial, but the appellate lawyer for the defendant failed to raise the issue on appeal in conduct that arguably constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The habeas corpus lawyer then failed to timely raise the issue of the appellate lawyer's ineffective assistance of counsel, which was arguably a second distinct instance of ineffective assistance of counsel. But, SCOTUS holds that ineffective assistance of habeas counsel in failing to point out ineffectively assistance of counsel by appellate counsel, is not sufficient to overcome the usual deadline for complaining about ineffective assistance of counsel by the appellate counsel. If the mistake had been made by trial counsel and habeas counsel, rather than appellate counsel and habeas counsel, review would have been available. The decision is 5-4 involving the usual suspects. Justice Thomas emphasizes the fact that there is no constitutional right to a criminal appeal (which is true, but generally irrelevant when there is a statutory right to a criminal appeal as there is in every state).

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. A state constitutional provision barring any public assistance for religious schools is held unconstitutional as applied to a religious school seeking a grant for rubberized surface material upgrades in a playground. The Court distinguishes between being denied benefits because one is a religious institution and being denied benefits because it would use the benefits for religious purposes (which the Court has previously held is permissible). The decision is 7-2 with Thomas and Gorsuch providing one concurring opinion and Breyer concurring in judgment only.  Thomas and Gorsuch would overturn Locke which held that denying funds that could be used for religious purposes is permissible. Breyer focuses on a narrow ruling limited to "a general program designed to secure or to improve the health and safety of children.", that has no religious content. Sotomayor and Ginsburg, in dissent emphasize that the Court is "holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church." This is contrary to state constitutions in more than 30 states including Colorado. It isn't clear if the conservatives have the votes to extend this to voucher cases like the one arising in Douglas County, Colorado's schools that would have allowed high school vouchers to be used for private religious schools at the K-12 level whose instruction would be explicitly religious, which were remanded for reconsideration by the Colorado Supreme Court in light of this opinion. A New Mexico case involving closer facts was also remanded to be reconsidered in light of this opinion. This case could portend a major change in establishment clause jurisprudence, or could involve only a narrow exception to existing law with little material impact.

Hernandez v. Mesa, per curiam. The case is a Bivens action against a border guard is shot and killed a 15 year old Mexican boy on the other side of the border from the U.S. for no justifiable reason. The legal standard to determine if a Bivens action is available was clarified in a recently decided SCOTUS case (which is generally favorable to the government and was decided with a four justice plurality that might not have had the same result if all justices participated) and the high court disagreed with one aspect of the Court of Appeals' analysis of the facts (which is generally favorable to the Mexican boy's estate). The Court remanded to the Court of Appeals to reconsider the case in light of the new law and a differently applied factual issue before SCOTUS addresses the merits of the case, with procedural issues to be decided first in order to avoid the substantive law question if possible. It is quite likely that the Court of Appeals, on remand, will deny the boy's estate a right to bring a Bivens action and that the case may return to the U.S. Supreme Court for further review, either way.

Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project, per curiam. The Court grants cert with regard to the Trump administration's Muslim ban on an expedited briefing schedule, sustaining the stay of the ban as to some people affected by it, while terminating the stay as applied to people with "no connection to the United States at all", pending resolution of the case by SCOTUS. This effectively reinstates the ban as to many refugees who had been fully vetted and has visas in place in a manner that will probably render their case moot by the time that the Court can hear it on the merits (since the ban was proposed to be for 90 days). But, since the stay was in place for a significant period of time pending this order, many such people will have already entered the United States at this point.

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