SCOTUS News, Week of January 1st, 2017

Welcome to 2017, everyone. We begin as we ended; only eight Justices, with a ninth still far from sight. Let’s take a look at what’s happening with the Supreme Court this coming week:

Arguments This Week

Nelson v. Colorado is up first. There are Fourteenth Amendment concerns here. Criminals usually pay penalties to the government, in one form or another, once they are convicted of a crime. If the conviction is overturned later, the government usually returns the funds to that individual. However, in Colorado this system works a bit differently. Funds are not automatically refunded to acquitted individuals. The defendant has to file a separate civil suit if they want a refund. In addition, this civil suit requires that they prove their innocence with evidence. The Supreme Court will decide whether this rule in the state of Colorado constitutes a breach of due process.

Lewis v. Clarke concerns issues of tribal sovereignty. This kind of case would usually be a simple tort, but the rules of tribal jurisdiction complicate matters. The respondent, Clarke, was driving in his official capacity for the Mohegan Tribe when he rear-ended the petitioners. The petitioners, residents of Connecticut, originally sued in Connecticut court. Connecticut, however, does not have proper jurisdiction in this case. Tribal rules mean that the case may only go forward in the Mohegan Gaming Disputes Court. This is a Gordian Knot of sorts, as there are a number of different loopholes and restrictions on tribal courts.

Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman concerns surcharges on credit card transactions at merchants. This is an issue the Court has visited before. Of interest here is the strategy the petitioners use in their argument. A New York State statute prevents merchants from informing customers of surcharges on credit card transactions. To counter this, some merchants offer discounts to customers who pay with cash. The merchants argue that this does not violate the statute, since they never mention the word “surcharge” to customers. The merchants follow this thread to its logical conclusion, claiming that the statute’s prohibitions restrict their First Amendment rights.

Goodyear Tire v. Haeger is another due process case. The case began with a car accident caused by faulty Goodyear tires. Litigation against Goodyear began more than a decade ago. Over the course of litigation, Goodyear’s counsel committed misconduct during discovery. This “bad faith” conduct was subject to sanctions. The argument in this case hinges on what constitutes an appropriate sanction against Goodyear’s counsel. Goodyear argues that the amount and nature of punitive payments constitutes a criminal penalty, not a civil penalty. The punitive penalties the lower court forced Goodyear to pay amounted to $2.7 million. This despite the fact that an appropriate civil payment to the Haeger party would have only been about $700,000. Goodyear argues that the courts acted improperly in imposing these sanctions.

Endrew v. Douglas County School District delves into the scope of a federal statute for students with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) uses federal money to give a “free and appropriate public education” to children with disabilities. Endrew, the petitioner, received such funds. However, Endrew’s parents did not think the education target laid out by the IDEA plan was sufficient for their son’s needs, and thus not sufficiently “appropriate” for him. The dispute before the Justices hinges on their interpretation of what constitutes a “personalized education” that is “sufficient to confer some educational benefit”.


Next week promises to be edifying. We have many different kinds of arguments taking place, all of which have relatively far-reaching implications. Come back here next week for some analysis. And remember to stay up to date with FantasySCOTUS and @MarshallPlus.