SCOTUS News, 6/26/17: Lee, Murr, and Perry

We’re getting close to the end of the term, and we’ll keep you updated with all the latest. Here is our breakdown of the three cases released last Friday.

Lee v. United States

In the first of Friday’s opinions, the Court made another pivotal decision concerning the rights of resident aliens. We wrote before about Lee’s claim to ineffective assistance of counsel leading to his deportation. The Sixth Circuit did not think Lee met the standard for his claim, though. This would trigger Lee’s deportation for committing a felony as a non-citizen resident. SCOTUS here reverses the Sixth Circuit, and holds that Lee meets the standard for his claim.

Lee’s counsel admitted being unaware that Lee would face deportation if he made a plea deal. Lee went on the record multiple times, asking about the risk of deportation. Right up until his sentencing, Lee claimed to be worried about deportation, but his counsel repeatedly told him not to be. That is what makes the case unusual, and what satisfies the Sixth Amendment’s high threshold for an ineffectiveness claim.

SCOTUS explains, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, that Lee’s long odds of succeeding at trial are irrelevant because he never got a trial in the first place. A dissent written by Thomas, and joined by Alito, butts up against this. The dissent contends that Lee did not meet the strict criteria set out in Strickland v. Washington. Furthermore, they state that his case would not have had a different outcome if he had gone to trial. The majority, meanwhile, concludes that Lee still deserved a proper day in court after learning of all the potential consequences of his guilty plea. The lack of a trial in the first place amounts to a serious error. SCOTUS reverses and remands to correct that error.

Murr v. Wisconsin

The Murr family alleged an unlawful property taking by the State of Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s regulations restricted the family’s ability to sell or develop two plots of land separately. Due to regulations, the Murrs had to treat the two properties as effectively inseparable. Under Wisconsin’s property laws, there are several reasons why. For one thing, the Murrs’ property only has enough area for a lawful development if they are combined. Separate, they cannot be developed as the Murrs wish.

So, are these lots separable? The majority thinks this unlikely. Kennedy writes for the majority, and mentions that State-drawn lot lines are a matter of State law. And the States can change their rules if they want, property owners beware. Thus, the required merger of the lots does not constitute an illegal taking by the State. Additionally, the economic value of the lots is not seriously affected by merging them into one. SCOTUS affirms the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Wisconsin still needs to weigh several relevant factors about the specific land parcels in this case. They must be careful not to justify the restrictions of the land based on the very same law the Murrs challenged.

Roberts dissents, joined by Thomas and Alito. They agree with parts of the test the majority establishes. Their disagreement stems from the fact that the Murrs’ two lots are considered one legally unified lot, without cause to do so. The two plots of land are legally separate, and should each be treated as separate plots under State law. For these reasons, Roberts believes the Wisconsin Court of Appeals erred, and the case should be reversed and remanded.

Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board

This case concerns jurisdiction for “mixed cases” originating from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Perry left his job at the Census Bureau after voluntarily signing a deal. He later appealed his suspension and retirement, claiming he was coerced into signing his agreement. Perry sought to bring this complaint to the Federal Circuit, where MSPB claims are supposed to go. One problem: because he voluntarily departed his job, the MSPB did not have jurisdiction. An MSPB judge dismissed Perry’s claim because the MSPB lacks jurisdiction over voluntary actions. Furthermore, Perry’s claims alleged race and age-based discrimination. Discrimination claims such as those are supposed to proceed in federal district court.

The MSPB advised Perry to seek appeal in the Federal Circuit. Perry instead took his case to the D.C. Circuit for review. The D.C. Circuit transferred Perry’s case to the Federal Circuit. They dismissed his case.

SCOTUS granted certiorari, and rules that the proper forum here is federal district court. The laws are clear, Ginsburg writes, as are precedents set in Kloeckner v. Solis that show that the District Court should handle any mixed cases that do not fall under the jurisdiction of the MSPB and the Federal Circuit. This includes cases of alleged discrimination, which must be brought in federal district court because they concern federal laws. It follows that the District Court is the proper forum for discrimination cases like Perry’s. Thus, the majority reverses and remands the D.C. Circuit’s judgment.

Gorsuch dissents, joined by Thomas. The main thrust of their argument is that nothing prevents Perry from exhausting his discrimination claim in District Court, after he pursues his claim through the MSPB’s administrative channels. They reject the notion of writing a new rule, and remain skeptical that the Court’s ruling will smooth the process of Perry’s claims and others like them, without also creating new problems down the road.

The Crowd and the Algorithm

The Murr ruling surprised both man and machine. Indeed, it seems a bit of a shock for SCOTUS to rule against private property rights. On the other hand, the circumstances in this case are rather unique, something the majority explained in their decision.


Murr v. Wisconsin

In Lee, the Crowd came close to a perfect read, and the Algorithm’s individual justice predictions clearly show it thought the ruling could go either way. This is likely due to the multifarious and oft-cited jurisprudence surrounding Strickland.

The Perry case is the sharpest divide between Crowd and Algorithm in this batch of Friday cases. The labyrinth of jurisdiction problems commonly tackled by the Supreme Court has given the Algorithm troubles before.


Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board


Crowd: 51/62 cases; Accuracy Rate: 82.25%
{Marshall}+: 36/62 cases; Accuracy Rate: 58.06%

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