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SCOTUS News, Jan. 25th, 2018: The Beginning

The FantasySCOTUS Crowd is so far batting a thousand in the 2017 term. Let’s take a look.

District of Columbia v. Wesby

In a relatively brief opinion, SCOTUS ruled in favor of D.C. police officers in District of Columbia v. Wesby. Officers arrested several people unlawfully throwing a party in someone else’s house. The parties in this case argued about whether the officers had probable cause to make those arrests. Specifically, plaintiffs (respondents in this case) argued that the officers didn’t have enough information at the time of arrest to constitute probable cause. Because of the ambiguity of the original situation, this case also concerned whether the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, having acted in good faith with the information they had at the time.

As the Crowd predicted, SCOTUS was unanimous. Some Justices had a difference of opinion as to exactly why the officers had probable cause, but all agreed that they were entitled to qualified immunity. On the subject of probable cause, the Justices were somewhat less unanimous. Sotomayor and Ginsburg, in separate concurrences, question the need for SCOTUS to reach a judgment on whether the officers had probable cause to arrest the partygoers. Ginsburg, in particular, voiced concern about the problems that can arise from validating police searches without more evidence for probable cause.

Nat’l Association of Manufacturers v. Dept. of Defense

The Crowd’s second slam dunk of the week came in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense. A somewhat narrow case focused mainly on jurisdictional issues, the Court’s unanimous decision here surprises few in the Crowd. This case concerns the administrative review process for the regulations of the “waters of the United States”. The “waters of the United States” rule (“Rule”) establishes the scope of the waters under the EPA’s authority. This case concerned which courts have jurisdiction to hear challenges related to the Rule. The Government argued that only courts of appeals have jurisdiction. The NAM argued, and the Court here agrees, that the relevant statutory language does allow district court review. In particular, the Court rejected the Government’s arguments that the section of the statute defining the waters themselves counts as a regulation on permits and limitations for such things as pollutants and other substances released into said waters.

Artis v. District of Columbia

Artis’ state court claim rose to the level of relevancy with another, separate federal claim. Ordinarily, state court claims in these circumstances are considered at the federal level along with their related federal claims. This case arose because of a question about what happens after such federal claims are dismissed. The courts at the federal level dismissed the federal claim. What is the time bar for refiling the state court claim?

This case hinged on the specific reading of the word “toll”, or “tolling”. The Court divided itself sharply on the meaning of the word, and its common usage in other areas of the law.

In this case, Chief Justice Roberts cast the most surprising vote. During oral argument Kennedy remained rather quiet, while Roberts seemed to offer defendant’s counsel a lifeline when they were grilled by Breyer. But what may have tipped the scales the most was a rocky start for the D.C. counsel.

In a narrow 5-4 decision SCOTUS writes that “tolling” in this case – as with most others – implies a “stop clock” mechanism on a statute of limitations. This stricter – but arguably more straightforward – usage of “tolling” is perhaps why Roberts sided with the more liberal Justices. That, and Roberts is a man who enjoys a reversal.

We’ve Only Just Begun!

As usual, this first batch of full opinions is just SCOTUS warming up. More surprises may be in store. You can still get in on the action! Join FantasySCOTUS today, and sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date on all the latest news from SCOTUS.

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