Supreme Court

Kelly v. United States is a conflux of fascinating law and facts.

The basic question the Supreme Court will decide is whether the masterminds of “Bridgegate” have committed fraud in violation of federal law. The more technical question is whether a public official “defrauds” the government of its property by advancing a “public policy reason” for an official decision that is not the subjective “real reason” for making the decision.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority’s Director of Interstate Capital Projects, and Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Intergovernmental Affairs orchestrated “Bridgegate.” Under the guise of conducting a traffic study, they conspired to reduce traffic lanes from the George Washington Bridge (the busiest bridge in the world) to Fort Lee the first week of Fort Lee’s school year, because the mayor of Fort Lee refused to endorse Governor Christie for governor.

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue raises an issue the Supreme Court has long wrestled with:  if a state-aid program violates a state constitutional prohibition against mixing church and state because religious institutions may participate, does discontinuing that program violate the federal constitution’s Free Exercise or Equal Protection Clauses.

Montana statutes allow taxpayers to receive tax credits for contribution to Student Scholarship Organizations (SSO) that give students scholarships to attend private schools, including religious schools. The Montana Department of Revenue adopted Rule 1 disallowing religious schools to participate in the program because it concluded their participation would violate Montana’s constitution. Parents of students attending religiously-affiliated private schools challenged Rule 1.

In Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California the Supreme Court will decide whether the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is judicially reviewable and lawful. Three lower courts have concluded ending the policy is both reviewable and likely unlawful.  

DACA was established through a DHS Memorandum during the Obama presidency. The program allowed undocumented persons who arrived in the United States before age 16 and have lived here since June 15, 2007, to stay, work, and go to school in the United States without facing the risk of deportation for two years with renewals available.

DHS rescinded DACA in September 2017 after receiving a letter from the Attorney General stating the program was unconstitutional and created “without proper statutory authority.”

In Mitchell v. Wisconsin the Supreme Court held that generally when police officers have probable cause to believe an unconscious person has committed a drunk driving offense, warrantless blood draws are permissible. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing for this result.

By the time the police officer got Gerald Mitchell from his car to the hospital to take a blood test he was unconscious. Mitchell’s blood alcohol content (BAC) about 90 minutes after his arrest was 0.222%.

Wisconsin and twenty-eight other states allow warrantless blood draws of unconscious persons where police officers have probable cause to suspect drunk driving.

In Rucho v. Common Cause the Supreme Court held 5-4 that partisan gerrymandering claims are non-justiciable—meaning that a federal court cannot decide them.

Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of drawing legislative districts to benefit one political party. In Davis v. Bandemer (1986) a majority of the Supreme Court held that partisan gerrymandering cases are justiciable. In that case and since then the Court has been unable to lay out a standard for when partisan dominance “is too much.” In Rucho v. Common Cause the Supreme Court announced it will stop trying.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion which his conservative colleagues joined (Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh). Unsurprisingly, the Court emphasized the role of state legislatures in districting:  “The Framers were aware of electoral districting problems and considered what to do about them. They settled on a characteristic approach, assigning the issue to the state legislatures, expressly checked and balanced by the Federal Congress.”

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