Important Supreme Court Cases you never Heard of in 2022

By now, you have probably heard about the decisions regarding N.Y. Gun laws, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and the rulings regarding church and state, which I examine separately. But the High Court dealt with a lot of significant issues in 2022.

Voter ID Laws & Voter Rights

Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, 597 U.S. ___ (2022)

Primary Ruling: Legislative Leaders have standing to intervene in challenges to the laws they pass or to provisions of the State constitution

This is essentially a separation of powers case. When a state is sued over the constitutionality of a state law or constitutional provision, the executive branch, through the state Attorney General is responsible for defending the state law or constitution. What happens, however, if the Governor or attorney general doesn’t like the law or constitutional provision at issue? Can other government stakeholders, such as legislators, intervene in such cases?

Federal courts, generally, cannot exclude multiple government stakeholders, including state representatives, from participating in federal litigation challenging state law. On the contrary, the Court held that allowing intervention by lawful state agents promotes informed federal-court decision-making. Moreover, in the present case, North Carolina law explicitly provides that the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate “shall jointly have standing to intervene on behalf of the General Assembly as a party in any judicial proceeding challenging a North Carolina statute” or constitutional provision. (emphasis added)

In this case, the North Carolina Constitution was amended to require photographic identification for in-person voting. , The legislature enacted enabling legislation (S.B. 824) to implement the new constitutional provision over the Governor’s opposition. Opponents of the new rule filed a federal constitutional challenge. The State Board of Elections was defended by the state’s attorney general, a former state senator who openly opposed voter identification laws. Legislators countersued to remove the A.G. from the case, arguing that he could not zealously represent vital state interests. The plaintiffs argued that because the Governor opposed S.B. 824, the Board of Elections had a political allegiance to the Governor, the Board failed to vigorously defend S.B. 824 in state-court proceedings, and the attorney general’s opposition to voter-ID laws. The Fourth Circuit ruled against N.C. Legislators found they had no standing to intervene.

The Supreme Court found that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) requires courts to allow anyone to intervene in a case where the intervenor timely claims an interest in the subject of the action and that the existing parties will not adequately represent that interest. States (and legislatures) have a legitimate interest in enforcing the laws they enact. When enforcement authority falls among different officials answerable to different branches of government, different interests vital to the administration of state government often surface. The Court held that allowing intervention by lawful state agents promotes informed federal-court decision-making. Moreover, in the present case, North Carolina law explicitly provides that the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate “shall jointly have standing to intervene on behalf of the General Assembly as a party in any judicial proceeding challenging a North Carolina statute” or constitutional provision. (emphasis added)

Criminal Law and Defendants’ Rights

Shoop v. Twyford, 596 U.S. _ (2022)

Primary Ruling: An order allowing a prisoner to search for new evidence is not “necessary or appropriate in aid” of a federal court’s adjudication of a habeas corpus action. A prisoner must first show that the desired evidence would be admissible in connection with a claim for relief.

This is a very technical ruling but has broad implications for habeas corpus claims. An appellant searching for new evidence shows that the evidence would be admissible and relevant to their appeal.

In this case, the appellant (Twyford) was sentenced to death for aggravated murder. The state courts upheld both the conviction and sentence and denied post-conviction relief. Specifically, the appellant claimed ineffective assistance of counsel because his lawyer did not present evidence of head trauma. On its face, this is straightforward enough since an attorney is not obligated to present any particular piece of evidence when determining trial strategy.

Nevertheless, the Ohio district court ordered the appellant transported for neurological testing to uncover potential evidence for his claim under the All Writs Act. [federal courts must “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions.” 28 U.S.C. 1″ 51(a).] The Sixth Circuit upheld the transport order.

The Supreme Court held that the search for new evidence is not “necessary or “appropriate in aid of” adjudication” of a federal habeas corpus action when the appellant prisoner fails to show that the desired evidence is admissible and relevant to the pending claim for relief. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) limits the development and consideration of new evidence in a habeas claim. Before a federal court grants an evidentiary hearing or “otherwise consider new evidence” under 28 U.S.C. 2254(e)(2), it must determine that the evidence sought is admissible and relevant to the pending case. The All Writs Act does not circumvent statutory requirements or relevant procedural rules. Because the appellant never made a showing that neurological testing could be admissible in his habeas proceedings, the AEDPA Court is limited to “the record that was before the state court.”

United States v. Taylor, 596 U.S. _ (2022)

Primary Ruling: Attempted Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A) for sentencing purposes unless the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use force.

This case turns on the definition of ‘violent crime.” Specifically, does the fact that a perpetrator carried a firearm by itself make a crime violent, or is some affirmative showing of violent action required?

Here, the appellant was party to an unsuccessful robbery where his accomplice shot someone. The appellant was charged with committing a “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. 1951(a) [a.k.a. the Hobbs Act,] which makes it a federal crime to commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit a robbery with an interstate component. Section 924(c) of the law allows for enhanced penalties for using a firearm in connection with a “crime of violence.” The appellant admitted that he conspired to commit and attempted to commit a Hobbs Act robbery. Appellant objected to enhanced sentencing because neither of his offenses qualified as a “crime of violence” under the Supreme Court’s holding 924(c)(3)(B) ‘s residual clause was unconstitutionally vague. The Fourth Circuit vacated the 924(c) conviction.

The Supreme Court agreed that an attempted Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” unless the “government proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant intended to commit the underlying offense and took a “substantial step” toward that end. The people need not prove that the defendant used, attempted, or even threatened to use force against another person or his property. To obtain enhanced sentencing, however, the people must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the perpetrator actually used, attempted to use, or even threatened to use force against another person or his property.

Kemp v. the United States, 596 U.S. _ (2022)

Primary Holding: The term “mistake” in the “federal “rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1), which authorizes a court to reopen a final judgment, includes a judge’s error of law.

This is a more significant case than most people think. It opens an avenue for appeals where a judge gets the law wrong, but with some significant limits and caveats. This highly technical decision deals with when the clock starts running on a legal deadline and does judicial error impact that timeline. The Court split a gnat’s eyebrow on this one. Yes, a judicial error is a mistake, and the clock starts running only when the case is resolved in its entirety regarding all defendants. However, motions to reopen or appeal an adverse ruling on these issues must be filed within one year FRCP 60(b)(1.)

Following the conviction of the appellant and seven codefendants for various drug and gun crimes, the Eleventh Circuit consolidated their appeals and upheld the convictions and sentences. Slightly over two years later, the appellant moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The district court held that the statute had run and dismissed the motion because it was not filed within a year of “the date on which judgment of conviction [became] final.” The appellant did not appeal then but sought to reopen his section 2255 proceedings three years later. Appellant argued that the one-year limitations on his 2255 motion did not begin to run until his codefendants’ petitions were denied a year after his conviction was upheld. The Eleventh Circuit agreed that his original motion was, indeed, timely. Still, his FRCP 60(b) motion fell under Rule 60(b)(1), with a one-year limitations period, because the appellant alleged judicial mistake and was therefore untimely.

The Supreme Court sided with the Eleventh Circuit. The term “mistake” in Rule 60(b)(1) includes a judge’s errors of law, but the one-year limitations period is an immovable object. The Court rejected limiting Rule 60(b)(1) to non-judicial, non-legal errors and applying Rule 60(b)(6), which allows relief “within a reasonable time” for “any other reason that justifies relief.” The catch-all provision is only available where the other grounds for relief specified in Rules 60(b)(1)–(5) are inapplicable.

Thompson v. Clark, 596 U.S. _ (2022)

Primary Ruling: Supporting a favorable termination of criminal prosecution for purposes of a section 1983 Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim, doesn’t require a showing the criminal prosecution ended with an affirmation of innocence; only that the claimant was not convicted.

This case bears directly on the presumption of innocence. In this case, the Court resolved a split amongst the circuits. A favorable termination of criminal prosecution for purposes of a section 1983 Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim does not require an acquittal or any show of innocence, only that there was no conviction. The American tort-law consensus as of 1871 did not require a plaintiff in a malicious prosecution suit to show an acquittal or any other indication of innocence; merely that there was no conviction. The court applied the same reasoning to criminal matters to remain consistent with “the values and purposes” of the Fourth Amendment. Determining whether a defendant was wrongly charged, or whether they may seek redress for wrongful prosecution, cannot depend on an explanation of why charges were dismissed. An acquittal or showing of innocence is not necessary to protect officers from unwarranted civil suits, all that is required is an absence of a conviction.

The plaintiff (Thompson) was living with his fiancée and their newborn baby in a Brooklyn apartment. Thompson’s sister-in-law, apparently suffering from mental illness, reported that Thompson sexually abused the baby. When Emergency Medical Technicians arrived, the plaintiff refused admission to his apartment. The EMTs returned with police officers, plaintiff demanded they obtain a warrant. The police entered regardless and arrested and charged the plaintiff with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. Medical professionals examined the baby and found no signs of abuse. Plaintiff was detained for forty-eight hours, and the charges against dismissed without any explanation. The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim.

The Supreme Court reversed, finding the absence of a conviction provides the plaintiff with a presumption of innocence enforceable against local officials.

Family Law

Golan v. Saada, 596 U.S. _ (2022)

Primary Ruling: A court need not examine all possible relief measures before denying a Hague Convention petition for the return of a child to a foreign country, provided the Court finds that such return would expose the child to a grave risk of harm

This case involved family law, child custody, and international treaty obligations of the United States. The question is how deep into possible relief measures must a federal court delve when considering a petition to return a child to a foreign country under the Hague Convention.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction requires the return of a child to the child’s country of habitual residence upon a finding that the child has been wrongfully removed in a custody dispute. The Hague Convention allows a court to refuse such a return if it exposes the child to a “grave risk” of “physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.” The Court considered which provision takes priority and how far an American court has to dive into measures to address risks to the child in the country where the child is to return.

This is a New York case where an American (Golan) married and married an Italian national (Saada) in Italy. Respondent Golan returned to the United States with her two-year-old son and entered a domestic violence shelter. Petitioner (Saada) sought an order under the Hague Convention to return the child to Italy.

The New York Southern district court concluded that the subject child. If returned to Italy, given evidence of violent domestic abuse, they would face grave harm. The Court, nevertheless, granted the petition citing Second Circuit precedent to “examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child” and that specific protective measures could reduce the risk to the subject child. Following a remand, the Second Circuit upheld the order.

The Supreme Court vacated the order to return the child. There is no obligation by an American court to examine all possible protective measures when denying a Hague Convention petition for the return of a child if the American Court finds that return exposes the said child to a grave risk of harm. The Second Circuit’s rule is an inappropriate limit on the exercise of discretion under the Convention and impedes Convention’s protective objectives. A court may decline to consider measures not raised by the parties and not involve itself in determinations properly within the remit of the Court resolving custody or overly lengthy return proceedings.

Immigration Law

Garland v. Gonzalez, 596 U.S. _ (2022)

Primary Ruling: Immigration and Nationality Act section 1252(f )(1) deprives district courts of the jurisdiction to entertain detained aliens’ requests for class-wide injunctive relief.

Lower courts generally lack jurisdiction or authority to “enjoin or restrain the operation of” specific I.N.A. provisions, except “concerning the application of such provisions to an individual alien against whom proceedings under such part have been initiated.”

Plaintiffs were aliens detained under the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.), 8 U.S.C. 1231(a)(6) for illegally reentering the United States. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action that those detained under section 1231(a)(6) are entitled to bond hearings after six months. The district court certified a class of similarly situated plaintiffs and enjoined the government from detaining such plaintiffs under 1231(a)(6) for more than 180 days without providing a bond hearing. The Ninth Circuit upheld the injunction. The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit.

Here, both district courts entered injunctions that “enjoin or restrain the operation” of section 1231(a)(6.) The district court attempted to require officials to take actions not required by statute and to refrain from actions permitted by statute. The injunctions at issue fall outside the exception for individualized relief because the relevant law refers to “an individual,” not “individuals.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation v. Fazaga, 595 U.S. _ (2022)

Primary Holding: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 does not affect the availability or scope of the government privilege against court-ordered disclosure of state and military secrets.

This case deals with privacy rights, the scope of national security, and the rights of minority communities to be free from unwarranted surveillance.

Under FISA, 50 U.S.C. 1806, a court cannot award relief if the evidence was lawfully obtained, whereas a court considering the state secrets privilege may order the disclosure of lawfully obtained evidence if it finds that disclosure would not harm national security. Inquiries under 50 U.S.C. 18061806(f) allow “review in camera and ex parte” of materials “necessary to determine” whether the surveillance was lawful. Under the state secrets privilege, however, examination of the evidence “even by the judge alone, in chambers,” should not be required if the government shows “a reasonable danger that compulsion of the evidence” will expose information that “should not be divulged” in “the interest of national security.”

In this case, a group of Muslim plaintiffs filed a putative class action, claiming that the FBI subjected Muslims to illegal surveillance. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) provides a procedure for consideration of the legality of electronic surveillance (see 50 U.S.C. 1806(f)). The district court dismissed because litigation of the claims “would require or unjustifiably risk disclosure of secret and classified information.” The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that FISA displaced the state secrets privilege.

The Supreme Court reversed. Section 1806(f) does not affect the availability or scope of the privilege for state and military secrets. The absence of any reference to the state secrets privilege in FISA indicates that the availability of the privilege was not altered.

Nothing about section 1806(f) is incompatible with the state secrets privilege. The central question under 1806(f) is whether the surveillance was lawfully authorized and conducted. The Court did not decide which party’s interpretation of 1806(f) is correct, whether the government’s evidence is privileged, or whether the district court was correct to dismiss the claims on the pleadings.

International Property Law

Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, 596 U.S. _ (2022)

Primary Ruling: In a Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) suit raising non-federal claims against a foreign state or instrumentality, a court must determine the substantive law by using the same choice-of-law rule applicable against a private party.

This decision is a significant win for those seeking restoration of artworks looted by the Nazis and a significant setback for those who purchased such artworks. It also levels the playing field for claimants against foreign states or institutions.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1602, provides foreign states and their instrumentalities with immunity from suit unless the claim falls within a specified exception. The trial court held that the Nazi confiscation of the painting brought the suit within the FSIA exception for expropriated property. The dispositive issue was what property law governed the dispute. The District Court had to apply a choice-of-law rule. The plaintiffs urged using California’s choice-of-law rule; the Foundation advocated federal common law. The federal government disclaims any necessity for a federal choice-of-law rule in FSIA suits raising non-federal claims. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the choice of the federal option, which commanded the use of the law of Spain, under which the Foundation was the rightful owner.

Plaintiff inherited a Pissaro Impressionist painting that was confiscated by the Nazis before settling in the United States. The painting at issue was purchased by the defendant Foundation, an entity created and controlled by the Kingdom of Spain.

The Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision to apply Spanish law. In an FSIA suit raising non-federal claims against a foreign state or instrumentality, a court must determine the substantive law using the same choice-of-law rule applicable in a similar suit against a private party.

A foreign state not immune from suit under FSIA is subject to the same liability rules as a private party. Only uniform application of choice-of-law rules can guarantee the use of the same substantive law and guarantee the same liability. Judicial creation of federal common law to displace state-created rules must be “necessary to protect uniquely federal interests.”

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