Cases To watch During the Supreme Court’s 2014-2015 Term

Here’s an interesting post from our excellent law clerk Ashley Franco about some interesting cases that will be decided by the United States Supreme Court during its 2014-2015 term:

October 6, 2014 was the first day of oral argument for those petitioners whose writs of certiorari were granted by the Supreme Court. Each year thousands file petitions of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, but only a small number are chosen for hearing and decision. The Supreme Court has chosen 47 cases to hear for the 2014-2015 term. Generally the Supreme Court chooses 75 cases to hear each term, thus the docket is approximately sixty three percent (63%) full and cases are still being chosen. Of those cases currently on the docket, here are a few you should keep an eye on.

Administrative Law:

Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association and Nickols v. Mortgage Bankers Association (both scheduled to be heard on December 1, 2014) are two administrative law cases consolidated for review. These two cases involve paying mortgage officers overtime pay. The issue is whether a federal agency must engage in a notice and comment procedure before it can significantly alter an interpretation of one of its own rules? An interesting fact about this case is that a group of 72 administrative law professors have filed an amicus brief in support of the government’s petition. In their brief they contend that an agency should be allowed to change an interpretation of one of its own rules without conducting a notice and comment rulemaking proceeding.

Employment Law:

Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk was heard on October 8, 2014. This case might interest those who have to stay after work hours for security screening. For example, employees who work at jewelry stores may have to go through safety screening after work, in order for their employers to make sure that their employees have not stolen any property. The issue in this case is whether the employee should be compensated for the time spent in the security screening after your work hours.

Business Law:

Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter (hearing date to be determined) involves the False Claim Act, which allows whistleblowers to sue on behalf of the government a company or person whom they believe have falsely claimed federal funds, and in return receive a portion of the damages. In this case the whistleblower filed suit against Kellogg Brown & Root Services Inc. (KBR), alleging fraudulent billing practices. KBR turned around and argued that claim was barred by the first-to-file rule. The issue is whether the False Claims Act’s “first-to-file” bar functions as a “one-case-at-a-time” rule allowing an infinite series of duplicative claims so long as no prior claim is pending at the time of filing.  Commentators have predicted the Supreme Court may hold in favor of KBR because of the Court’s previous comments in relation to this issue.

Criminal Law:

Heien v. North Carolina was argued and heard on the first day of the new term, October 6, 2014. This case involves a police officer who searched a vehicle and found cocaine. However, the police officer did not have a lawful basis for the initial search, but he believed that he did. The issue is  whether the officer’s mistake of law justifies the search.  In other words, can a police officer’s mistake of law can provide the individualized suspicion that the Fourth Amendment requires to justify a traffic stop? If not, then the cocaine cannot be used as evidence because it was the fruit of an unreasonable search.

Elonis v. United States (scheduled to be heard on December 1, 2014) is an interesting case where an individual posted many threating posts on his Facebook page, directed towards many people including his ex wife.  The poster consequently was arrested. The issue in this case is whether consistent with the First Amendment (freedom of speech) and Virginia v. Black, conviction of threatening another person under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten, or whether it is enough to show that a “reasonable person” would regard the statement as threatening.

Constitutional Law:

Zivotofsky v. Kerry (scheduled to be heard on November 3, 2014) involves whether it is Congress who gets to decide whether an American citizen born in Jerusalem could have Israel listed on his/her passport, or whether it is something the Executive Branch should decide.  Some commentators have predicted that the Court will hold that allowing Congress to decide does not intrude on the executive power.

Comptroller of Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne (scheduled to be heard on November 12, 2014) arises under the tax laws.  The taxpayers in this case had paid taxes on income in another state and wanted a credit in the state of Maryland where they reside. However, Maryland did not allow them to have a credit, and taxed them on their out-of-state income as well. The issue is whether the United States Constitution prohibits a state from taxing all the income of its residents wherever earned, by mandating a credit for taxes paid on income earned in other states.

Alabama Legis. Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, both scheduled to be heard on November 12, 2014. These cases involve redistricting in Alabama in which the state’s redistricting amounted to a racial quota and racial gerrymandering in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The issue is whether Alabama’s legislative redistricting plans unconstitutionally classify black voters by race by intentionally packing them in districts designed to maintain supermajority percentages produced when 2010 census data are applied to the 2001 majority-black districts?

As of today these are the cases you should keep an eye on. For more information about the Supreme Court’s docket including transcripts of oral arguments visit the Supreme Court’s website at http://www.supremecourt.gov.

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