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Supreme Court Unanimously Finds in Favor of Church in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC

This morning, Chief Justice Roberts handed down an opinion in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a unanimous Court. Overturning the Sixth Circuit’s holding for the EEOC, the Court found that the First Amendment Free Exercise clause protects the Church from an anti-discrimination lawsuit following the termination of a teacher diagnosed with narcolepsy.

In this case, the Court settled a Circuit Split regarding a judicially-created loophole to the Americans with Disabilities Act called the “ministerial exception.” The exception, in short, protects religious institutions from being sued under the federal anti-discrimination statute based on the rationale that a religious institutions’ hiring and firing decisions fall within their Constitutional right to free exercise of religion. While courts agree that religious leaders are barred from suit, there was disagreement as to the scope of the ministerial exception.

The Supreme Court held today that Perich, a teacher at a religious school who taught mostly secular subject matter, falls within the ministerial exception and therefore cannot sue her former employer, Hosanna-Tabor Church, under the ADA.

In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts provides a history lesson on the “[c]ontroversy between church and state over religious offices,” from the Magna Carta to the framing of the First Amendment Free Exercise clause. Within this framework, the Court affirmed the existence of the ministerial exception and held that the exception “is not limited to the head of a religious congregation.” The Court refused, however, to adopt a bright line test to determine who would fall within the exception and instead found that, based on the facts of the case, Perich constitutes an individual who the Church held out as a “minister.” On these grounds, the Sixth Circuit’s holding was reversed, barring Perich and the EEOC from going forward with their discrimination law suit against Hosanna-Tabor.

Supreme Court to Begin Hearing 2012 Cases

After a brief holiday lull, the Supreme Court resumes its argument schedule tomorrow, January 9th, to begin the unofficial second half of October Term 2011. The new year brings a number of intriguing and consequential cases for Court watchers.

Tomorrow the Court will hear a trio of consolidated cases concerning Texas’s redistricting for the 2012 elections. At issue is the power of a three judge federal court in Texas to redraw a number of district maps as interim measures while Texas seeks the preclearence required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Because of looming primaries, the Supreme Court expedited briefing of these cases and scheduled them for argument barely a month after staying the district court’s order. The Court’s resolution of these cases–expected relatively quickly by the Court’s standards–could impact the 2012 elections.

Over the course of three days in March, the Court will hear a number of issues relating to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (more familiar by its sobriquet “Obamacare”). As one of the centerpieces of President Obama’s domestic agenda, the Court’s decisions will almost certainly become political fodder on the eve of the 2012 Presidential race. The Harlan Institute has begun to crowdsource FantasySCOTUS-ers’ predictions of each issue the Court has agreed to hear. Past uses of FantasySCOTUS as a sort of prediction market haveyielded correct predictions in over fifty percent of cases.

Finally, the Court will hear Arizona v. United States this term, which considers the constitutionality of Arizona’s recent, controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070. As in the healthcare cases, the outcome of this case could play a role in many upcoming elections.

In addition to these politically sensitive cases, the Court has agreed to hear a number of First Amendment cases over the remainder of OT2011. On Tuesday, January 10th, the Court will hear argument in FCC v. Fox, to determine the constitutionality of the FCC’s “fleeting expletives” policy. That same day, the Court will considerKnox v. SEIU, which tests the constitutionality of state laws conditioning employment on the payment of union assessments used for political purposes. Finally, in United States v. Alvarez, the Court will face the question of whether the First Amendment is consistent with the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to falsely represent receipt of military decorations or medals.

The Court has now granted certiorari in over 70 cases this Term. If recent years provide any guidance, we can expect the pace of cert grants for this Term to slow significantly as the Court begins to issue opinions. However, even with fewer new cases on the horizon, the next few months will have more than their share of Court excitement.

FantasySCOTUS.net Predictions: Is the Individual Mandate Constitutional?

It’s the question we all want to know–what will the Supreme Court do with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. We have crowdsourced a daily prediction tracker for the four consolidated cases. In real-time, the prediction tracker calculates how the 11,000+ members of FantasySCOTUS.net will vote on this soon-to-be landmark case.

At this early stage–three months before oral arguments with a limited sample size–the members of FantasySCOTUS.net are predicting that the individual mandate will not survive the Supreme Court.

The threshold question is whether the suit is permitted by the Anti-Injunction Act? The 11th Circuit held that suit was not barred by the AIA.

  • 87.18% predict that the suit can proceed, notwithstanding the AIA.
  • 12.82% predict that the suit will be bared by the AIA (this is the position adopted by Judge Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit)
The most critical question is whether the individual mandate exceeds Congress’ powers, and is unconstitutionalThe 11th Circuit held that the mandate exceeded Congress’s powers and is unconstitutional.

  • 52.94% predict that the Court will find the mandate unconstitutional.
  • 47.06% predict that the Court will uphold the mandate.
  • Of particular interest, 54.9% of members predict that Justice Kennedy will vote to strike down the mandate. Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito are all predicted to strike down the mandate at 73.2%, 75.6%, 82.7%, and 76.8% respectively.
Assuming the mandate is unconstitutional, the Court will next consider whether the mandate is severable from the remainder of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The 11th Circuit held that the mandate was severable.

  • 76.81% predict that the Court will sever the mandate from PPACA.
  • 23.19% predict that the Court will find that the mandate is not severable.
  • Of note, 73.2% of members predict that Justice Kennedy will vote to find the mandate severable.
The final question is whether the expansion of Medicaid is constitutional. The 11th Circuit found that the expansion was in fact constitutional.

  • 71.64% predict that the Court will uphold the Medicaid expansion.
  • 28.36% predict that the Court will find the Medicaid expansion unconstitutional.

These predictions are still rather preliminary. Most members do not offer predictions until after oral arguments–in this case nearly 6 hours of discussion. We will provide updates on this significant case throughout the course of the Term. To learn more about the FantasySCOTUS.net crowdsourced methodology, please see my co-authored article in the Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property.

What do you think the Court will do? Sign up today and predict! You can win a $200 Amazon.com Gift Card by making predictions.

Oral Arguments for M.B.Z. v. Clinton: the “Live”-Blog

Does post-facto live-blogging defeat the purpose? Perhaps, but as the Supreme Court doesn’t allow electronics, I had to take notes on today’s oral arguments the old fashioned way. Check out this FantasyCast for background on the case, then read on for the play-by-play and a summary by each of the Harlan Fellows.

9:09am – Just saw the Zivotofsky family in the coatroom — That counts as a SCOTUS celebrity sighting, right?

9:15am – We take our seats as the clerks drop off piles of papers and mugs of coffee at each Justice’s seat.

10:00am – On the dot! Showtime: Buzzing noise, Justices file in, gavel bangs, “Oyez, oyez, oyez!”

10:03am – Counsel for the Petitioner, Nathan Lewin, steps up and begins arguing that Congress has the power to make such passport decisions as they did in this case; saying Congress and the President share foreign policy decision-making power.

10:07am – Justice Ginsburg asks:”[In this case,] why does Congress trump the Executive?” Lewin answers: because this case is about a passport, not a foreign policy decision.

10:11am – Petitioner argues that Congress passed the law using their power to regulate immigration and international commerce.

10:14am – Justice Scalia wonders why this is any of the Court’s business and says he doesn’t want to interfere with “inter-branch hand-wrestling.” Lewin argues that the Court has the power to “scrutinize” a President’s foreign policy rationale. Justice Scalia provokes some courtroom chuckling: “Congress has many clubs with which to beat the Executive.”

10:20am – Justice Kagan lays down the law: As she sees it, this passport statute had nothing to do with Congress’ power to regulate immigration and was instead a foreign policy decision. Tells Lewin, “Prove to me that I’m wrong,” to which he quips, “Well, you’re wrong!”

10:21am – Lewin claims the statute, in requiring the State Department to, upon request, list Jerusalem as part of Israel, was not intended to create a “political brouhaha.” Hushed murmurs and raised eyebrows around the courtroom.

10:23am – Lewin notes that the statute “does say that the individual passport holder can choose to say Israel or can keep it as Jerusalem, and if he’s born before 1948 he can say Palestine,” to which Justice Kagan responded: “you’d have to be very old to say Palestine.” 78 year old Justice Ginsburg quickly responded “not all that old” which brought proceedings to a brief halt as the entire courtroom–including the bench–doubled over in laughter.

10:28am – Ginsburg brings up the political question issue; Petitioner denies the doctrine’s relevance and reserves the rest of his time for rebuttal. Now it’s Solicitor General, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr.’s turn to argue for the Respondent.

10:30am – Verrilli challenges the Petitioner’s basic argument that Congress and the President have co-equal foreign affairs power; argues that the Constitution gives exclusive power to the Executive.

10:37am – Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ginsburg redirect the questioning to the political question doctrine, even though the Respondent focuses mainly on the merits — the separation of powers issue.

10:41am – Justice Kennedy: “It’s always awkward for us to tell Counsel what’s in their best interest…”; he wonders why Verrilli isn’t arguing that the case is non-justiciable, as the D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion held.

10:44am – Roberts asks a hypothetical: Would Congress be infringing on the President’s power if they required a passport to say “Jerusalem, Israel (disputed)”? Respondent says yes, to Roberts’ surprise (as this declaration would be consistent with State Dept. policy).

10:45am – Scalia pushes back a bit: The President is the “sole instrument” of foreign policy, but doesn’t Congress have some power too?

10:54am – Justice Breyer asks for a word on the political question issue, which the Respondent has steered away from. Justice Sotomayor joins in, pointing out that whether they label this issue a “political question” is important.

10:58am – Roberts gives the Respondent a few more minutes to field questions on the political question topic. Justice Sotomayor asks the SG: if twelve nations all announced that they would declare war against the United States if the President recognized the sovereignty of another nation, would Congress be powerless to act? The SG responded that, under those circumstances, he did not believe that the President would recognize a foreign nation. Quick as always with a retort, Justice Scalia asked him to imagine “We have a foolish President” and added sarcastically “… contrary to our entire history.”

11:00am – Lewin returns for a 6 minute rebuttal, emphasizes that a passport is merely a form of personal identification, not a “diplomatic communication” as the Respondent argued.

11:05am – Justices Thomas, Breyer, and Kennedy get fidgety in their high-backed reclining chairs as Sotomayor asks a final hypothetical.

11:07am – End of arguments, while another case is up after MBZ, there’s a “mass exodus” out of the courtroom. (Credit to the AU Law Professor sitting next to me for that pun.)

Allie’s thoughts: Lewin did an excellent job making a tough case for the Petitioner. Ultimately though, it seems like a majority of the Supremes were not on board with his argument that Congress and the President have equal foreign affairs power under the Constitution and that the “passport statute” was not a foreign policy declaration. What will be interesting is how the Court will deal with the political question issue, one that the SG continually move away from. There is some sense that because this action involved an express conflict between branches, rather than a premature request for the Court to decide the issue, the case will be decided on its merits.

Charlie’s thoughts: The Justices pressed the Solicitor General hard to find a limit to his argument (is the President truly the sole organ of American foreign policy?) and seemed surprised at some of his responses. However, to the extent that the Court’s opinion can be gleaned from oral arguments, it looked this morning like at least a majority of the Justices agreed with the Government that § 214(d) unconstitutionally infringes upon the President’s ability to shape American foreign policy. Justice Kennedy seemed to announce the Court’s mood early when he referred to the petitioner’s argument as a “crabbed” interpretation of the President’s foreign policy power.

The Court has posted the transcript for today’s argument here.

Oral arguments in Rehberg v. Paulk and M.B.Z. v. Clinton

The Supreme Court heard arguments last week in Rehberg v. Paulk to decide “whether a government official who acts as a ‘complaining witness’ by presenting perjured testimony against an innocent citizen is entitled to absolute immunity from a Section 1983 claim for civil damages.” Timothy Coates at SCOTUSBlog.com provides a great recap of the arguments and concludes that, despite what Rehberg argued, the “case may turn less on the niceties of the common law than the realities of common practice in the criminal courts.”

This Monday, the Court will hear arguments in M.B.Z. v. Clinton to resolve the issues of: 1) whether the political question doctrine deprives federal courts of jurisdiction to hear a case involving whether the Secretary of State must list “Jerusalem, Israel” as the place of birth for Americans born in Jerusalem; and 2) if not, whether a statute directing the same infringes upon the President’s foreign policy prerogatives. Allie Myers and Charlie Kruly of the Harlan Institute will be attending oral arguments on Monday morning and will relay their impressions later that day. In the meantime, be sure to check out the Harlan Institute’s Fantasy Cast for MBZ; also check out Professor Ed Harris’s argument preview at Oyez.com for a concise analysis of the issues and the potential ramifications of MBZ.

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