ObamaCare Upheld . . . Again

Posted by:
Category: Health Care, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

1024px-William_Hogarth_004Today the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in the widely anticipated case of King v. Burwell, ruling that the language of the statute authorizes tax credits for individuals who use health insurance exchanges set up by the federal government as opposed to the states.  The result of the ruling is that the Affordable Care Act continues to operate and that millions of previously uninsured Americans will continue to receive health insurance under ObamaCare.  Many observers had predicted an adverse ruling from the Court, and a period of uncertainty (if not chaos) if the use of federal health insurance exchanges was struck down.  Today’s ruling by the Court means that there will be no disruption in the workings of the Affordable Care Act.  Coupled with this week’s passage of “fast track authority” for a Pacific trade bill, the ruling also cements a record of legislative accomplishment for President Obama that will add to his legacy.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Court voted 6-3 in favor of the Administration’s proffered reading of the statute.  Some observers had predicted a narrower margin.  Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the majority.  The Chief Justice’s opinion also was crucial in upholding the Affordable Care Act in the NFIB v. Sebelius case in 2012, and it therefore appears that future historians will inevitably evaluate John Roberts’ career as Chief Justice in light of his prominent role in the survival of ObamaCare. Read more »

Print Friendly



Elonis v. United States: SCOTUS Again Adopts Narrowing Construction of Criminal Statute

Posted by:
Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

As I noted in my post last week, the Supreme Court has a variety of interpretive tools at its disposal to rein in the ever-expanding reach of federal criminal law. Right on cue, the Court demonstrated the use of one of these tools this week in Elonis v. United States.

Elonis, a self-styled rapper, posted a variety of lyrics with violent themes on his Facebook page. Some of these lyrics related to his wife, some to coworkers, and some to law-enforcement personnel, among others. Elonis was eventually convicted under 18 U.S.C. §875(c), which prohibits individuals from transmitting in interstate commerce “any communication containing any threat . . . to injure the person of another.”

The Supreme Court reversed, ruling that Elonis’s jury had been improperly instructed.   Read more »

Print Friendly



Yates v. United States: Overcoming Plain Meaning

Posted by:
Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

As we enter the home stretch of the Supreme Court term, I have been reviewing the criminal cases already decided by the Court this year. For my money, the most interesting is Yates v. United States, which presents a classic statutory interpretation problem. This was the fish case that got a fair amount of whimsical press coverage when it came out. Even the Justices proved incapable of avoiding fish puns in their opinions, but I’ll do my best not to get caught in that net. (Oops.)

Yates captained a commercial fishing vessel that was catching undersized grouper in violation of federal law. Following an inspection, some of the illegal catch was thrown back into the sea on Yates’s orders, presumably to avoid penalties. Yates was eventually convicted under 18 U.S.C. §1519, which authorizes a prison term of up to twenty years for anyone who “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States . . . or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter.”

On appeal, the question was simply whether a fish counted as a “tangible object.”   Read more »

Print Friendly



The Chief’s Lawsuit

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court
2 Comments »

220px-Shirley_AbrahamsonA lawsuit filed in federal court by a sitting Chief Justice of a state Supreme Court against her colleagues is certainly unusual, if not unprecedented.  The reaction to the filing of the complaint in Abrahamson v. Neitzel  by the mainstream media has ranged from viewing the lawsuit as comedy (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Will the Real Chief Justice Please Stand”) to viewing this latest development as part of an ongoing tragedy (The New Yorker: “The Destruction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court”).  However, the legal question at the heart of the Chief’s lawsuit is actually quite interesting.

Does the new method for selecting a Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court take effect in the middle of the sitting Chief Justice’s term, or does it take effect upon the conclusion of the term of the current Chief?

Complicating the issue is the fact that an $8,000 salary differential exists between the position of Chief Justice and the other six Justices on the Court.  Removing Justice Abrahamson from her current position as Chief would result in the immediate loss of this portion of her salary.  Moreover, a mid-term reduction in salary appears to be prohibited by Article IV of the Wisconsin Constitution. Read more »

Print Friendly



Armed Forces Appeals Judges Hear Arguments, Offer Advice in Eckstein Hall Session

Posted by:
Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Judges & Judicial Process, Marquette Law School, Public
1 Comment »

“When you’re done, sit down.”

Pithy but important advice on how to present an oral argument to an appeals court was one of the beneficial things Marquette Law School students had a chance to hear Tuesday. That was when the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces convened for a session in Eckstein Hall, followed by a question and answer session with the court’s five judges.

The court, an Article I entity which hears oral arguments in about three dozen cases a year, heard oral arguments in the appeal of an Air Force staff sergeant, Joshua K. Plant. He was convicted in 2012 of two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, adultery, and child endangerment and given a sentence that included 12 years of confinement. Included in Tuesday’s proceedings: Joshua J. Bryant, a third-year Marquette law student, who presented amicus curiae arguments in support of the sergeant’s appeal.​

First, here’s the case the court heard. Then, we’ll summarize some of the advice. Read more »

Print Friendly



The Notorious R.B.G.

Posted by:
Category: Feminism, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

20150103_135911-1Those of us who teach in gender and feminist studies have long been familiar with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; we regularly deal with her work as both a lawyer and as jurist. This past January, I had the honor of hearing her speak at a conference in Washington, D.C., and was awed by her. So over spring break, I decided to start reading a new book, The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, edited by Scott Dodson. I’m not that far into the book yet, but what I’ve read has only made me admire her more.

I’m far from being Justice Ginsburg’s only admirer. She has quite the following, including this woman, who had a portrait of Justice Ginsburg tattooed on her arm. One man put her 35-page dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to music. Another admirer dubbed her “The Notorious R.B.G.,” a take-off on rapper The Notorious B.I.G, and there’s a whole blog devoted to all things R.B.G. Google “Notorious R.B.G.” to find t-shirts and other merchandise. It’s a title the Justice herself seems to enjoy. (Listen to the video clip here.)

Ironically, while I was starting my book over spring break, Justice Ginsburg celebrated her 82nd birthday. She seems in no way ready to step down from the court. After all, she reminds us, Justice John Paul Stevens served until he was 90. In honor of her birthday, one site gathered some of her best quotes. My favorite: “People ask me sometimes . . . When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is: When there are nine.”

Wouldn’t have expected anything less from her.

Print Friendly



Has Wisconsin Produced Any Great Judges?

Posted by:
Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court
1 Comment »

winslow

Chief Justice
John B. Winslow

As announced this past summer, Joseph A. Ranney is serving as Marquette Law School’s Schoone Visiting Fellow in Wisconsin Law and using the occasion to write a book examining the role states have played in the evolution of American law, with a focus on the contributions made by Wisconsin. In a series of blog posts this semester, Professor Ranney will offer some Schoone Fellowship Field Notes. This is the first.

What makes a great judge? Who are the great state judges? Thousands of judges have helped build the edifice that is American state law. Only a few have received great acclaim. What are the elements of judicial greatness, and has Wisconsin produced any great judges? Let me consider the matter, excluding any current or recent judges. Read more »

Print Friendly



Discerning the Relationship Between Bankruptcy Judges and Article III Judges

Posted by:
Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

supreme courtThis summer, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Executive Benefits Insurance Agency v. Arkison that changed how bankruptcy judges, covered under Article I (the Executive Branch) of the Constitution, and district court Article III judges work together. Arkison helped clarify nagging procedural issues between district and bankruptcy courts. At the same time, Arkison verified a significant reduction in the ability of bankruptcy courts to resolve common claims arising in bankruptcy proceedings.

Arkison began as a seemingly conventional case. In 2006, Bellingham Insurance Agency filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Peter Arkison was assigned as the trustee. Mr. Arkison filed a fraudulent conveyance complaint against Bellingham, something not uncommon in a bankruptcy proceeding. In fact, Title 28 specifically grants bankruptcy courts the ability to hear and determine such claims. The bankruptcy court granted summary judgment on Mr. Arkison’s claim.

The black letter language in Title 28 and Supreme Court precedent contradict each other. Read more »

Print Friendly



Five Oral Argument Tips

Posted by:
Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Seventh Circuit
Leave a Comment »

This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to intern with the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (thank you, Professor Hammer, for organizing such a rewarding internship program). I would highly recommend this internship to anyone. For me, the internship was truly a once in a lifetime experience since, as many of you may know, I am a major moot court nerd. While interning at the Seventh Circuit, I observed upwards of seventy oral arguments, including a rehearing en banc, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act case, and a death penalty case. During these arguments, I would take notes on attorney conduct, questions from the judges, and the overall atmosphere of the courtroom. I would like to share with you the top five oral arguments tips I learned while at the Seventh Circuit.

(1) Answer the Judge’s Question Directly

Questions are a gift because they allow you to know exactly what is bothering the judge. Too often, people see questions as an interruption or a nuisance and, thus, fail to take full advantage of the opportunity the question presents. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “You’re not answering my question,” and the follow-up phrase, “It’s a simple yes or no answer.” The best way to handle questions is to answer directly—preferably with a yes or no when appropriate—and then say, “Let me explain.” This answers the judge’s question and also signals that further explanation is necessary. When you dodge a judge’s question, you lose credibility and frustrate the judge.  Read more »

Print Friendly



Justice Ginsburg on Empowering Oral Argument

Posted by:
Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Legal Practice, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
2 Comments »

Justice GinsburgAn interview with Justice Ginsburg appears in the October issue of Elle magazine.  In the article, Justice Ginsburg describes her first oral argument before the United States Supreme Court.  Any advocate could relate to her story:

I had, I think, 12 minutes, or something like that, of argument.  I was very nervous.  In those days, the court sat from 10 to 12, and 1 to 3.  It was an afternoon argument.  I didn’t dare eat lunch.  There were many butterflies in my stomach.  I had a very well-prepared opening sentence I had memorized.  Looking at them, I thought, I’m talking to the most important court in the land, and they have to listen to me and that’s my captive audience.

Justice Ginsburg argued on behalf of Sharon Frontiero in Frontiero v. Richardson.  In that case the Court held that the United States military could not differentiate on the basis of gender in how it provides benefits to service members’ families.

In the interview, Justice Ginsburg recounts that as she spoke before the Court during oral argument her confidence grew:

I felt a sense of empowerment because I knew so much more about the case, the issue, than they did.  So I relied on myself as kind of a teacher to get them to think about gender.

 

Read more »

Print Friendly



Reflections on Judicial Contract Interpretation and the Boden Lecture

Posted by:
Category: Business Regulation, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Speakers at Marquette
Leave a Comment »

agreement-signingThis week in my Contracts class we are discussing how to interpret a contract — that is, how to give contractual language meaning. This discussion inevitably focuses on how courts interpret contracts, because Contracts casebooks primarily examine principles of contract through case law. Cases do, in fact, provide a useful lens through which to study contract interpretation, for they allow an examination of courts’ goals and tools in approaching conflicting arguments about how to interpret an ambiguous term. Yet we also considered judicial interpretation of contracts from a policy perspective.

Specifically, in light of Professor Robert Scott’s Boden lecture “Contracts Design and the Goldilocks Problem,” I asked my Contracts students to reflect on the wisdom of judicial determination of the meaning of ambiguous contractual language. Read more »

Print Friendly



US Supreme Court Review: Constitutional Criminal Cases

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

US Supreme Court logo

(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

In my previous post, I discussed the Court’s recent Fourth Amendment decisions.  Here are this term’s other criminal cases that also center on constitutional issues (excluding habeas decisions):

  • Kansas v. Cheever, 571 U.S. __ (2013) (prosecutors could use testimony based on court-ordered mental examination of defendant in order to rebut defendant’s intoxication defense).
  • Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. __ (2014) (in capital case, state may not categorically limit intellectual disability defense to individuals with an IQ score of 70 or lower — see my earlier post here).
  • Kaley v. United States, 571 U.S. __ (2014) (when trying to overturn pretrial asset freeze affecting funds to be used for legal representation, defendant may not challenge grand jury’s probable cause determination).
  • Martinez v. Illinois, 572 U.S. __ (2014) (after jury empaneled and sworn, judge’s grant of defendant’s motion for “directed findings of not guilty” counted as acquittal for double jeopardy purposes and precluded appeal by state).

A notable recurring theme across this set of decisions is the Court’s desire to maintain a particular competitive balance at criminal trials.

Read more »

Print Friendly