October 16, 2017 / 4:42 pm

The Supreme Court: Back with New Faces and New Cases

On October 2nd, the Supreme Court was finally buzzing again with the start of the October term. After laying dormant with an empty seat since January 17th, the term was set to be a critical one, especially after the confirmation of Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch.


The first week and a half of arguments tackled cases ranging from labor relations to immigration to gerrymandering. This week was momentous for Washington as the gridlock that has been present in the Supreme Court since Antonin Scalia’s passing last February is now resolved. The court has argued nine cases and dismissed one as of October 10.


One of the most notable occurrences since the Supreme Court has been back in session has been the dismissal of one of two travel ban cases against President Trump. Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project was thrown out under the stipulation that the current travel ban against seven muslim-majority nations was not directly connected to Islam; the Supreme Court also used past decisions regarding executive power as precedents to dismiss this case, however, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the court’s decision. The remaining case is Trump v. Hawaii, which is also at risk of being thrown out.


The court also decided to add two original jurisdiction cases to the docket. The two cases, Florida v. Georgia and Texas v. New Mexico v. Colorado deal with the definitions of water rights between the states. These cases were filed directly with the Supreme court, instead of going through lower level courts.


Here’s a rundown of the cases that were argued on October 2, 2017, to October 10, 2017 and why they matter with the current political turmoil:


Epic Systems v. Lewis: Does the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibit the enforcement of mandated individual resolutions under the Federal Arbitration Act?

Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris: Does the NLRA prohibit the Federal Arbitration Act enforcement of an employee to make claims on an individual rather than a group basis?

National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil: Can individual agreements between employers and employees limit their abilities to pursue claims since this limits workers rights under the NLRA?

All of these cases have the potential to set precedents within the realm of labor relations, especially within resolving perceived conflicts between the Federal Arbitration Act and the NLRA. These cases also have the potential to limit or expand individual workers’ rights in relation to employers.


Sessions v. Dimaya (reargument): This case was first argued this January, but was granted a reargument. This case questions whether the Immigration & Nationality Act’s (INA) provision of a ‘crime of violence’ is unconstitutional under the 5th amendment’s due process clause.

Jennings v. Rodriguez: Are noncitizens, under the INA, able to have bond hearings if their detention is over 6 months? Further, is the U.S. government responsible for providing relevant evidence of danger to keep noncitizens from being released? Lastly, should noncitizens have detention lengths geared in favor of release, with new bond hearings every 6 months?

Both of these cases question specifications within the INA regarding the status of immigrants in the United States. These cases are particularly important in light of the new administration being so focused on refining and restricting immigration laws.


Gill v. Whitford: This case calls into question the credibility of the Wisconsin district court’s decision on a recent gerrymandering plan. It questions if the court even had the stature to hear the state plan and if their decision that it was unconstitutional was wrong. It also calls into question the accuracy of the gerrymandering test that was used to determine if it was unconstitutional, and whether or not the defense can bring in its own evidence to support their plan if the ‘correct’ test was used. One of the biggest questions of this case is the accusation of this plan as partisan, and if this label was justified.

This case has the potential to set a serious precedent in the constitutionality of gerrymandering. More recently, politicians have begun to speak out against the use of gerrymandering to redistrict states to favor party lines, and this case can have the power to officially rule gerrymandering as unconstitutional.


National Association of Manufacturers v. Dept. of Defense: Does the Clean Water Act give the federal appeals courts the position to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of the scope of the United States waters area? One of the main aspects of this case is the standards of pollution and run-off set by the EPA for U.S. waters. If the federal courts are able to review what the EPA considers U.S. waters, it can change the necessary limits that are in place before getting a permit. As of now, the restrictions limit what activities are permissible in U.S. waters, and thus whether or not permits are granted.


Jesner v. Arab Bank: Is corporate liability prohibited under the Alien Tort Statute?

The question of corporate liability has yet to be addressed in any Supreme Court case, even though there have been many cases related to this one argued in the Supreme Court before. The decision made on this case can determine if corporations can be held accountable in cases brought up by aliens.


Hamer v. Neighbourhood Housing Services of Chicago: Does the Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure dismiss a court of appeals’ possible jurisdiction over an appeal that is considered expired or does this just apply to certain things like waivers, forfeiture, and unique circumstances?

This case can define the line between two different rules applying to the appellate courts and the definition of timely appeals cases, which can determine if an appeal is valid or not.


District of Columbia v. Wesby: This case questions if officers have probable cause under the fourth amendment to arrest trespassers on a property owned by someone who says they have not given permissions to the people in there, and if this claim discredits the trespassers’ insistence of a clean mental state. Further, if there was no probable cause to arrest, are the officers subject to qualified immunity due to unclear law?  

While this case specifically targets the fourth amendment, the breadth of a possible decision on this case can extend to breaches of power by officers of the law. The case can help to stop such abuses of power. This case will also help to determine whether Justice Neil Gorsuch’s interpretation of the constitution is strict or loose.


Although none of the decisions on the cases have been announced, the precedents that can be set throughout these court cases is especially pertinent and momentous as this is the first Supreme Court term since the inauguration of President Trump and his administration, and have the ability to invoke checks and balances against the administration.