Supreme Court Justice is the Newest Racing President

William Howard Taft was the first and only U.S. President to also serve as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  His newest claim to fame: he has joined the roster as the fifth racing president at Nationals Park.

Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Warren G. Harding in 1921, Taft served as Chief Justice until February 3,1930.  Arguably, Justice Taft’s greatest legacy was his role in improving the administrative efficiency of the U.S. Courts. Two significant reforms during his tenure include the establishment of the predecessor to the Judicial Conference of the United States and his push to narrow the Supreme Court’s mandatory jurisdiction, embodied in the Judiciary Act of 1925 (43 Stat 936).

Time will tell how #27 (aptly nicknamed “Big Chief”) will transfer his judicial acumen to challenge the often illicit antics of his more seasoned rivals.


The Taft Court, Supreme Court Historical Society.

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Cert in Two Gay Marriage Cases

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in two gay marriage cases:

United States v. Windsor, Edith S., et. al. (12-307)

Question Presented:  “Does Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, 1 U.S.C. § 7, which defines the term “marriage” for all purposes under federal law as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” deprive same-sex couples who are lawfully married under the laws of their states (such as New York) of the equal protection of the laws, as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States?”

Order:  “The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following questions: Whether the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives has Article III standing in this case.”

Hollingsworth, Dennis, et. al v. Perry, Kristin M., et. al.(12-144) 

Question Presented: “Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

Order: “The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: Whether petitioners have standing under Article III, §2 of the Constitution in this case.”


Law and All Hallows’ Eve

Halloween can be a catalyst for unique lawsuits.  A 2011 article in the New York State Bar Association Journal, titled Case Law from the Crypt: The Law of Halloween summarizes some of these strange cases.

In one case, the plaintiff alleged that a neighbor’s holiday decorations—which included an “‘Insane Asylum’ directional sign pointed towards the plaintiff’s house” and a tombstone referencing the plaintiff— were “defamatory, harassing, and caused emotional distress.” In addition to claims involving Halloween decorations, other cases have involved injury to persons or property and provocative costumes in the workplace.

In her new book, Halloween Law, Law Professor Victoria Sutton calls Justice Scalia the “father of Halloween Law.”  During oral argument in Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, 546 U.S. 356 (2006), held on October 31, 2005, a light bulb exploded loudly.  This led to the following exchange:

Justice Scalia: Light bulb went out.

Chief Justice Roberts: It’s a trick they play on new justices all the time.

Justice Scalia:  Happy Halloween.

Justice Ginsburg:  That’s the idea

Justice Roberts:  Take your time.

Justice Scalia:  We’re even more in the dark now than before.

Listen to the Oral Argument on here (explosion at 42:59).

Happy Halloween!!

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez: It’s the First Monday in October

Since 1916, the Supreme Court’s Term has begun each year on the first Monday in October. 28 U.S.C. § 2.  Supreme Court terms are therefore called the “October Term”  followed by the year (e.g. October Term 2012). Why the first October Monday?

Under the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 73) the Court sat for two sessions, one beginning the “first Monday of August,” the second the “first Monday of February.” Congress subsequently altered the Court’s term a number of times:

  • 1801   Two Terms, began the first Mondays in June and December (2 Stat. 89)
  • 1802   One Term, began the first Monday in February (2 Stat. 156)
  • 1826   One Term, began the second Monday in January (4 Stat. 160)
  • 1844   One Term, began the second Monday in December (5 Stat. 676)
  • 1873   One Term, began the second Monday of October (17 Stat. 419)

In 1916, Congress passed H.R. 15158 (39 Stat. 726) which amended the judicial code to, in part, fix the start of the Court’s term to the first Monday in October.  According to both the applicable House and Senate Committee Reports, the purpose of changing the term start date was “to shorten the vacation and give the court an extra week when the weather is favorable to work.” H. R. Rep. No. 794 at 1 (1916), S. Rep. No. 775 at 1 (1916).

For more information about the Court’s docket, including oral argument dates, consult the Supreme Court Website. Scotus Blog is another very useful source to keep up to date on cases before the Court.

The Health Care Decision

The Supreme Court has issued its decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius reviewing the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 (2010).  The Court upheld the “individual mandate” as constitutional under the Congress’ power to tax under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion for the majority, in which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined.



Supreme Court Holds Arizona Immigration Law Provisions Preempted

The Supreme Court has issued its decision in Arizona v. United States. The Court invalidated three sections of SB 1070 (Sections 3, 5 (C), and 6) holding that they are preempted by Federal Law. The Court found it could not determine if Section 2(B), which requires police to check the immigration status of individuals detained, was preempted as it had not been yet been construed by the Arizona state courts.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Former Solicitor General, Justice Kagan, did not participate in the decision.

Scotus Blog is a excellent resource for detailed analysis of this decision.

Oral Argument Marathon

On Monday, the Supreme Court will begin hearing 5 1/2 hours of oral arguments on the consolidated health care reform law cases.  As blog readers are likely aware, under the Rules of the Supreme Court, the Court normally grants no more than one hour for argument, although historically this was not always the case.

Early on, there was no time limit imposed on advocates, and arguments could continue for several days. On March 12, 1849, the Court adopted a rule limiting oral arguments to two hours per side. Since 1970 the half-hour per side limit has been the norm.

Some of the longest Supreme Court arguments include:

Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) (5 Days)

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) (9 Days)

Brown v. Board of Education (I) (1952) (3 Days)

Brown v. Board of Education (II) (1955) (4 days)

Miranda v. Arizona (1966) (3 days)

United States v. Nixon (1974) (3 hours)

As noted in an earlier post, the Court will expedite access to transcripts and argument audio in next week’s cases.

To learn more about Supreme Court oral argument procedures and history see the Supreme Court Historical Society Website.  For more information on the healthcare cases, see Scotus Blog and Oyez.