Although my preview described the question in Ocasio v. United States as a “brain-teaser,” my post-argument review suggested that the Court would give a “simple answer” upholding Samuel Ocasio’s conviction. Today’s opinion confirms the latter view. But with three dissenting Justices plus one concurring Justice on this eight-Justice Court, the fallout from Ocasio may be, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent suggests, to “raise more questions than answers” for future federal “official right” extortion prosecutions.

Justice Alito with opinion in Ocasio v. U.S.

Justice Alito with opinion in Ocasio v. U.S. (Art Lien)

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The Supreme Court, taking up an issue that has puzzled lower courts, agreed on Monday to clarify whether the design that is a part of a “useful article” is original enough to gain its own copyright protection.  In the case raising that issue (Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands), the fight is over designs that are part of uniforms or warm-up outfits for cheerleaders, but the potential impact could sweep far more widely, especially in the garment industry.

In a second intellectual property case that the Court accepted for review, the issue is whether the holder of a patent who waits too long to defend its rights loses the option of challenging an alleged infringement.  That question came up in the case of SCA Hygiene Products v. First Quality Baby Products, involving a dispute over patents for disposable “adult diapers.”  Both that case and the cheerleader-uniform controversy will be heard and decided next Term.

The Court also turned aside a challenge to the way that Seattle’s fifteen-dollar minimum-wage guarantee applies to local companies that are affiliated with out-of-state franchise networks.  There was, as usual, no explanation for the denial of the case (International Franchise Association v. Seattle).

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On May 5 at 12 p.m., the D.C. Bar will begin a monthly seminar on issues and cases currently before the Court. Speakers for next Thursday’s class, which will address United States v. Texas, include Brianne Gorod and Ilya Shapiro; Amy Howe will serve as moderator. Additional classes will be held of the first Thursday of each month (May 5, June 2, July 7, August 4, September 1, and October 6). More information and registration are available for the in-person presentation and the webinar.


We are live-blogging this morning as the Court issues orders and opinions. Join us.

Posted in Live

Monday round-up

By on May 2, 2016 at 5:37 am

On Friday, Lyle Denniston reported for this blog that the Court declined “to stop Texas from enforcing a strict photo ID requirement for voters in the state, but left open the chance that it might change its mind later.”  Other coverage comes from Bill Mears of Fox News, Robert Barnes of The Washington Post, and Richard Wolf of USA Today.  Commentary comes from Rick Hasen, who at his Election Law Blog describes the order as “a bit of good news for opponents of Texas’s law” insofar as it “prevents not only dawdling but intentional foot-dragging so as to allow the law to remain in effect for the November election.”

As Lyle also reported on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – on remand from the Supreme Court – struck down Amtrak’s “power to help write rules on the use of railroad tracks across the country.”  Leland Beck weighs in on the ruling at his Federal Regulations Advisor.   Continue reading »

Posted in Round-up

Petition of the day

By on May 1, 2016 at 11:00 pm

The petition of the day is:


Issue: Whether the exclusion of evidence regarding petitioner’s intent during her prosecution for tax crimes violated the Sixth Amendment’s jury trial provision, a question unresolved by Cheek v. United States.


This week at the Court

By on May 1, 2016 at 12:00 pm

The Court issued orders from its April 29 Conference on Monday. It granted review in two new cases. On Monday the Court also released its opinion in Ocasio v. United States. The Justices will meet next for their May 12 Conference; our list of “petitions to watch” for that Conference will be available soon.


Oral argument audio and transcripts from this week’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court are available on Oyez. The Court heard arguments this week in:

Posted in Everything Else

In a ruling that potentially could disrupt Amtrak’s efforts to make its passenger trains run on time and its ability to earn profits in doing so, a federal appeals court on Friday struck down the corporation’s power to help write rules on the use of railroad tracks across the country.  In a separate part of the ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit nullified Amtrak’s shared role in settling disputes over those rules.

The D.C. Circuit was carrying out an assignment given to it by the Supreme Court last year, and the result is very likely to lead ultimately to a return to the Supreme Court.  The Obama administration had defended Amtrak on both issues at stake, and government officials almost always feel a duty to appeal a ruling in which a federal law has been struck down.  The government has the option of first trying to get the full D.C. Circuit to rule en banc on the constitutional dispute.

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The Supreme Court refused on Friday to stop Texas from enforcing a strict photo ID requirement for voters in the state, but left open the chance that it might change its mind later.  The order in essence gave a federal appeals court until July 20 to decide a case about that law’s validity under the federal Voting Rights Act.  After that date, the Court might step in, it said.

The Texas law, first passed five years ago, has been used in three Texas elections, and it will be used again on May 24, when voters go to the polls to cast ballots in a run-off election. The challengers who took a new plea to the Court recently want the requirement blocked for the November 8 general election.   The challengers contend that the Texas measure imposes the most rigorous ID requirements of any such law in the nation.

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