Fifteen years ago, in the hope of eliminating or at least reducing partisan battles over redistricting, Arizona voters amended the state’s constitution to hand the power to draw boundaries for federal congressional districts over to an independent commission.  The state’s legislature went to court to challenge that transfer of authority, and after an hour of oral arguments that focused almost exclusively on the words of the Constitution, it appeared that the Justices may be poised to return the power to the legislature – which could spell trouble not only for the Arizona commission, but also for California and the handful of other states with similar schemes.  Let’s talk about Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in Plain English. Continue reading »

Tuesday’s argument in City of Los Angeles v. Patel, a Fourth Amendment case, presents a particularly difficult example of a common Supreme Court question: should the Court rule narrowly on the case before it, or answer far broader questions? That question does not always have obvious ideological parameters (although the Fourth Amendment context may color the Justices’ views in this case), and Tuesday’s argument may be most interesting for the perspective it may provide on each Justice’s jurisprudential approach. Continue reading »


Seldom do the last five words spoken in a Supreme Court argument sum up, coincidentally, the whole hour of discussion, but that happened on Monday.  An Ohio prosecutor, Matthew E. Meyer of Cleveland,  commented just before sitting down at the end: “It’s just not the same.”  He did not mean it this way, but it wrapped up the idea that the Court will look very differently at a case when it involves a three-and-a-half-year-old boy who had been physically abused.  The evident anxiety over that lad’s plight dominated the hearing in Ohio v. Clark.

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The Supreme Court strongly believes that states need wide authority to experiment with the ways they govern themselves, but the Justices found on Monday that this may run afoul of the Constitution, if that document is understood literally.  What seemed like a majority shied away from the idea that the voters of a state could seize power away from their legislature, and lodge that authority elsewhere in government more pleasing to the people.

At issue in the case was the fate of a civic reform, adopted so far in only a few states, of giving a public body independent of partisan jockeying the role of drawing up election districts for choosing a state’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.  If that change shuts out the legislature, more  or less entirely, that could be a constitutional problem, or so it appeared during the argument in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

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Today’s transcripts

By on Mar 2, 2015 at 1:35 pm

The transcript in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is here

The transcript in Ohio v. Clark is here.

Posted in Merits Cases

Arizona voters were fed up.  After each census, states have to draw new boundaries to elect members of the House of Representatives in Washington.  Until 2000, the state legislature took on this job, as it does in many other states.  But voters weren’t happy with the results:  in Arizona, as elsewhere, it was common for the political party that controlled the state legislature to use its power to its advantage in redistricting, by drawing districts to maximize the opportunities for its members to win election and to ensure that, once in office, those seats were safe.  So in 2000, Arizona voters passed an amendment to the state constitution that would turn control of redistricting over to an independent commission.  Three years ago, though, the state legislature filed a lawsuit in federal court, challenging the voters’ transfer of redistricting power to the commission.  Let’s talk about today’s argument in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in Plain English.    Continue reading »

Monday round-up

By on Mar 2, 2015 at 5:34 am

Oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the challenge to the availability of tax subsidies for individuals who purchase their health insurance on a marketplace created by the federal government, are now just two days away, and both coverage and commentary are pouring in.  Lyle Denniston previewed the oral argument for this blog, with other coverage coming from David Gutman of the (West Virginia) Sunday Gazette-Mail, Commentary comes from Robert Barnes of The Washington Post, who focuses on the role of the Chief Justice, the editorial board of The New York Times, Todd Gaziano for The Blaze, Brianne Gorod in the Los Angeles Times, Ruth Marcus for The Washington Post, Jeremy Leaming at ACSblog, and Kenneth Jost at Jost on Justice.    Continue reading »

Posted in Round-up

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hold oral argument on the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the new federal health-care law.  The oral arguments in King v. Burwell will feature two high-profile lawyers, Michael A. Carvin of the Washington, D.C., law firm of Jones Day, for the challengers, and U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., defending the subsidy system designed to help millions of consumers afford health insurance.   The hearing is scheduled for one hour, but it may be allowed to run longer, especially since no other cases are up for argument that day.


Five years ago, when Congress finished writing nearly a thousand pages that would become the new national health-care law, it was well aware that the finished product would be subject to strong challenges.  The Affordable Care Act was passed in both houses with not one Republican lawmaker voting for it.  The day after it passed, Republicans introduced a bill to repeal it.  The House has since voted some sixty times for repeal.

Still, the law remains on the books, while controversy goes on, and the Supreme Court has now allowed itself back into the middle of the dispute, for the second time in three years.

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This week at the Court

By on Mar 1, 2015 at 12:01 am

On Monday the Court issued orders from its February 27 Conference. Two new cases were granted. On Tuesday the Court announced its decision in Direct Marketing v. Brohl and on Wednesday, the Court announced its decision in Alabama Department of Revenue v. CSX. This is the second week of the February sitting.

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