Tax systems treat taxpayers differently all the time, and the central question before the Court in Alabama Department of Revenue v. CSX Transportation is when a difference in treatment amounts to a violation of the anti-discrimination provision of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 (the “4-R Act”). This is the second time this case has been before the Court, and Tuesday’s oral argument made it clear that the Court was looking for a way to avoid having this case return for a third time.

The Court seemed inclined to agree with CSX that an assessment whether there has been discrimination should be based on a comparison with a taxpayer’s competitors rather than with other businesses in general. On a second issue – how a court should conduct this discrimination analysis vis-à-vis competitors – the Court seemed more divided. On the one hand, the Court seemed very aware of how difficult it is to analyze how an entire state tax system treats two taxpayers. Yet several of the Justices also seemed troubled that the Eleventh Circuit had not analyzed at all whether a facial discrimination was justified, which seems to ignore the complicated reality of state tax systems altogether. This second concern suggests that a remand might be appropriate. However, another remand in this case did not appear to be a desirable outcome, especially because the Court would then need to give some guidance to the court of appeals as to how to take sufficient notice of the complexities of state taxes without having courts drown in these complexities.

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Thursday round-up

By on Dec 11, 2014 at 9:00 am

Coverage of and commentary on the Court continue to focus on Tuesday’s two opinions in argued cases.  In Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, the Court held that workers at a warehouse are not entitled to compensation for time spent in anti-theft screenings.  At In These Times, Moshe Marvit criticizes the Court’s efforts to distinguish “other cases where workers’ preliminary time was compensable,” arguing that, “if theft is as big of a concern as the retailer has alleged . . . it would seriously impair Amazon’s efficiency at least as much as dull knives would slow down meatpacking productions”; Danny Hensel also discusses the case at his Article 8 blog. And in Warger v. Shauersthe Court held that an accident victim who asked for a new trial could not rely on a juror’s affidavit of what another juror said in deliberations to demonstrate that juror’s dishonesty during voir dire.  Roger Park covered the decision for this blog; at Re’s Judicata, Richard Re argues that the decision is “noteworthy in part because it comes at a time when grand jury decisions are coming under special scrutiny, particularly in cases involving concerns of racial bias.”

Yesterday the Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Wong and United States v. June, a pair of cases involving equitable tolling and the Federal Tort Claims Act.  Marcia Coyle covers both cases for The National Law Journal’s Supreme Court Brief, while at ISCOTUSnow Edward Lee predicts the winners based on the number of questions at oral arguments.  Continue reading »

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Petition of the day

By on Dec 10, 2014 at 10:10 pm

The petition of the day is:

14-518

Issue: (1) Whether the court below erred in failing to make the required finding that race rather than politics predominated in Virginia Congressional District 3, where there is no dispute that politics explains the enacted plan; (2) whether the court below erred in relieving plaintiffs of their burden to show an alternative plan that achieves the General Assembly’s political goals, is comparably consistent with traditional districting principles, and brings about greater racial balance than the Enacted Plan; (3) whether, regardless of any other error, the court below’s finding of a Shaw v. Reno violation was based on clearly erroneous fact-finding; and (4) whether the majority erred in holding that strict scrutiny requires a legislature to adopt the least restrictive means possible for complying with the Voting Rights Act, instead of a re-districting plan that substantially addresses such compliance.

Today’s transcripts

By on Dec 10, 2014 at 7:51 pm

The transcript in United States v. Wong is here

The transcript in United States v. June is here

Posted in Merits Cases
 
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Justice Sotomayor delivering the opinion of the Court.

Justice Sotomayor delivering the opinion of the Court.

In Warger v. Shauers, the Court examined Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which generally prohibits the testimony of jurors about statements made during deliberations when the testimony is offered in “an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment.” In a unanimous opinion by Justice Sotomayor, it held that Rule 606(b) precludes a party seeking a new trial from using a juror’s affidavit about statements made by another juror during deliberations to show that the second juror gave dishonest answers during voir dire. Continue reading »

 
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Wednesday round-up

By on Dec 10, 2014 at 10:56 am

Yesterday the Court issued its first two signed opinions of the Term, both unanimous.  In Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, it held that workers at a warehouse are not entitled to compensation for the time that they spent waiting to undergo, and then to undergo, anti-theft screenings.  In Warger v. Shauers, it held that an accident victim seeking a new trial after a verdict against him could not rely on a juror’s affidavit of what another juror said in deliberations to demonstrate the other juror’s dishonesty during voir dire.  Lyle Denniston covered the decision in Integrity Staffing for the blog; other coverage of that opinion comes from Nina Totenberg of NPR, Jaclyn Belczyk of JURIST, and Hera Arsen at the Ogletree Deakins blog.  Commentary on the decision comes from Noah Feldman at Bloomberg View, who argues that the Court “interpreted the 1947 Portal to Portal Act essentially as a pro-employer law” and suggests that the Court’s “liberal justices were supremely uninterested in the moral logic of employee compensation.”  At Forbes, Dan Fisher observes that “[e]mployers have been hit with rising numbers of FLSA suits by lawyers seeking to assemble large classes of workers who can claim back pay and overtime for activities they consider to be intrinsic to the job. But this decision, coming after a similar decision last year in Sandifur vs. U.S. Steel, will help employers fight back.”  Coverage of the decision in Warger comes from Jaclyn Belczyk of JURIST. Continue reading »

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Petition of the day

By on Dec 9, 2014 at 10:14 pm

The petition of the day is:

14-351

Issue: Whether sovereign immunity bars an American Indian tribe from seeking Ex parte Young relief from the unconstitutional enforcement of a state tax scheme merely because that relief might require refunds for taxes unlawfully collected in the future.

UPDATED Wednesday 2:54 p.m.   The Supreme Court has not yet scheduled any of the new same-sex marriage cases for consideration at the January 9 Conference, according to the latest updates on the Court’s electronic docket.  There are still opportunities to do so, however, later in this month.  It may be that the Court is waiting for all of the five pending petitions to have all filings submitted before scheduling them for consideration.

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Giving the Supreme Court a fuller set of same-sex marriage cases to consider, probably in early January, the governor of Kentucky today joined in urging the Justices to rule on the controversy because it is “important to all citizens of this nation.”  The Kentucky case (Bourke v. Beshear) tests the power of states to both prohibit same-sex marriages and refuse to recognize such marriages performed in other states.

With the Kentucky filing, two cases seeking review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, upholding the bans in four states, are now close to ready for the Justices to review.  The other challenge to the Sixth Circuit’s ruling came from a Michigan case; there is also a case from Louisiana which tests that state’s ban before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviews it.

In all three of those cases, the issues surrounding same-sex marriage are put before the Court in a variety of contexts, and, in each, state officials — while defending their bans — have urged the Justices to step in and issue a final ruling.  Depending upon how soon the cases are assembled and sent on to the Justices, they could be considered as early as the private Conference set for January 9.

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At its Conference on December 12, 2014, the Court will consider petitions seeking review of issues such as removability under the Class Action Fairness Act, the constitutionality of an Arizona law limiting the availability of abortions performed with medication, and the presumption of judicial vindictiveness under North Carolina v. Pearce.

This edition of “Petitions to watch” features petitions raising issues that Tom has determined to have a reasonable chance of being granted, although we post them here without consideration of whether they present appropriate vehicles in which to decide those issues.  Our policy is to include and disclose all cases in which Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to this blog in various capacities, represents either a party or an amicus in the case, with the exception of the rare cases in which Goldstein & Russell represents the respondent(s) but does not appear on the briefs in the case.

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The Justices had tough questions for both sides Monday morning in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl. Although the legal issues seem relatively simple, several of the Justices appeared frustrated during the course of the argument, and the end result could be a decision that relies heavily on reasoning that neither side advanced.

The case involves the intersection of the federal Tax Injunction Act (known as the TIA) and Colorado’s scheme for collecting use taxes – the taxes we owe our state government when we buy from an out-of-state online retailer that doesn’t collect sales tax. The TIA prevents federal courts from (among other things) enjoining or restraining the “collection” of any state tax. Colorado’s innovative scheme for collecting use taxes requires online retailers to keep a variety of records and send a variety of notices, the most important of which is a Form-1099-like notice sent to the state each year detailing all of the online purchases of each Colorado resident. When the Direct Marketing Association (a retailer trade group) challenged the scheme under the Commerce Clause, the Tenth Circuit held that the TIA barred any injunction against the Colorado regime. Continue reading »

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