The Supreme Court - June 27, 2016

The Supreme Court of the United States issued decisions in three cases today:

McDonnell v. United States, No. 15-474: Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, were federally indicted and convicted by a jury on bribery charges under the Hobbs Act for the acceptance of $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits from businessmen Jonnie Williams. Conviction under that Act required the Government to prove that the Governor committed (or agreed to commit) an “official act” in exchange for loans and gifts. According to the Government, McDonnell’s “official acts” included “arranging meetings” for Williams with other Virginia officials, “hosting” events for Williams’ company at the Governor’s Mansion, “contacting other government officials” regarding studies on Williams’ company’s product, and more generally, that all of these activities related to Virginia business development, which had been a priority of the former Governor’s administration. The District Court instructed the jury in accord with the Government’s broad allegation of what constitutes an “official act,” and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Today, the Court vacated and remanded, adopting a more bounded interpretation of “official act,” under which setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event do not, standing alone, qualify as an “official act.”

The Court's decision is available here.

Voisine v. United States, No. 14-10154: Federal gun control laws prohibit any person convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from possessing a firearm. 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9). That phrase is in turn defined as including any misdemeanor committed against a domestic relation that necessarily involves the “use . . . of physical force.” 18 U.S.C. §922(a)(33)(A). Two terms ago, the Supreme Court held that a knowing or intentional assault qualifies as such a crime, but expressly left open whether a reckless assault similarly qualified. United States v. Castleman, 572 U.S. __ (2014). Petitioners Voisine and Armstrong were separately charged with crimes predicated on offenses that could have been based on reckless assault. The District Court rejected petitioners’ arguments that the offenses did not qualify, the First Circuit affirmed pre-Castleman, and upheld the convictions again after Castleman was decided. The Court today affirmed, holding that misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless conduct trigger the statutory firearms ban.

The Court's decision is available here.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, No. 15-274: The Texas Legislature enacted two abortion-related laws. The first provision was an “admitting-privileges requirement,” which required that a physician performing or inducing an abortion have admitting privileges at a hospital located not further than 30 miles away from where the abortion is performed or induced. The second provision was a “surgical-center requirement,” which required that minimum standards for an abortion facility be equivalent to the minimum standards under Texas law for ambulatory surgical centers. Abortion providers challenged the law and the District Court enjoined enforcement of the provisions. The Fifth Circuit reversed in significant part. Today, the Court reversed, reiterating its precedent in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 550 U.S. 833, 878 (1992), and holding that each provision places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.

The Court's decision is available here.

The Supreme Court today agreed to review three cases:

McCrory v. Harris, No. 15-1262: This racial gerrymandering case presents the following questions: (1) Did the court below err in presuming racial predominance from North Carolina’s reasonable reliance on this Court’s holding in Strickland that a district created to ensure that African Americans have an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidate of choice complies with the Voting Rights Act (“VRA”) if it contains a numerical majority of African Americans? (2) Did the court below err in applying a standard of review that required the State to demonstrate its construction of North Carolina Congressional District 1 was “actually necessary” under the VRA instead of simply showing it had “good reasons” to believe the district, as created, was needed to foreclose future vote dilution claims? (3) Did the court below err in relieving plaintiffs of their burden to prove “race rather than politics” predominated with proof of an alternative plan that achieves the legislature’s political goals, is comparably consistent with traditional redistricting principles, and brings about greater racial balance than the challenged districts? (4) Regardless of any other error, was the three-judge court’s finding of racial gerrymandering violations based on clearly erroneous fact-finding? (5) Did the court below err in failing to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims as being barred by claim preclusion or issue preclusion? (6) In the interests of judicial comity and federalism, should the Court order full briefing and oral argument to resolve the split between the court reached the opposite result in a case raising identical claims?

Life Technologies Corp. v. Promega Corp., No. 14-1538: Whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that supplying a single, commodity component of a multi-component invention from the United States is an infringing act under 35 U.S.C. § 271(f)(1), exposing the manufacturer to liability for all worldwide sales.

Beckles v. United States, No. 15-8544: (1) Whether Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), which deemed unconstitutionally vague the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, applies retroactively to collateral cases challenging federal sentences enhanced under the residual clause in the career-offender provision of the United States Sentencing Guidelines? (2) Whether Johnson’s constitutional holding applies to the residual clause in the career-offender provision of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, thereby rendering challenges to sentences enhanced under it cognizable on collateral review? (3) Whether mere possession of a sawed-off shotgun, an offense listed as a “crime of violence” only in the commentary to United States Sentencing Guidelines § 4B1.2, remains a “crime of violence” after Johnson?