Yesterday, Morales-Santana held that an individual had been denied citizenship based on a gender-discriminatory law that violated equal protection. Yet the only practical effect appears to be that, in the future, even fewer people will obtain citizenship. That outcome has already prompted a lot of commentary, including from Howard, Ian, and Will. Here, I add two points. First, the Court’s exclusively “prospective” remedy appears not to have fully remedied the asserted discrimination, even on the Court’s theory. Second, the Court’s limited grant of relief interestingly blurs the traditional distinction between precedent and judgment.
Category Archives: Supreme Decision-making
Debates over signaling, or unconventional precedential guidance to lower courts, played an important role in the same-sex marriage litigation leading up to Obergefell. Now, signaling is back thanks to religious accommodation litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Remarkably, lower courts have started to develop case law on whether and when signaling is appropriate.
The Fourth Circuit made headlines yesterday in United States v. Graham, which holds in part that “warrantless procurement of [cell site location information] was an unreasonable search” in violation of the Fourth Amendment. There’s a lot going on in the Graham majority and dissent, and I recommend Orin’s ongoing posts on the merits. But it’s also interesting to consider Graham’s treatment of Supreme Court precedent regarding the “third-party doctrine.”
In my view, much of the disagreement between the majority and dissent in Graham is about whether to adopt the best reading of the Supreme Court’s third-party precedents or, instead, to narrowly read those precedents in light of new factual developments, other Supreme Court precedents, and the lower-court judges’ own first-principles views of the law. In this respect, Graham is hardly anomalous. When doctrines become out of date, the Court sometimes encourages lower courts to engage in narrowing from below, thereby facilitating the Court’s own reconsideration of precedent. The third-party doctrine is properly viewed as such an area.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard argument in Bank of America, N.A. v. Caulkett, which substantially concerned the viability of the 1992 precedent Dewsnup v. Timm. The resulting conversation ranged far and wide on the subject of precedent, including reflections about when to overrule and about what I’ve called personal precedent. In this post, I’ll focus on the justices’ extensive ruminations on the subject of “narrowing,” or interpreting a precedent not to apply in a situation where that precedent is best read to apply. (Many of my points stem from my recent article on the subject.)
Few cases ever reach the Supreme Court, but some get there twice. Recent examples include Bond v. United States (decided 2011 & 2014) and Zivotofsky v. Clinton/Kerry (2012 & pending). The Court may soon add another example: Horne v. Department of Agriculture, decided the first go-round in 2012.
What to make of these “SCOTUS repeaters”? It’s hard to draw strong conclusions from this unusual if regular phenomenon, but a few interesting possibilities present themselves.
An interesting theme unites three apparently unrelated cases that I’ve previously blogged about: an obstruction of justice prosecution (Yates), a removal case that poses a riddle of statutory jurisdiction (Dart), and the Sixth Circuit’s recent decision upholding same-sex marriage laws (DeBoer). In short, all three cases implicate the Supreme Court’s ability to send non-precedential signals to lower courts.
Erin Morrow Hawley has written a fascinating short piece entitled “The Jurisdictional Question in Hobby Lobby.” Hawley’s basic claim is that all nine Justices in Hobby Lobby made “a serious mistake” in failing to address, much less mention, a jurisdictional problem. This incident calls to mind the Court’s controversial rule against ascribing precedential force to implicit jurisdictional findings.