It’s Supreme Court season at PLF!


Author: Timothy Sandefur

The Supreme Court traditionally closes its session in late June, and often reserves its most controversial decisions for last. That means in the coming month we’ll be seeing a lot of news out of the Court, and here at PLF we’re waiting on decisions in cases we’re been involved in. (In fact, Lewis v. Chicago was just decided Monday.) Here’s the list of our Supreme Court cases this term:

McDonald v. Chicago, 08-1521 

Issue: Are states required to respect the constitutional right of all persons to possess firearms for personal protection—and should the Slaughterhouse Cases be overruled?

This is the most important case of the term, not because of the gun rights issue—although that’s obviously crucial—but because of the broader constitutional question of how people should be protected against oppression by state governments. Here’s PLF’s brief, and here’s my C-SPAN talk that explains the broader implications of this case.

Skilling v. United States, 08-1394

Issue: Is the “honest services fraud” statute unconstitutionally vague?

PLF filed a brief arguing that vague laws aren’t just a problem in criminal law, but also in civil law and business regulations, and in the realm of common law concepts like “public nuisance” which are often abused by government to sue deep-pockets corporations even though what they did was perfectly legal. I wrote about this case for

Stop The Beach Renourishment v. Florida Dept of Envtl. Protection, 08-1151

Issue: May a state court reinterpret property law in such a way as to take away a person’s land without compensation?

“Judicial takings” are a serious problem, because government isn’t required to compensate people for property restrictions that are part of the “background principles” of state law. Does that mean courts can simply reinterpret their “background principles” and claim that you never owned the land to begin with? Here’s our brief, and more on the term’s most important property case.

Rent-A-Center v. Jackson09-497

Issue: When parties agree to arbitrate their disputes, and later one side claims that agreement was “unconscionable,” who decides? The arbitrator or a court?

PLF does briefs in lots of Arbitration Act cases, because they’re part of the broader question of freedom of contract. Courts, particularly in California, often try to find clever ways not to enforce arbitration agreements. Can courts refuse to enforce them on the grounds that they’re unconscionable—or should the arbitrator decide whether or not they’re unconscionable? Here’s PLF’s brief in this case—and a podcast I did on the related case, Stolt-Nielsen, which was decided a few weeks ago.

Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, 09-475

Issue: Should the standards for getting an injunction be relaxed for environmentalist plaintiffs?

Environmental groups sometimes argue that they shouldn’t be required to prove the sorts of things plaintiffs usually have to prove in cases seeking an injunction. In this case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction without requiring the plaintiffs to prove that they would suffer “irreparable harm,” and without even holding a hearing about the risk of harm involved. Here’s PLF’s brief, in which we argue that the standards should be the same for everyone. And more information here.

Waiting for Cert to be Granted or Denied

We’re also waiting to see if the Supreme Court will agree to hear some important cases next year:

American Home Products Corp. v. Ferrari, 08-1120

Issue: Does the Vaccine Act, which shields vaccine makers from certain types of lawsuits, bar state courts from hearing cases that allege a vaccine could have been made safer than the one the FDA approved? More info here, and here’s PLF’s brief.

AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 09-893

Issue: Does the Federal Arbitration Act allow states to refuse to enforce arbitration unless certain procedures are made available? Here’s PLF’s brief.

Los Angeles Co. v. Humphries, 09-350

Issue: What are the standards for seeking declaratory relief against local government? This brief is currently being drafted.