September 30, 2020

14 Memorable NLJ Supreme Court Stories of 2014


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SCOTUS-Top-10By and , Legal Times

Here’s a look back at 14 of The National Law Journal’s most popular Supreme Court stories of 2014.

Ginsburg on Rulings, Race

The turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., and the controversial stop-and-frisk policy in New York City illustrate a “real racial problem” in America, one that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have done little to help, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told The National Law Journal in August. The high court was “once a leader in the world” in rooting out racial discrimination,” the justice said in a wide-ranging interview late Wednesday in her chambers. “What’s amazing is how things have changed.” —Marcia Coyle

High Court’s First Gay-Issues Ruling

With same-sex marriage litigation pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers and scholars are focusing intense interest on a long-forgotten, one-line ruling by the court in 1958—the first decision the justices ever made regarding issues that directly impact gay rights. The ruling is One Inc. v. Olesen, in which the high court ruled, on First Amendment grounds, that a Los Angeles-based magazine for gays was not obscene and should be delivered to subscribers by the U.S. Post Office like any other publication. —Tony Mauro

Foley Partner Faces Possible High Court Discipline Over Cert Petition

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an extraordinary order in December telling a Washington practitioner to show cause why he should not be sanctioned for “his conduct as a member of the bar of this court” in connection with a pending petition in a patent case. Howard Shipley, a Foley & Lardner intellectual property partner, was the target of the order, and his petition was in the case Sigram Schindler Beteiligungsgesellschaft MBH v. Lee, which was also denied review on Monday. Under the order, Shipley had 40 days to show why he should not be sanctioned. —Tony Mauro

Justices Taking Up Disputes Over Underwater Mortgages

The U.S. Supreme Court in November agreed to dip into the problems faced by banks and homeowners with underwater mortgages in two bankruptcy cases brought by Bank of America. In Bank of America v. Caulkett and Bank of America v. Toledo-Cardona, the justices said they would decide whether a Chapter 7 debtor may “strip off,” or void, a second mortgage when the home’s current value has dropped below the amount owed on the first mortgage. —Marcia Coyle

The Supreme Court’s Christmas Party that Wasn’t

The week of Christmas 1947: Outside, the record shows, the air was a bracing 38 degrees. Inside the conference room of the U.S. Supreme Court, the temperature was rising. Seven of the nine justices had gathered to resolve a controversy over their law clerks’ desire to sponsor a Christmas party that ultimately will never be held. Was the source of the controversy religion in an institution sensitized to others’ beliefs by a recent string of Jehovah’s Witnesses cases? Or was race simmering below the surface of the court’s own segregated marble halls? A young John Paul Stevens was clerking that term for Justice Wiley Rutledge. Nearly seven decades later, in an interview with , he said that the controversy was, to the best of his recollection, about religion. “There was concern that a Christian holiday event might be offensive to law clerks and employees of the court who were Jewish,” he said. —Marcia Coyle

Like Rehnquist Before Him, Roberts Warns: Don’t Look at the Clock

The U.S. Supreme Court is often accused, rightly or wrongly, of “turning the clock back” on one doctrine or another. But when it came to turning the clock back—literally—at the court building in November, it seemed not to be up to the task. Before the court session began at 10 a.m., clocks in several parts of the building were inaccurate by several hours, clearly a problem caused by the end of daylight saving time over the weekend. —Tony Mauro

How to Define ‘Interests of Justice’?

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to put muscle behind its standard for substituting counsel in capital cases. The request is on behalf of a Missouri death row inmate whose appointed lawyers’ conduct, according to legal ethics experts from around the country, amounted to malpractice. Mark Christeson’s case was “particularly egregious on a multiple-level way,” said Lawrence Fox of Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle & Reath, founder and supervising attorney of the Ethics Bureau at Yale Law School. —Marcia Coyle

Class Action Rulings Fuel Court’s Reputation

The U.S. Supreme Court’s reputation as pro-business is fed by rulings restricting class litigation and the emergence of a cadre of veteran high court advocates who have gained the court’s trust and clients from the business world, Tony Mauro and Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal said during a panel discussion in Las Vegas in November. —Amanda Bronstad

Roberts Considered Representing Clinton

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., then in private practice, did not rule out representing President Bill Clinton before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 in the legal battle over ’ allegations of sexual harassment. The then acting solicitor general, Walter Dellinger, approached Roberts about the possible representation in 1996 and Roberts did not say no, a person with knowledge of the legal strategizing said. Clinton ultimately stuck with Robert Bennett, a veteran litigator who represented him in earlier stages of the case but had not previously argued before the Supreme Court. Roberts’ fleeting role was revealed in previously private papers released in October by the Clinton Presidential Library. —Tony Mauro

Scalia, Thomas and Ginsburg Align in Sentencing Dispute

An unusual lineup of three U.S. Supreme Court justices in October scolded the majority for declining to resolve a long-running dispute over judicial discretion in sentencing. The court denied certiorari in Jones v. United States, which asked the court to rule that in deciding on a sentence, federal judges should not be able to take into consideration conduct for which the defendant was acquitted. The issue has been raised in numerous lower court decisions, and in a 2007 Supreme Court case, several justices said it should be taken up if a case that clearly presented the question came to the court. —Tony Mauro

From Felony Conviction to Bar Exam

The latest chapter in the remarkable story of Shon Hopwood—a convicted bank robber now clerking for a District of Columbia federal appeals court judge—puts him on a clear path to becoming a lawyer within a year. The Washington state Supreme Court ruled in September that in spite of his felony record, he will be allowed to sit for the state’s bar exam and, if he passes, to be admitted to the bar. —Tony Mauro

Supreme Court’s Silence on Marriage Rights Speaks Volumes

By declining to take up any of the same-sex marriage cases pending before it in early October, the U.S. Supreme Court defied the conventional wisdom that it finally would resolve the debate over the constitutionality of state bans on those marriages. Experienced high court practitioners hesitate to speculate about why the justices take certain actions. But those advocating marriage equality tended to agree that, in denying review, the high court sent a clear signal that a majority thinks those bans are unconstitutional. —Marcia Coyle

Understudies Take Stage at Supreme Court

First-time advocates were among the winners of landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in the term just ended—a signal that new faces are beginning to join the ranks of veteran practitioners. An unusually large number of first- and second-time advocates argued before the high court between last October and this April. Among them were several lawyers from firms with established Supreme Court practices where longtime advocates often keep the arguments for themselves—or are asked to do so by clients. —Tony Mauro

Sixth Circuit May Force Supreme Court’s Hand on Marriage

A recent federal appellate court decision upholding state bans on same-sex marriages makes U.S. Supreme Court review of the fundamental constitutional issue nearly inevitable, with timing the only remaining question. “It’s inconceivable to me that the court won’t take [the issue] now with a circuit split that has four circuits on one side and one on the other and an issue that every other circuit has to resolve,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law. “The question now is it too late to be this term?” —Marcia Coyle

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