Tomorrow, March 5, the U.S. Supreme Court will tackle an unusual question regarding its precedent. Rather than determining how a prior case should be interpreted, the Court will address whether the case should be overruled altogether. In arguments for Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, the Court will decide whether to overrule or substantially limit its holding in Basic Inc. v. Levinson. Both cases deal with the “fraud-on-the-market” theory of liability in SEC Rule 10b-5 class action suits.
Read more about the arguments for tomorrow here.
On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the federal government’s ability to regulate green house cases. In United Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, which was consolidated with six other cases, the Court considered “[w]hether the EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources.”
See SCOTUSblog’s argument preview to understand what’s at stake in the case and argument recap to see what went down in oral arguments.
On Thursday, Arizona lawmakers approved a bill allowing state business owners to refuse to serve individuals for “religious reasons.” Critics denounce the law as a state-approved discrimination against LGBT individuals.
The bill will now go to Governor Jan Brewer, who has five days to sign the law. The voting for the bill took place largely along party lines, and the Arizona House Minority Leader has already released a statement urging Brewer to veto the bill, arguing that it targets the LGBT community and promotes discrimination.
On Thursday, a judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia struck down Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, made law in 2006 after Virginia voters ratified Article I, Section 15-A to the constitution, defining marriage as a union between a man and woman only. The opinion states that the ban was a violation of a “fundamental freedom”, as well as a violation of due process and equal protection rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
On Saturday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government will begin giving same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples when filing for bankruptcy and when visiting family members in court. The benefits include allowing same-sex couples to be covered by spousal privilege in criminal investigations. The federal government will also recognize same-sex couple for programs such as the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration declined to define “natural” in the realm of food labeling in a published response letter. The letter, a response to three cases considering whether food products containing bioengineered ingredients can be labeled as “natural”, explains that it would take a public process to come up with a definition and the creation of such a definition would involve the interests of other agencies.
Currently, existing policy states that the term “natural” on food labels means that “nothing artificial synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.” 58 Fed. Reg. 2302, 2407 (Jan. 6, 1993).
On Tuesday, Chief Justice Jean Toal was re-elected as the chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court in a joint session of the General Assembly. She was challenged by Associate Justice Costa Pleicones in a 95-74 vote.
South Carolina is one of only two states where the lawmakers elect the judges that interpret the laws they pass. The Judicial Merit Selection Commission, a 10-person panel of appointees selected by legislators vet candidates’ qualifications for the seat and nominate up to three people to fill the position.
Toal, the first woman to serve on the state Supreme Court, has already said that she will step down at the end of next year when she reaches the mandatory age of retirement for state judges–72.
The law has many strange and esoteric terms. Have you ever wondered where the term suit, as it refers to a legal proceeding, came from? Black’s Law Dictionary defines suit as “[a]ny proceeding by a party or parties against another in a court of law; case.” It adds “lawsuit” and “suit at law” as synonyms.1 The use of the term suit originated in 14th century England, before there were organized court systems. Disputes were settled in open-air communal meetings.2 The goal was not a reasoned decision, but an amicable settlement. If that could not be achieved, the next resort was proof by oath, backed up by a physical challenge of some sort.
“In order to put the defendant to this hazard [physical challenge], the plaintiff was required to establish a prima facie case; and this was the purpose of his ‘suit’ (secta), the group of followers whom he had brought with him to back him up on oath. The suit had some affinity with witnesses, and they may have been subject to examination as to competence, but their testimony was only part of the interlocutory process and did not dispose of the matter.”3
“This sort of ‘witness,’ …, might have nothing to do with the trial; he belonged to the stage of the preliminary allegations, the pleading, where belonged profert (sic) of the deed upon which an action or a plea was grounded.”4 In time, the suit was absorbed into common-law procedure, mostly serving as transaction witnesses when written contracts were rare.5 Eventually, “they were not even produced, and only the formula in the pleadings was kept up.”6 Today, the allegations in a complaint filed to initiate a lawsuit serve the same function – of presenting a prima facie case – as the 14th century suit. In the practice of adjudicating a motion to dismiss a lawsuit for failure to state a claim by taking the plaintiff’s allegations as true,7 we hear the echo of the medieval principle that the suit cannot be examined.
1. Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009).
2. J.H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History 5 (3rd ed. 1990).
3. Id. (emphasis added).
4. James B. Thayer, The Older Modes of Trial, 5 Harv. L. Rev. 45, 48 (1891).
5. Baker at 362.
6. Thayer at 48.
7. “The question is whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and with every doubt resolved in his behalf, the complaint states any valid claim for relief.” Gentry v. Yonce, 522 S.E.2d 137, 139 (1999).
Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court granted review for two cases on the issue of whether policy have authority to search the contents of an arrested person’s cell phone: Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie. Riley involves a cell phone that was described as being more like a hand-held computer, while Wurie involves a flip-phone. Both searches took place without an arrest.
For more on the cases, see SCOTUSblog’s coverage.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court held oral arguments on whether the requirement that publicly traded companies disclose the use of certain minerals from certain African countries is a violation of the First Amendment and whether the SEC took arbitrary actions when adopting the rule.
A trio of business groups challenged the Securities and Exchange Commission’s conflict minerals rule, but the district court upheld the rule. The rule, meant to cut off funding for those perpetrating human rights abuses, requires companies to disclose whether their products contain tin, tunsten, tantalum, or gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbors, but the business groups question whether the rule would help the African people and argue that complying with the rule would cost companies billions of dollars. They also argue that the SEC could make compliance less of a burden by exempting those companies who use only trace amounts of the minerals in question. The First Amendment argument is that the rule forces them to criticize their own products; during the oral arguments, the panel seemed concern that making companies share this information could be a “slippery slope.” The SEC argues that it is following its Congressional mandate by creating the rule.