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SCOTUS News, March 31st, 2017: Moore and Expressions

The media continues to pick apart Gorsuch’s nomination process. And though we strive, like the Court, for impartiality, our predictions so far hold steady.

Summary Judgment

SCOTUS vacated and remanded three cases this Monday. Medinol v. Cordis, Endotach v. Cook Medical, and Romag Fasteners v. Fossil et al. were sent back to the Federal Circuit in light of guidance issued last week in SCA Hygiene v. First Quality. We briefly covered this in a post last weekend.

Certiorari Granted

SCOTUS granted certiorari to two cases this week. U.S. Bank National Association v. Village at Lakeridge and Leidos v. Indiana Public Retirement System. In U.S. Bank, the Court will review the standards that determine who is an “insider” in a bankruptcy case. They will seek to unify different standards adopted by different Circuit Courts. Leidos concerns how much information a party must disclose in a securities fraud case. Leidos contends that the information they failed to disclose during fraud litigation does not go against SEC rules.

Opinions Released

The Court released two opinions this week in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman and Moore v. Texas.

Expressions concerns the discrepancy between cash prices and credit card surcharges added to purchases. We’ve spoken about this case before, and won’t belabor the details of the original filing. In a nutshell, there is no federal ban on credit card surcharges (but there used to be). This means that, in many places, merchants can charge a separate cash price and credit card price for products and services. A price hike on credit card purchases accounts for the fees merchants pay to credit card companies.

A business law in New York state regulates credit card surcharges, and merchants’ pricing schemes. Expressions, and other merchants, challenged the legality of the New York law’s restrictions. Originally, the District Court ruled that the New York statute was unconstitutionally vague, and violated the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed, saying that the law only regulates conduct, not speech.

In the Court’s decision this week, they decided that, unlike the Court of Appeals’ interpretation, the First Amendment does enter into this debate. Their ruling on these grounds is limited to the ways merchants can post their prices. In their opinion, SCOTUS at first confirms the Court of Appeals’ reasoning. A dual-pricing scheme – one price for cash transactions, and a separate higher price accounting for credit card fees – violates the state law in question. However, the petitioners claimed that the statute itself is unconstitutional along First Amendment grounds. Because the law regulates how sellers communicate prices, petitioners argued a First Amendment breach. On this point, the Supreme Court agrees. They declared the relevant section of the New York statute unconstitutional. The original ruling was vacated, and the case remanded.

The Court was unanimous in the judgment. Justices Breyer and Sotomayor both filed separate concurrences. In his concurrence, Breyer gives further caution to the Court of Appeals on remand, because “…it is not clear what New York’s law does.” Sotomayor wrote a similar concurrence, joined by Alito. Sotomayor goes further. She and Alito argue that the facts of the case demand that it be certified back to the New York Court of Appeals, rather than the federal Circuit.

– In Moore v. Texas, the Supreme Court established firmer ground for habeas cases brought due to mental disabilities. Moore was convicted of murder during an armed robbery, and sentenced to death. He filed for habeas relief due to intellectual disabilities. A Texas habeas court granted relief, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) denied it. Their cause for denial was a different set of standards, laid out in a prior case, ex parte Briseno. The standards established in Briseno used somewhat older guidelines for defining intellectual disability.

SCOTUS ruled 5-3 that the Briseno standards violate the Eighth Amendment. The CCA ignored several assessments of Moore’s IQ that clearly demonstrated his disabilities. They also did not account for standard errors of measurement in the IQ scores. In addition, the CCA used the Briseno standards without affirming their continued validity against newer standards created by the medical community. Furthermore, the CCA did not use the guidelines available in newer versions of diagnostic manuals of mental disorders. For these reasons, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the case for appropriate review.

The Crowd and the Algorithm

No surprises in the Expressions case. The New York statute was arbitrary. Precedent at the state and federal level was either murky, or non-existent. And the Supreme Court chose to answer a narrower question than the petitioners had originally asserted. These factors no doubt contributed to the solid predictions from the Crowd and the Algorithm.

Similarly, both man and machine showed very strong predictions in the Moore case. Criminal cases usually bring out the Justices’ stark ideological differences. This case is no exception; the Crowd has rarely been more certain.

Moore Texas

Moore v. Texas

A cursory glance at the decision breakdown makes the Algorithm look shaky. But the Algorithm’s estimated split is fairly predictable for a criminal case. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s “swing vote” carries serious weight in cases like these.

The Supreme Court takes a short break from arguments starting today. Stay tuned.