Latest News 02-01-2024 12:06 9 Views

Jan 6 rioters, abortion, gun rights: A look ahead at landmark cases SCOTUS will hear in 2024

In the second half of the Supreme Court’s 2023-2024, the justices are set to hear some blockbuster cases on topics ranging from First Amendment rights of social media companies, the abortion pill and the power of federal agencies. 

After a brief winter break, the high court will resume oral arguments on Jan. 8, which will continue through the spring, with opinions expected to be issued early summer.

Here are some of the high-profile cases to watch.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Moody (FL AG) v. NetChoice, LLC; NetChoice, LLC v. Moody; NetChoice LLC v. Paxton   

ARGUMENT DATE: Not yet set

AT ISSUE: Whether social media platforms’ handling of user content is protected by the First Amendment. 

THE CASE: Separate laws in Florida and Texas would require large companies like X and Facebook to host third-party communications and would prevent those businesses from blocking or removing users' posts based on political viewpoints. 

THE ARGUMENTS: The laws aim to address what some lawmakers call 'censoring' of conservative messages and banning politicians like former President Trump for violating policies over offensive or 'problematic' content. A federal appeals court had ruled for the tech industry in the Florida case, saying as private entities, those companies were 'engaged in constitutionally protected expressive activity when they moderate and curate the content that they disseminate on their platforms.'

IMPACT: Trump and a coalition of 16 states are among those filing separate amicus briefs supporting Florida. The Biden administration has opposed the state laws.

EXECUTIVE POWER: Loper Bright Enterprises, Inc. v. Raimondo


AT ISSUE: Potential far-reaching appeal over another legal effort to have the so-called 'Chevron' deference overturned by the Supreme Court. That 1984 ruling says when congressional federal laws are not clearly defined, federal agencies should be allowed broad discretion to interpret and enforce those policies. 

THE CASE: Lead plaintiff Loper Bright Enterprises of New Jersey, represented by the Cause of Action Institute, challenges a federal mandate requiring Atlantic herring fishermen to pay more than $700 per day for monitors to ride their boats, observe their activities and report to the government.  

THE ARGUMENTS: A federal appeals court found the National Marine Fisheries Service’s interpretation of a federal fishery law to be 'reasonable.' The fishermen argue Congress never granted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the authority to force fishermen to pay for monitors. Groups supporting them say the 'Chevron' precedent forces courts to defer to an agency’s interpretation of 'ambiguous' statutes. Those supporting continued deference say an adverse ruling would sow 'chaos' across the federal government and would concentrate rulemaking authority with unelected judges, who are not experts in specific policy matters.

THE IMPACT: Conservatives have long chafed at the 'Chevron' decision. The high court has been incrementally reining in federal regulators, including a June 2022 decision limiting EPA authority over greenhouse gas emissions. Overturning 'Chevron' or further weakening federal agency discretion would have enormous impacts on key areas like the environment, workplace safety, consumer protections, public health and immigration. The court has the option of broadly addressing the use of 'Chevron' deference or clarifying specific areas of its application by federal agencies.

ABORTION MEDICATION: FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine 

ARGUMENT DATE: Not yet set

AT ISSUE: Lawsuit seeking to restrict access to mifepristone, one of two drugs typically used to induce a medical abortion.

THE CASE: The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000 to end a pregnancy, and it is used in combination with a second drug, misoprostol. That pill combination is approved for use up to the 10th week of pregnancy. 

THE ARGUMENTS: Groups opposing the FDA say it failed to follow proper procedures when determining the drug's safety risks. The Biden administration warned an adverse ruling would severely disrupt the way drugs are tested and brought to market. The Supreme Court has allowed the FDA to regulate the drug while the case is being litigated on its merits. While the case is still being litigated, a nationwide injunction could be issued by the judge, preventing medication abortions even in states where it remains legal. 

THE IMPACT: Any high court decision could impact 40 million women nationwide, and the Guttmacher Institute research group says more than half of all abortions in the U.S. use mifepristone. Supreme Court involvement in arguably the most contentious social issue could have enormous political implications in a presidential election year.

GUN RIGHTS : Garland v. Cargill 

ARGUMENT DATE: Not yet set 

AT ISSUE: Whether a bump stock device is a 'machine gun' as defined under federal law, because it is designed and intended for use in converting a rifle into a weapon that fires 'automatically more than one shot... by a single function of the trigger.'

THE CASE: In the wake of a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 60 people dead and 500 more wounded, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued an interpretive rule concluding that bump stocks are machine guns. A bump stock is an attachment that allows a semiautomatic rifle to mimic a fully automatic weapon's 'cyclic firing rate to mimic nearly continuous automatic fire,' according to ATF. The device essentially replaces the gun's stock and pistol grip and causes the weapon to buck back and forth, repeatedly 'bumping' the trigger against the shooter's finger. Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works, sued the government after he was forced to surrender several bump stocks under the ATF's rule. 

THE ARGUMENTS: Mark Chenoweth, NCLA president and general counsel, said 'this is not a case about gun rights. It is a case about administrative power.' 

'Congress never gave ATF the power to rewrite federal criminal statutes pertaining to machine guns—nor could it. Writing federal criminal laws is the sole preserve of Congress, and the Trump and Biden Administrations committed grievous constitutional error by trying to ban bump stocks without involving Congress. We are confident the U.S. Supreme Court will right this wrong for Michael Cargill and all Americans,' Chenoweth said.

THE IMPACT: Millions of lawful gun owners also own bump stocks prior to the ATF rule. Cargill’s lawyers say that ATF has admitted that the loss of property for law-abiding Americans, should the rule stand, would be upwards of $100 million. 

FREE SPEECH: National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo

ARGUMENT DATE: Not yet set

AT ISSUE: Whether a government regulator threatening regulated entities with adverse regulatory actions if they do business with a controversial speaker, allegedly because of the government's own hostility to the speaker's viewpoint, violates the First Amendment.

THE CASE: The former superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), Maria T. Vullo, at the behest of then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, allegedly wielded DFS' regulatory power to financially blacklist the NRA – coercing banks and insurers to cut ties with the association, in an effort, the group says, to suppress its speech.

THE ARGUMENTS: The NRA argues that Vullo’s actions were meant to silence the NRA – using 'guidance letters,' backroom threats and other measures to cause financial institutions to 'drop' the Association. The NRA's First Amendment claims withstood multiple motions to dismiss, but in 2022, after Vullo appealed the trial court’s ruling, the Second Circuit struck down the NRA’s claims. The court decided that in an era of 'enhanced corporate social responsibility,' it was reasonable for New York's financial regulator to warn banks and insurance companies against servicing pro-gun groups based on the supposed 'social backlash' against those groups’ advocacy. 

THE IMPACT: The NRA earned an unlikely bedfellow in the American Civil Liberties, who will argue in support of the gun rights group that they ideologically oppose, but agree that its free speech liberties were violated by the New York official.

OBSTRUCTION: Fischer v. United States

ARGUMENT DATE: Not yet set 

AT ISSUE: Whether a court of appeals correctly determined that the indictments in these three cases permissibly included a charge of corruptly obstructing, influencing or impeding an official proceeding, based on each petitioner’s violent conduct on Jan. 6, 2021.

THE CASE: Over 300 people have been charged by the Justice Department with obstructing an official proceeding in connection with the Jan. 6 riot. This case stems from three defendants — Garret Miller of Dallas, Joseph Fischer of Boston, and Edward Jacob Lang of New York’s Hudson Valley – who are challenging that charge. 

THE ARGUMENTS: A lower court judge earlier dismissed the obstruction charge against three defendants, ruling that their conduct did not warrant that charge. However, the Biden DOJ challenged that ruling, and the appeals court in Washington, D.C., agreed with government prosecutors. 

THE IMPACT: The outcome of this case could impact former President Trump's criminal case, in which he also faces similar obstruction charges. 

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