A Cluster of Decisions on Federal Procedure, Immigration, and Arbitration, but Plenty to Go: SCOTUS Today
The Court has had a busy day, having decided cases of significance to litigators and interest groups, but none is the blockbuster decision in societally divisive matters that the general public has been awaiting. In short, this is a business-as-usual day, with opinions sometimes showing broad consensus on the Court, but with some not-unexpected dissents.
Kemp v. United States concerned whether a district court’s mistake of law is correctable under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1) or 60(b)(6). In an opinion written by Justice Thomas and joined or concurred in by all of the other Justices save for Justice Gorsuch, the Court has held, in a somewhat hyper-technical decision, that, because Kemp’s motion alleged such a legal error, it was cognizable under Rule 60(b)(1) and untimely under Rule 60(c)’s one-year limitation period. Cutting through the technicalities of the case, it is about a criminal defendant’s efforts to get a shot at post-conviction relief that the government’s position would preclude. He has failed. Rule 60(c) imposes deadlines on Rule 60(b) motions. All must be filed “within a reasonable time.” But for some, including motions under Rule 60(b)(1), that “reasonable time” may not exceed one year. Motions under Rule 60(b)(6) are not subject to this additional one-year constraint. Here, the parties dispute the extent to which a judge’s legal errors qualify as “mistake[s]” under Rule 60(b)(1). The government contends that Rule 60(b)(1) applies any time a party alleges that a judge has made an “obvious” legal error, such as the “failure to apply unambiguous law to record facts.” The Court notes that it was correct to apply Rule 60(b)(1), but rejected Kemp’s claim that it applies only to factual errors made by someone other than the judge, a view that would have allowed him to avoid the timeliness barrier under Rule 60(b)(6), and thus the one-year limit.
Garland v. Gonzalez is the consolidated matter in which the respondents who are Mexican and Salvadoran natives detained under 8 U.S.C. §1231(a)(6) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) argued that they are entitled to bond hearings after six months’ detention. They had been instructed by the Court to answer the jurisdictional question of whether the district courts have jurisdiction to entertain respondents’ requests for class-wide injunctive relief under the INA. Answering the question in the negative, the Court, per Justice Alito, has held that Section 1252(f)(1) of the INA deprived the district courts of jurisdiction to entertain respondents’ requests for class-wide injunctive relief. This is yet another case in which the doctrine of textualism is applied. Justice Sotomayor, along with Justices Breyer and Kagan, joined in limited part with the opinion of Justice Alito, but largely dissented on grounds that what was argued to be a piecemeal array of textual provisions would work to deprive many immigrants of a hearing.
Justice Sotomayor was not finished opining on the extent of the INA, but in writing the Court’s opinion in Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez, she was hardly alone. There were two concurrences (Thomas and Gorsuch, JJ.) and a partial dissent (Breyer, J.), but the Court was generally in accord in deciding whether the text of Section 1231(a)(6) of the INA requires the government to offer detained noncitizens bond hearings after six months of detention in which the government bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that a noncitizen poses a flight risk or a danger to the community. The answer is a clear holding that, applying strict textual analysis, it does not.
Thus, the Court has textually and restrictively interpreted the INA to hold that detained immigrants do not have the right to bond hearings even after six months of detention, and that the statute, on its face, “says nothing about bond hearings before immigration judges or burdens of proof, nor does it provide any other indication that such procedures are required.” And the Court also has held that the INA bars courts from considering requests by classes of immigrants for injunctions that could interfere with the operation of the law.
Denezpi v. United States provides another example of the fact that in Indian tribal cases, Justice Gorsuch is not unlikely to be found dissenting from the other conservative justices. Here, a member of the Navajo Nation was charged with three separate crimes alleged to have occurred on a Ute reservation. The complaint was filed in an administrative court that operates in parts of Indian country “where tribal courts have not been established.” Denezpi pleaded guilty to, and was sentenced on, one of those charges, an assault and battery charge. Later on, though, a Colorado federal grand jury indicted Denezpi on one count of aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country, an offense covered by the federal Major Crimes Act. Denezpi moved to dismiss the indictment on grounds of double jeopardy. The Supreme Court ruled against him, holding that the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar successive prosecutions of distinct offenses arising from a single act, even if a single sovereign prosecutes them. Justice Barrett wrote the opinion for the Court. Interestingly, Justice Breyer agreed with her, and Justice Gorsuch joined Justices Sotomayor and Kagan in dissent. As noted, this is hardly the first time that Justice Gorsuch “crossed over” to take an expansive view of the rights of members of Indian tribal nations.
Finally, Justice Barrett writes for a unanimous Court in Automotive US, Inc. v. Luxshare, Ltd., yet another case involving arbitration, this one concerning arbitration proceedings abroad for which a party sought discovery in the United States pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1782(a)—a provision that authorizes a district court to order the production of evidence “for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.” The Court noted that “tribunal” can be used either as a synonym for “court,” in which case it carries a distinctively governmental flavor, or more broadly to refer to any adjudicatory body. Section 1782’s phrase is best understood to refer to an adjudicative body that exercises governmental authority. Thus, only an intergovernmental adjudicative body is a “foreign or international tribunal” under Section 1782, and the bodies at issue in these cases do not qualify.
As I’ve been saying in this blog for the past several weeks, there is a relatively large body of cases that the Court must resolve before the end of the term. While that body is diminishing, there still is plenty left to do, and there will be some fireworks. Stay alert.