Partisan Gerrymandering Cases Face New High Court Reckoning

WASHINGTON (CN) – After sweeping away the opportunity last term to tackle partisan gerrymandering, the Supreme Court announced Friday it would hear new cases this spring out of Maryland and North Carolina.

The Supreme Court tangoed briefly with both of the new cases on the heels of last year’s decision to punt in the Wisconsin battle Gill v. Whitford.

Rather than determining whether Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature drew district lines in 2011 to favor their party at Democrats’ expense, the justices opted last year to have the lower court take another look at whether the challengers had standing to bring their case at all.

Separately that same day, meanwhile, the justices affirmed denial of an injunction in Benisek v. Lamone, a case where a group of Maryland voters insisted that gerrymandering by the state would cause irreparable harm.

A week later, the justices cited Gill in calling for reconsideration of another gerrymandering squabble out of North Carolina: Rucho v. Common Cause.

Friday’s order list includes both Benisek and Rucho among cases set for argument in March.

While the Maryland voters are challenging a 2011 map, the North Carolina voters a congressional map that the North Carolina Legislature adopted in 2016. 

After a three-judge district court struck down the North Carolina map was the product of partisan gerrymandering, it blocked the state from using the map after November 2018.

Justice Anthony Kennedy had been seen last year as the deciding vote in Gill. Now that Kennedy has been succeeded on the bench by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court has a conservative majority and is expected to rule that courts have no place in settling claims of partisan gerrymandering.

In addition to the two gerrymander cases, the Friday order list mentions four cases where the justices granted writs of certiorari.

In one, the Federal Circuit broke ground over a year ago when it struck down a law that bars trademark hopefuls from registering material considered to be “immoral” or “scandalous.”

Erik Brunetti brought the underlying challenge when the Patent and Trademark Office blocked his bid in 2011 to register the mark “fuct” for a clothing brand of the same name that he founded in 1990.

The Federal Circuit’s side with Brunetti on the heels of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Matal v. Tam, where it struck down a disparagement clause that had frustrated Asian-American rocker Simon Tam from trademarking the name of his band, The Slants.

Brunetti is represented by John Sommer of Irvine, California.

U.S. v. Davis and Glover, another petition granted certiorari on Friday, implicates an issue that the Supreme Court tackled last term.

Last year in Sessions v. Dimaya, the justices blocked the deportation of an immigrant from the Philippines who pleaded no contest to residential-burglary charges.

James Garcia Dimaya’s convictions qualified as aggravated felonies, triggering a clause of the Immigration and Nationality Act, but Dimaya challenged the definition of “crime of violence” in the law as unconstitutionally overbroad.

Based on the Supreme Court ruling in Dimaya, the court subsequently called for further proceedings in the Texas convictions of Maurice Davis and Andre Glover. Both men faced sentencing enhancements under the Armed Career Criminal Act for brandishing shotguns during a weeklong string of robberies at four convenience stores in and around Dallas, Texas.

In its petition for certiorari, the United States asked the court to decide the vagueness of “the subsection-specific definition of “crime of violence” in 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(B), which applies only in the limited context of a federal criminal prosecution for possessing, using, or carrying a firearm in connection with acts comprising such a crime.”

Federal public defender represents Davis, and Glover is represented by the Dallas firm Udashen Anton.

Per its custom the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in agreeing to take up the case Friday. 

Likewise it issued no comment in granting the petition by Bradley Weston Taggert, who wants the court decide whether, under the Bankruptcy Code, a creditor’s good-faith belief that the discharge injunction does not apply precludes a finding of civil contempt.  

In Taggert’s bankruptcy case, a judge agreed to hold Shelley Lorenzen, who serves as executor of the estate of Stuart Brown, and others in contempt for violating a discharge injunction.

Though the court entered a $2,000 punitive damages award, the bankruptcy appellate panel reversed and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Taggert is represented by Daniel Geyser of Dallas, Texas, and the respondents are represented by the firms Mayer Brown and Portland, Oregon-based attorney Hollis K. McMilan.

The last case granted certiorari Friday involves the Securities Exchange Act. Emulex shareholders Gary Varjabedian and Jerry Mutza filed the suit to prevent the manufacturer’s merger with Avago Technologies Wireless (USA) Manufacturing Inc.

Though a federal judge dismissed the case, the Ninth Circuit reversed with instructions for the case to be reviewed under the negligence standard. 

Emulex wants the justices to decide whether the law “supports an inferred private right of action based on a negligent misstatement or omission made in connection with a tender offer.”

The Washington firm Latham & Watkins represents Emulex, and the shareholders are represented by the firm Geyser of Dallas.

On Monday the Supreme Court issued another order list, but it did not grant certiorari to any new cases. Among dozens of cases that were denied certiorari, the Supreme Court rejected a petition challenging the retrial of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley.

The Supreme Court also on Monday denied a petition by actress Olivia de Havilland who brought unsuccessful claims in California over her portrayal in the creators of the FX docudrama series “Feud: Joan and Bette.” 

Animal rights groups applauded meanwhile after the Supreme Court refused Monday to consider a ruling that upheld the 2004 ban on producing and selling foie gras in California.

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