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Recent Court Opinions and Orders of Note


Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America v. Whiting, 09-115, May 26, 2011

The federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) applies three general provisions that are relevant here: 1) it forbids the intentional hiring of undocumented workers, 2) it expressly preempts all state laws that impose sanctions on employers who hire undocumented workers, “other than through licensing and similar laws,” and 3) it requires employers to attempt to verify a worker’s status, and creates the E-Verify system that employers may use to meet this requirement. Arizona enacted its own statute that would suspend or revoke the licenses of employers who hire undocumented workers, and that would require employers to use the E-Verify system. The Petitioner argued that federal law preempted Arizona’s de-licensing scheme, as well as its E-Verify requirement. The Court applied a plain-meaning analysis to the statutes and affirmed the lower courts’ findings that the Arizona law is not preempted. (C.J. Roberts wrote the opinion; J. Thomas joined in part and concurred in the result; J. Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by J. Ginsburg; J. Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion; J. Kagan did not participate.) The dissenters pointed out that the state law defines the term “license” so broadly–including articles of incorporation and certificates of partnership–that its application amounts to a commercial death sentence for employers in violation of the state law; a plain-meaning analysis, they argued, renders the federal scheme of the IRCA meaningless in the face of a single state’s broader de facto regulation of immigration.

Jay Bookman in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution distinguished the Court’s analysis in this opinion from the issues likely to be heard in Arizona’s OTHER immigration case. Andrew Cohen also found little in this opinion to help forecast a result in the more controversial Arizona statute. The AllBusiness News Blog contemplated the decision’s effect on businesses across the nation. The Salt Lake Tribune looked at the effect this case may have on Utah’s recent attempt at state-enacted immigration regulation.

Fowler v. United States, 10-5443, May 26, 2011

The Petitioner killed a local police officer who discovered him preparing to rob a bank, and appealed his conviction on a federal witness tampering statute, claiming that the government failed to prove that the petitioner intended to prevent the officer’s communication to federal authorities. The Court held (J. Breyer for the majority; J. Scalia filed a concurring opinion; J. Alito filed a dissent, joined by J. Ginsberg) that the standard is whether or not the defendant killed with the intent to prevent communication with any law enforcement officials, and then whether “the likelihood of communication to a federal officer was more than remote, outlandish, or simply hypothetical.”

Commentary on this opinion can be found in JURIST and The Ledger. Aaron Bruhl in PrawfsBlawg discussed an interesting facet of Justice Scalia’s concurring opinion, exploring the linkage between the rule of lenity and federalism.

United States v. Tinklenberg, 09-1498, May 26, 2011

Writing for a unanimous Court (C.J. Roberts, J. Scalia, and J. Thomas joined in part; J. Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part and in the result; J. Kagan did not participate), Justice Breyer interpreted certain sections of the Speedy Trial Act to affirm the Sixth Circuit’s dismissal of the Petitioner’s indictment.

Turning again to Aaron Bruhl in PrawfsBlawg, here is an examination of Justice Breyer’s nod to a normative standard of statutory interpretation.

Camreta v. Greene, 09-1454, May 26, 2011

This opinion arises out of a Ninth Circuit decision finding that the Petitioner–a child protective services investigator–had violated the Respondent’s Constitutional rights by interviewing the child without parental consent, but also finding that the investigator was protected by qualified immunity. The Court held that the case was moot because the Respondent had moved away from Oregon and no longer had a justiciable interest in the matter, but the Court also expressly vacated that part of the circuit court’s holding that found the interview to be unlawful. (J. Kagan for the majority; J. Scalia filed a concurring opinion; J. Sotomayor filed an opinion concurring in the result, joined by J. Breyer; J. Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion, joined by J. Thomas.)

Orin Kerr in the Volokh Conspiracy explored the opinion’s standing and mootness determinations. The Constitutional Law Prof Blog also looked at the unique case-or-controversy issues raised by this kind of Section 1983 case. 

Orders of Note

In re Donald E. Beaty, 10-10338; Beaty v. Arizona, 10-10608; Beaty v. Brewer, 10-10675, May 25, 2011

The Court declined to stay the Petitioner’s execution, denied his petition for writ of certiorari, and denied his petition for writ of habeas corpus. Later that day, Arizona executed Beaty. This case generated a flurry of activity in its final hours as Arizona joined other states scrambling to adjust their execution procedures due to a shortage of one of the drugs in the three-drug injection procedure. Reuters has this account of the appeals, the drug controversy, and a brief outline of the case surrounding Beaty’s rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl in 1984.

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Articles posted in the Cockle Blog are for informational purposes only. Nothing in the Cockle Blog should be taken for legal advice. In fact, Cockle Blog articles are not a substitute for proper legal research conducted by licensed attorneys.

Cockle Blog will occasionally provide opinions on certain cases and Court procedures. These opinions should be viewed with the recognition that no one can predict with certainty how the Supreme Court will rule on particular cases. Any reliance on articles contained in Cockle Blog must be done at one's own risk.