As the 2024 presidential elections draw closer, the looming presence of former President Donald Trump—the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination—casts a shadow over a portion of the Supreme Court’s November argument session. Three cases are closely associated with Trump’s influence while other cases offer opportunities for the Court to address First, Second and Fourteenth Amendment issues.
Culley v. Marshall
The November session kicks off with the case of Culley v. Marshall, which originated from legal action initiated by two Alabama citizens, Halima Culley and Lena Sutton. Both women had their vehicles seized by the police when drivers were found in possession of drugs. After a prolonged wait exceeding a year, the women eventually regained custody of their cars. Subsequently, they filed federal lawsuits alleging that the failure of state and local governments to provide them with a timely hearing violated their constitutional right to due process, entitling them to proper procedural safeguards.
The central issue before the Court revolves around the criteria for determining whether individuals like Culley and Sutton are entitled to a hearing concerning the government’s retention of their property while the final decision regarding potential forfeiture is pending. Culley and Sutton argue for the application of a three-part test laid out in the 1976 case of Mathews v. Eldridge. This test assesses the private interest involved, the risk of wrongful deprivation, and the value of additional safeguards to protect the interest, as well as the government’s interest. Under this framework, they contend that they are entitled to a retention hearing.
The state, on the other hand, maintains that it is only obligated to provide a timely forfeiture proceeding. According to Alabama officials, the appropriate test for assessing the timeliness of such proceedings is the “speedy trial” test established in Barker v. Wingo. This test considers the duration and reasons for the delay, the timing of the assertion of the right to a speedy forfeiture proceeding, and any harm incurred by the individual due to the delay.
O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier and Lindke v. Freed
The November session also features cases concerning the intersection of government officials, social media, and the First Amendment. In 2021, the Supreme Court considered a case in which former President Trump blocked individuals on Twitter, leading to a lower court ruling that he had violated the First Amendment. The Supreme Court subsequently sent the case back to the lower court, but the fundamental question of whether public officials can infringe on the First Amendment by blocking individuals on their personal social media accounts remains unresolved. This term, two cases, O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier and Lindke v. Freed, scheduled for October 31st oral argument, revisit this issue.
In O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier, the Ninth Circuit ruled that two members of a California school board violated the First Amendment when they blocked individuals who criticized them on their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. In the second case, Lindke v. Freed, Kevin Lindke contested his blocking by James Freed, the city manager of Port Huron, Michigan, on the grounds of violating the First Amendment. The Sixth Circuit, however, rejected his claim, stating that because Freed did not operate his Facebook page as part of his official duties, there was no First Amendment violation.
Vidal v. Elster
An intriguing case with a somewhat unconventional origin is Vidal v. Elster, scheduled for oral argument on November 1. This case revolves around Steve Elster’s attempt to register the phrase “Trump Too Small” for the purpose of printing and selling T-shirts. Elster intended the phrase to convey a message about President Trump and his policies. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) initially denied Elster’s application, citing Section 2(c) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits the registration of trademarks using the name of a living person without their permission.
However, the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of Elster, contending that barring the registration of the “Trump Too Small” phrase would infringe upon the First Amendment. According to the court, the government’s interest does not extend to restricting speech critical of government officials or public figures through trademarks.
United States v. Rahimi
Finally, the Second Amendment returns to the Supreme Court in United States v. Rahimi, which challenges the constitutionality of a federal ban on gun possession by individuals subject to domestic-violence restraining orders. This case holds significance not only on its own merits but also as an opportunity for the justices to provide further guidance on the application of the “history and tradition” test outlined in their previous decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. Zackey Rahimi, the defendant, was involved in several shootings and faced charges related to gun possession in violation of a domestic-violence restraining order. The central question is whether the federal ban aligns with the historical tradition of regulating gun possession. The case holds implications for the interpretation of the Second Amendment and its restrictions on certain individuals’ gun rights.