The Supreme Court issued decisions in three cases on Friday — with Chief Justice John Roberts announcing that Monday of next week will be the last decision day before the court recesses for the summer.
While some major decisions are still outstanding, the court on Friday rejected an attempt strongly backed by libertarians to provide greater protections — in the way of compensation — for landowners barred by state or local regulations from selling their land as they wish. The justices also held that an immigrant accused of a crime that would lead to deportation received ineffective assistance from his lawyer when the lawyer told him that a guilty plea would not lead to his deportation.
In the third decision, the court assessed the proper venue for appealing decisions by civil service employees that involve civil service claims and discrimination claims — prompting Justice Neil Gorsuch to write his first dissenting opinion on the high court.
In the immigration-related case, an unusual lineup provided further protections for immigrants who face the possibility of deportation as the result of criminal charges. Jae Lee was a lawful permanent resident who would face deportation if convicted of an aggravated felony. Faced with a criminal charge of possessing ecstasy with the intent to distribute, his lawyer urged him to take a plea deal — which would result in a lighter sentence — and told him that he would not face deportation as a result. Lee pleaded guilty, but the lawyer was wrong and Lee would be subject to mandatory deportation as a result of the plea. Lee sought to have his conviction vacated on the grounds that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.
The Supreme Court, in Lee v. US, reversed the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which had rejected Lee's claim. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, held that, in the case of a plea agreement, a person can show that they were prejudiced by their lawyer's advice — the standard for tossing out a conviction due to ineffective assistance of counsel — if there is a "reasonable probability" that, without the lawyer's bad advice, the defendant would have gone to trial.
Here, Roberts wrote, everyone agreed that "deportation was the determinative issue in Lee’s decision whether to accept the plea deal." Even though Lee — under the circumstances — likely would have been convicted at trial, it was not certain, so therefore Lee had proven the prejudice necessary from his lawyer's advice to have his conviction vacated.
Justice Clarence Thomas, joined Samuel Alito, strongly objected to Roberts's decision in the case, writing that it "will have pernicious consequences
for the criminal justice system. The court's new "standard for prejudice in the plea context is likely to generate a high volume of challenges to existing and future plea agreements," Thomas warned.
In the land-sale case, the Murr family had purchased a property in Wisconsin, a year later purchased the adjoining property, and some time later sought to sell just the latter parcel of land. Under a local ordinance, however, the lots "merged" once the Murrs owned both and the latter parcel could not be sold separately. The Murrs sued, alleging that the decision amounted to a regulatory "taking" — such that they should be compensated for it by assessing the diminished value of the latter property.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Supreme Court in Murr v. Wisconsin, upheld the decision the state courts' decision that the property was properly assessed as a single unit, with the resulting decision that there was no taking.
"Courts must instead define the parcel in a manner that reflects reasonable expectations about the property," Kennedy wrote, calling that "consistent with the central purpose" of the Constitution's Takings Clause. "Treating the lot in question as a single parcel is legitimate for purposes of this takings inquiry, and this supports the conclusion that no regulatory taking occurred here.
The chief justice, joined by Thomas and Alito, dissented, arguing that Kennedy got it wrong by refusing to consider the reduced value to the individual parcel of land and concluding that the court's decision "compromises the Takings Clause as a barrier between individuals and the press of the public interest."
The civil service employment litigation case raised the issue of what happens when appealing different types of employment claims. A civil service appeal would normally go to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, while an appeal relating to a discrimination law claim would go to a federal district court. The question in Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board is what happens when a person seeks to appeal both. The federal government argued that the appeals should go on their separate paths. Anthony Perry — challenging his firing from his job at the Census Bureau — argued that he should be able to take appeals of both claims to the district court, and the court sided with Perry on Friday in an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Gorsuch, joined by Thomas, disagreed — siding with the federal government over Perry's argument that consideration of the issues together by "a single tribunal" would be a better, more efficient path. "Mr. Perry’s is an invitation I would run from fast," Gorsuch wrote in his first, but still strongly critical, dissent. "If a statute needs repair, there’s a constitutionally prescribed way to do it. It’s called legislation."
Earlier this week, the court issued decisions in two significant First Amendment cases, a longstanding challenge to post-9/11 detention policies, and a long-running dispute over convictions in a DC murder case, among others.
With the chief justice's Friday announcement that Monday is the last decision day, however, Monday should be a big day for the court — with no decisions yet in a major case over the rights of detained immigrants, a religious liberty case out of Missouri, or a constitutional challenge resulting from a cross-border shooting that left a Mexican teenager dead.
However, the court need not decide all of the six remaining cases. Arguments in three of the cases, for example, took place before Gorsuch took the bench. The court could hold over those cases — including the immigrant detention and cross-border shooting cases — for re-argument in the fall.
That's not all that's left. The court has not yet given any signal as to what it plans to do with the Trump administration's requests to stay lower court injunctions and allow it to enforce the president's travel and refugee bans and hear its appeal of the appellate court decisions upholding those injunctions.
In addition, word from the court is also expected next week on whether the court will be hearing any new cases — including the religious liberty case involving Masterpiece Cakeshop, a gun rights case out of California, and a question involving same-sex married couples and Arkansas birth certificates.