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The integrated “court-martial system” begins with the court-martial, which determines guilt or innocence and levies punishment. There are four appellate courts: the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) for the Army, Navy-Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard. They review decisions where the sentence is a punitive discharge, incarceration for more than one year, or death. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) sits atop the system and is a “court of record” composed of five civilian judges, 10 U.S.C. 941. Ortiz, an Airman First Class, was convicted by a court-martial of possessing and distributing child pornography. He was sentenced to imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge. An Air Force CCA panel, including Colonel Mitchell, affirmed. Judge Mitchell had recently been appointed to the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR) by the Secretary of Defense under his authority (10 U.S.C. 950f(b)(2)) to “assign [officers] who are appellate military judges” to serve on that court. The President also appointed Judge Mitchell to the CMCR. The Supreme Court affirmed CCA's holding that Judge Mitchell’s simultaneous service on the CCA and the CMCR violated neither the Appointments Clause nor 10 U.S.C. 973(b)(2)(A), which provides that unless “otherwise authorized by law,” an active-duty military officer “may not hold, or exercise the functions of,” certain “civil office[s]” in the federal government. Even if a seat on CMCR is a covered “civil office” section 950f(b) “otherwise authorize[s]” Judge Mitchell’s service by providing for the assignment of military officers to the CMCR. The Appointments Clause distinguishes between principal officers and inferior officers but does not impose rules about dual service. Ortiz does not show how Judge Mitchell’s CMCR service would result in “undue influence” on his CCA colleagues. In holding that it had jurisdiction over the case, the Court stated that the military justice system’s essential character is judicial and the Court’s appellate jurisdiction covers more than decisions by Article III courts. View "Ortiz v. United States" on Justia Law

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When a phone connects to a cell site, it generates time-stamped cell-site location information (CSLI) that is stored by wireless carriers for business purposes. The FBI identified the cell phone numbers of robbery suspects. Prosecutors obtained court orders to get the suspects’ CSLI under the Stored Communications Act, which requires “reasonable grounds” for believing that the records were “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation,” 18 U.S.C. 2703(d), rather than a showing of probable cause. With CSLI for Carpenter’s phone, the government cataloged Carpenter’s movements over 127 days, showing that Carpenter’s phone was near four robbery locations at the time those robberies occurred. After denial of his motion to suppress, Carpenter was convicted. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the acquisition of Carpenter’s cell-site records was a Fourth Amendment search. The Fourth Amendment protects expectations of privacy “that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable” so that official intrusion generally qualifies as a search and requires a warrant supported by probable cause. Historical cell-site records give the government near-perfect surveillance, allow it to travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts. Rejecting an argument that the third-party doctrine governed these “business records,” the Court noted the “world of difference between the limited types of personal information” addressed in precedent and the “exhaustive chronicle of location information casually collected by wireless carriers.” CSLI is not truly “shared” because cell phones are an indispensable, pervasive part of daily life and they log CSLI without any affirmative act by the user. The Court noted that its decision is narrow and does not address conventional surveillance tools, such as security cameras, other business records that might reveal location information, or collection techniques involving foreign affairs or national security. View "Carpenter v. United States" on Justia Law

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Currier was indicted for burglary, grand larceny, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Because the prosecution could introduce evidence of his prior burglary and larceny convictions to prove the felon-in-possession charge, which might prejudice the jury’s consideration of the other charges, the parties agreed to a severance and asked the court to try the burglary and larceny charges first, followed by a second trial on the felon-in-possession charge. At the first trial, Currier was acquitted. He then, unsuccessfully, sought to stop the second trial, arguing that it would amount to double jeopardy. The jury convicted him on the felon-in-possession charge. Virginia courts and the Supreme Court affirmed, reasoning that, because Currier consented to a severance, his trial and conviction on the felon-in-possession charge did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, which provides that no person may be tried more than once “for the same offence.” A second trial is not precluded simply because it is very unlikely that the original jury acquitted without finding the fact in question. Currier was not forced to give up one constitutional right to secure another but faced a lawful choice between courses of action that each bore potential costs and benefits. View "Currier v. Virginia" on Justia Law

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WesternGeco owns patents for a system used to survey the ocean floor. ION sold a competing system, built from components manufactured in the U.S., then shipped abroad for assembly into a system indistinguishable from WesternGeco’s. WesternGeco sued for patent infringement, 35 U.S.C. 271(f)(1) and (f)(2). The jury awarded WesternGeco royalties and lost profits under section 284. The Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit, holding that WesternGeco’s award for lost profits was a permissible domestic application of section 284 of the Patent Act, not an impermissible extraterritorial application of section 271. To determine whether the case involves a domestic application of the statute, courts must identify the statute’s "focus” and ask whether the conduct relevant to that focus occurred in U.S. territory. If so, the case involves a permissible domestic application of the statute. When determining the statute’s focus, the provision at issue must be assessed in concert with other provisions. Section 284, the general damages provision, focuses on “the infringement.” The “overriding purpose” is “complete compensation” for infringements. Section 271 identifies several ways that a patent can be infringed; to determine section 284’s focus in a given case, the type of infringement must be identified. Section 271(f)(2) was the basis for WesternGeco’s claim and damages. That provision regulates the domestic act of “suppl[ying] in or from the United States,” and vindicates domestic interests, The focus of section 284 in a case involving infringement under section 271(f)(2) is the act of exporting components from the U.S., so the relevant conduct occurred in the U.S. Damages are not the statutory focus but are merely the means by which the statute remedies infringements. The overseas events giving rise to the lost-profit damages here were merely incidental to the infringement. View "WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corp." on Justia Law

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Congress adopted the Railroad Retirement Tax Act of 1937 in response to the Great Depression, federalizing private railroad pension plans. Private railroads and their employees pay a tax based on employees’ incomes; the federal government provides employees a pension often more generous than the social security system supplies employees in other industries. At the time of the Act’s adoption, railroads compensated employees not just with money but also with food, lodging, and railroad tickets. Railroads typically did not count these in-kind benefits when calculating an employee’s pension; neither did Congress in its new statutory pension scheme. Nor did Congress seek to tax these in-kind benefits, defining “compensation” as “any form of money remuneration.” Some railroads subsequently adopted employee stock option plans. The Supreme Court held that employee stock options are not taxable “compensation” under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act because they are not “money remuneration.” When Congress adopted the Act, “money” was understood as currency “issued by [a] recognized authority as a medium of exchange.” While stock can be bought or sold for money, it is not usually considered a medium of exchange. Congress wanted to tax monetary compensation in any of the many forms an employer might choose but did not want to tax things, like stock, that are not money. Congress knew the difference between “money” and “all” forms of remuneration and chose to use the narrower term in the context of railroad pensions. View "Wisconsin Central Ltd. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Many states tax the retail sales of goods and services in the state. Sellers are required to collect and remit the tax; if they do not in-state consumers are responsible for paying a use tax at the same rate. Under earlier Supreme Court decisions, states could not require a business that had no physical presence in the state to collect its sales tax. Consumer compliance rates are low; it is estimated that South Dakota lost $48-$58 million annually. South Dakota enacted a law requiring out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax, covering only sellers that annually deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the state or engage in 200 or more separate transactions for the delivery of goods or services into the state. State courts found the Act unconstitutional. The Supreme Court vacated, overruling the physical presence rule established by its decisions in Quill (1992), and National Bellas Hess (1967). That rule gave out-of-state sellers an advantage and each year becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the states. A business need not have a physical presence in a state to satisfy the demands of due process. The Commerce Clause requires “a sensitive, case-by-case analysis of purposes and effects,” to protect against any undue burden on interstate commerce, taking into consideration the small businesses, startups, or others who engage in commerce across state lines. Without the physical presence test, the first inquiry is whether the tax applies to an activity with a substantial nexus with the taxing state. Here, the nexus is sufficient. Any remaining Commerce Clause concerns may be addressed on remand. View "South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc." on Justia Law

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Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, nonpermanent residents who are subject to removal may be eligible for cancellation of removal if they have “been physically present" in the U.S. for a continuous period of not less than 10 years, 8 U.S.C. 1229(b)(1)(A). Continuous presence is deemed to end when the alien is served notice under section 1229(a), which provides for written notice to appear, specifying the “time and place" of proceedings. The Department of Homeland Security often serves notices that fail to specify the time, place, or date of initial removal hearings. Pereira, a citizen of Brazil, came to the U.S. in 2000 and remained after his visa expired. Following a 2006 DUI arrest, DHS served Pereira with a “notice to appear” that ordered him to appear at a date to be set in the future. A year later, the Immigration Court mailed Pereira notice setting the date and time for his hearing. Sent to the wrong address, the notice was returned as undeliverable. Pereira failed to appear and was ordered removed in absentia. In 2013, Pereira was detained by DHS. In reopened removal proceedings, Pereira demonstrated that he never received the 2007 notice. Pereira applied for cancellation of removal, arguing that he had been continuously present for more than 10 years. The BIA affirmed a removal order; the First Circuit denied Pereira’s petition for review. The Supreme Court reversed. A putative notice to appear that fails to designate the specific time or place of the noncitizen’s removal proceedings is not a “notice to appear” under section 1229(a) and does not trigger the stop-time rule. The unambiguous statutory text clarifies that the notice must specify “time and place” of the hearing. View "Pereira v. Sessions" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has authority to enforce securities laws by instituting an administrative proceeding against an alleged wrongdoer, typically overseen by an administrative law judge (ALJ). Other staff members, rather than the Commission, selected all of the five current ALJs, who have “authority to do all things necessary and appropriate” to ensure a “fair and orderly” adversarial proceeding, 17 CFR 201.111, 200.14(a). After a hearing, the ALJ issues an initial decision. The Commission can review that decision, but if it opts against review, it issues an order that the initial decision is “deemed the action of the Commission,” 15 U.S.C. 78d–1(c). The SEC charged Lucia and assigned ALJ Elliot to adjudicate the case. Following a hearing, Elliot issued an initial decision concluding that Lucia had violated the law and imposing sanctions. Lucia argued that the proceeding was invalid because SEC ALJs are “Officers of the United States,” subject to the Appointments Clause. Under that Clause, only the President, “Courts of Law,” or “Heads of Departments” can appoint “Officers.” The SEC and the D. C. Circuit rejected Lucia’s argument. The Supreme Court reversed. SEC ALJs are subject to the Appointments Clause. To qualify as an officer, rather than an employee, an individual must occupy a “continuing” position established by law, and must “exercis[e] significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States,” SEC ALJs hold a continuing office established 5 U.S.C. 556–557, 5372, 3105, and exercise “significant discretion." The ALJs have nearly all the tools of federal trial judges: they take testimony, conduct trials, rule on the admissibility of evidence, can enforce compliance with discovery orders, and prepare proposed findings and an opinion including remedies. Judge Elliot heard and decided Lucia’s case without a constitutional appointment. View "Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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Petitioner pleaded guilty to possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The judge determined the Guidelines range to be 135-168 months and imposed a 135-month sentence. The Sentencing Commission later lowered the relevant range to 108-135 months. Petitioner sought a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). The same judge reduced his sentence to 114 months. The order certified that the judge had “tak[en] into account” the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and the Guidelines policy statement. Petitioner argued judge did not adequately explain why he rejected petitioner’s request for a 108-month sentence. The Tenth Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed. Even assuming the court had a duty to explain its reasons when modifying petitioner’s sentence, what the court did was sufficient. The Court rejected an argument that a court must explain its reasoning in greater detail when it imposes a “disproportionate” sentence reduction—when the court reduces the prisoner’s sentence to a different point in the amended Guidelines range than the court previously selected in the original range. Because the record suggests the judge originally believed that 135 months was an appropriately high sentence in light of petitioner’s offense, it is unsurprising that he subsequently imposed a sentence somewhat higher than the bottom of the reduced range. Given the judge’s awareness of the arguments, his consideration of the relevant sentencing factors, and the intuitive reason why he picked a sentence above the very bottom of the new range, his explanation fell within the scope of a sentencing judge's lawful professional judgment. View "Chavez-Meza v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Republican voters alleged that Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District was gerrymandered in 2011 in retaliation for their political views. Six years after the General Assembly redrew the District, plaintiffs sought to enjoin election officials from holding congressional elections under the 2011 map. The district court denied the motion and stayed further proceedings pending the Supreme Court’s disposition of partisan gerrymandering claims in Gill v. Whitford. The Supreme Court affirmed. In granting a preliminary injunction a court must consider whether the movant has shown “that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” Plaintiffs made no such showing. They did not move for a preliminary injunction until six years, and three general elections, after the 2011 map was adopted, and three years after their first complaint was filed. The delay largely arose from a circumstance within plaintiffs’ control. In considering the balance of equities, that unnecessary, years-long delay weighed against their request. The public interest in orderly elections also supported the decision. Plaintiffs represented to the court that any injunctive relief would have to be granted by August 18, 2017, to ensure the timely completion of a new districting scheme in advance of the 2018 election season. Despite the court’s undisputedly diligent efforts, that date had passed by the time the court ruled. There was also legal uncertainty surrounding any potential remedy for the asserted injury; the court reasonably could have concluded that a preliminary injunction would have been against the public interest and might have had a needlessly disruptive effect on the electoral process. View "Besinek v. Lamone" on Justia Law