SCOTUS Update (Monday)

As noted here last week, the Supreme Court left its most highly anticipated cases for this week. One of them was released today: Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 11–345, the affirmative action case involving admissions at the University of Texas.

Writing for 7 justices (including Breyer and Sotomayor) Justice Kennedy concluded that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals failed to apply the strict scrutiny required by Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), when it affirmed the District Court’s award of summary judgment for the University regarding its admissions policy that included consideration of race. Justices Scalia and Thomas wrote concurring opinions; Thomas would explicitly overrule Grutter. Only Justice Ginsburg dissented. Justice Kagan did not participate. Initial reaction from live-bloggers on SCOTUSBlog viewed this as a compromise decision and not the sweeping rejection of consideration of race in college admissions that some had anticipated; Grutter is still alive but is likely to be challenged directly at another time.

The five other decisions released today include:

  • Vance v. Ball State University (an employee is a “supervisor” for purposes of vicarious liability under Title VII only if he or she is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim; 5-4 decision, Alito for the majority, Ginsburg for the dissent)
  • University of Tex. Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar (Title VII retaliation claims must be proved according to traditional principles of but-for causation; another 5-4 decision on Title VII; Ginsburg writing for 4 dissenters)
  • Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett (State-law design-defect claims that turn on the adequacy of a drug’s warnings are pre-empted by federal law; 5-4 decision, with Alito writing for majority; dissenting opinions by Breyer and Sotomayor)
  • U.S. v. Kebodoeux (Congress has power under Necessary and Proper clause to enact the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) and apply requirement to an offender who had already completed his state law sentence when SORNA was enacted; Breyer writing for majority; Scalia and Thomas dissenting)
  • Ryan v. Schad (per curiam decision in death penalty case; Ninth Circuit reversed and stay of execution vacated)

The Chief Justice announced that the Court would release more opinions tomorrow (Tuesday) and one more day this week. Stay tuned.