By: Natasha Varyani, Adjunct Professor of Law
The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., addressing the issue of when sales tax needs to be collected by online retailers engaged in eCommerce. In its 1992 decision in Quill v. North Dakota, the Court ruled that a retailer must have a “physical presence” in a state in order to be subject to that jurisdiction’s sales and use tax laws. The Court in Quill was revisiting its 1967 holding in National Bellas Hess v. Department of Revenue, in which it reviewed the authority of a state to impose its sales and tax laws on an out of state entity doing business in state.
Both Bellas Hess and Quill dealt with retailers that conducted sales through mail order, and their only presence in state was the catalogue of products offered. The Court in Quill cited “tremendous social, economic, commercial and legal innovations” that had occurred in the twenty-five years that had passed since its holding in Bellas Hess to justify overruling that former holding.
Twenty-six years have passed since Quill. In that time, the change in social, economic, and commercial life has been both dramatic and extremely rapid, so it only follows that the law should adapt in response. The holding in Quill articulated the “physical presence” standard, which demanded that, in order for a state to impose its sales and use tax laws on a retailer, that retailer was required to have a physical presence in state. Understanding the standard for imposition of sales tax, some retailers, notably Amazon.com, selected jurisdictions for their headquarters and warehouses intentionally to avoid having a physical presence and therefore being subject to sales and use tax laws in high tax jurisdictions. Though Amazon.com has a business plan that focuses less on state sales tax than it formerly did, online retailers like Wayfair (the plaintiff in this suit), Overstock.com, and NewEgg have benefitted from the physical presence standard set forth in Quill.
By: Lawrence M. Friedman and Victor M. Hansen
Associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump have suggested that the infamous Supreme Court decision upholding the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Korematsu v. United States, could be used to justify measures aimed at tracking and potentially detaining Muslim-Americans and Muslim immigrants. As Professor Noah Feldman has recently noted, the Korematsu decision is widely regarded today as having been wrongly decided and it has been, as Justice Stephen G. Breyer has put it, “discredited.”
But there is another reason why the precedential value of Korematsu has been diminished: its basic premise has been undermined by the Supreme Court’s more recent decisions in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Boumediene v. Bush.
By: Lawrence M. Friedman
In his dissenting opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas, Justice Alito argues that the Court indulged the university’s “plea for deference” in the application of strict scrutiny to its race-based affirmative action program. And he’s probably right, too: the scrutiny the majority applied in Fisher seems less strict than the scrutiny the Court historically has given race-based classifications.
But this isn’t to say that the result Alito would have reached—striking down the university’s plan—is also right. For he fails to appreciate that, just as equal protection doctrine protects only individuals who are similarly situated, strict scrutiny applies in the same way only in similarly situated cases. In other words, context matters—and context explains why higher education affirmative action programs may survive judicial review where the governmental use of race in other contexts would not.
By: Victor M. Hansen
The Court’s opinion in Utah v. Strieff is the latest in a series of recent opinions in which the Court has significantly undermined Fourth Amendment protections by limiting the application of the exclusionary rule. As my colleague, Professor Friedman, noted in his recent post, the Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence effectively allows the government to pursue policy goals in ways that conflict with individual privacy protections. The Court has been able to justify this by viewing the exclusionary rule as solely a tool to deter police misconduct. In situations where, in the Court’s view, the exclusionary rule would not deter police misconduct, the rule comes at too high a cost, and a number of exceptions have been judicially created to limit its application.
Of course, the exclusionary rule is a judicially created rule to begin with, since nothing in the language of the Fourth Amendment suggests a remedy for violations. And it can certainly be argued that, since the rule is judicially created, the courts and specifically the U.S. Supreme Court should be able to modify it as it sees fit. However, on closer examination, the Court’s rationale for not applying the exclusionary rule in Strieff and other recent cases only makes sense if you adopt a rather narrow view of deterrence.
By: Dina Francesca Haynes
Last week, the Supreme Court issued its (non)-decision in Texas v. United States. At issue: whether one judge in Texas could enjoin a federal immigration program crafted by the Executive Branch, and whether the Executive Branch had exceeded its authority in so doing. I wrote about this case earlier this year, predicting a 4-4 split with the current court one justice down. Unfortunately, my prediction was borne out.
The Fifth Circuit—specifically one judge, Judge Andrew S. Hanen (who was recently accused of abuse of discretion when he imposed sanctions on federal government attorneys whose arguments he didn’t like)—had earlier decided that the State of Texas had established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their procedural and substantive claims required for an injunction. What is unusual in this case is that a district judge’s preliminary injunction applies nationwide (and not, as would ordinarily be the case, in the judge’s district only).
By: Lawrence M. Friedman
The U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from pursuing its policy goals in ways that conflict with individual rights protections—except, as the Supreme Court reminds us in its decision in Utah v. Strieff, where the protection of privacy under the Fourth Amendment is concerned.
The remedy for a Fourth Amendment violation is exclusion of the evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search or seizure. Deterrence of governmental misconduct has been the animating principle of the exclusionary rule for decades (though it was originally just one of several rationales), and the nature of the Court’s cost-benefit deterrence analysis has led it, time and again, to conclude that the costs of suppression outweigh any potentially beneficial deterrent effect. As Justice Clarence Thomas explains in the opening paragraph of his opinion for the majority in Strieff, “even when there is a Fourth Amendment violation, [the] exclusionary rule does not apply when the costs of exclusion outweigh its deterrent benefits.”
In his blog post
on the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Williams v. Pennsylvania
, Professor Eldred
notes that in this and other cases, the Court makes proclamations about the nature of human psychology and decision-making without identifying the scientific source for its conclusions. Professor Eldred wrote that this latest decision is a missed opportunity by the Court that could undermine the long-term value of the decision, particularly when, as Professor Eldred notes, there was significant literature and research in this area available to the Court. Here, I want to address another issue raised by the facts of the case that should alarm anyone concerned about the fairness of our criminal justice system—namely, the role of the prosecutor. While I can’t say that this was another missed opportunity by the Court to address the question since it was not directly before the Court, the troubling story recounted by the facts of the case serves as an important backdrop and raises important questions about the quality of justice in death penalty and other cases.
In its recounting of the facts of the case, the Court noted that the prosecutor assigned to the murder case against Williams sent a two-page memorandum to the district attorney requesting approval to seek the death penalty. The then-district attorney, later Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, approved the request by writing: “Approved to proceed on the death penalty.” The case before the Court was about whether the district attorney who penned that approval could some 30 years later sit as one of the justices on the court called upon to vacate William’s stay of execution. The Supreme Court also noted a number of Brady violations that the prosecuting attorney allegedly committed in the case, as well as the fact that none of this information—the prosecution memo and approval by the district attorney or the possible Brady violations—came to light until the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas ordered the district attorney’s office to produce previously undisclosed files, many years after Williams’ trial.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the merits of religious nonprofit organizations’ challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage religious opt-out regulations. The regulations allow religious nonprofits to avoid the legal responsibility of covering contraceptives in their health insurance plans by providing notice that they object to doing so on religious grounds. The petitioners in the cases consolidated in Zubik v. Burwell claimed that furnishing this notice imposed a substantial burden on their religious exercise. In a per curiam opinion, the Court noted that supplemental briefing that addressed whether contraceptive coverage could be provided to the petitioners’ employees without the required notice had revealed the feasibility of such an option. The Court remanded the cases for investigation of this option, without making a decision on the plaintiffs’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Williams v. Pennsylvania, handed down during the turmoil in the presidential campaign over the heated rhetoric on judicial impartiality, adds to the Supreme Court’s growing jurisprudence on the due process requirements for judicial disqualification. The issue in the case—whether a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could properly adjudicate a death penalty case when he had previously been the prosecutor who authorized capital charges against the defendant—set the stage for a ruling that could have provided broad guidance on the due process parameters for judicial disqualification, especially in criminal cases. Yet the Court’s holding may end up having only limited impact. As others have already started to note, the test announced by the Court—“that under the Due Process Clause there is an impermissible risk of actual bias when a judge earlier had significant, personal involvement as a prosecutor in a crucial decision regarding the defendant’s case”—will be hard to prove and adds little additional guidance to what is already available under existing ethical standards for judicial recusal in most states. In addition, my guess is that there are few cases in which a prosecutor-turned-judge will be asked to rule on a case in which he or she was previously involved, so this test is likely to directly apply to only a narrow band of future situations.
Even in the age of social media and internet searches, in which our public and private lives are increasingly (and often voluntarily) blurred, there is still something jarring about learning that your identity has been misrepresented or misconstrued. For Thomas Robins, that moment came when Spokeo, Inc., a “people search engine,” assembled an online profile of him that contained an array of incorrect information, including inaccurate statements of his age, family status, wealth, and education. Robins responded by filing a class action complaint against Spokeo in federal district court, alleging that Spokeo’s willful failure to check the accuracy of his personal information entitled him to statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (FCRA).