This morning the Supreme Court released orders from the justices’ private conference last week. The court did not act on the federal government’s petition for review of a dispute over whether the Trump administration can terminate the program known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to apply for protection from deportation. In a relatively rare move, the government asked the Supreme Court to weigh in even before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ruled on the Trump administration’s appeal of a January 9 ruling by a federal judge in California, who blocked the federal government from ending the DACA program. Many court watchers believed that if the justices planned to grant the government’s request and hear oral argument in the case this term, they would have done so last Friday, shortly after their conference, to jump-start what would be an expedited briefing schedule. The justices likely will consider the case again at their conference on Friday, February 23.
The justices summarily – that is, without briefing or oral argument – reversed the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in CNH Industrial N.V. v. Reese. Three years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in M & G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett that courts should apply ordinary contract principles to determine whether retiree health-care benefits survive after a collective-bargaining agreement expires. Those principles, the court stressed, do not include an inference (drawn by the court of appeals in that case) that parties to a collective-bargaining agreement would intend retiree health benefits to vest for life. In an unsigned opinion today that did not even require eight full pages, the justices concluded that the 6th Circuit’s ruling in CNH Industrial could not be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s opinion in Tackett. The court explained that the 6th Circuit’s decision relied on the same kinds of inferences that the justices had rejected in Tackett to find that the collective-bargaining agreement at issue was ambiguous, which would in turn permit the court to look at other evidence. “If the parties meant to vest health care benefits for life,” today’s opinion reasoned, “they easily could have said so in the text. But they did not” – and they in fact indicated that the agreement covered all of the bargaining issues on the table. “Thus,” the justices stressed, “the only reasonable interpretation of the 1998 agreement is that the health care benefits expired when the collective-bargaining agreement expired” 14 years ago.
Justice Clarence Thomas filed a sharp dissent from the court’s announcement that it would not review a challenge to California’s 10-day waiting period for gun purchases. Two California men had argued that the waiting period violates the Constitution, at least for state residents who already own a gun or have a license to carry a concealed weapon. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the challenge, and today the Supreme Court declined to weigh in. Thomas blasted the 9th Circuit’s ruling and the Supreme Court’s decision not to step in, suggesting that “the Second Amendment is a disfavored right” and that the justices’ “continued refusal to hear Second Amendment cases only enables” the double standard that the lower courts apply to gun-rights cases. Thomas had used similarly strong language last year, after the justices denied review in a case asking them to decide whether the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense. In that case, Thomas was joined in dissent by Justice Neil Gorsuch, but today Thomas dissented alone.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.