Last Friday the justices added five new cases, for a total of four hours of argument, to their docket for this term. The December 13 conference was the last regularly scheduled conference for 2019, but this morning the justices added five more new cases, again for a total of four hours of argument, to their docket.
In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, the justices will consider the scope of the “ministerial exception,” a court-created doctrine that prohibits courts from reviewing employment decisions by religious employers involving their ministers. Under the exception, courts must determine which employees serve a “ministerial function.” In these cases, which will be argued together, two California Catholic schools are challenging rulings by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that teachers who sued the schools after the teachers’ contracts were not renewed were not, despite their religious duties, “ministers” for purposes of the exception. The schools tell the justices that the issues presented in the two cases are “vital to the daily operations of religious organizations,” and that “getting it right is crucial in protecting church-state relations.”
In Torres v. Madrid, the justices will weigh in on what it means to be “seized” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable seizures. The case arose when Roxanne Torres dropped off a friend at the apartment complex where police in Albuquerque were attempting to serve an arrest warrant on a different person. When police approached her car, Torres – not realizing that they were police officers – believed that she was about to be the victim of a carjacking and drove her car forward. The officers shot her twice while she was still in her car; Torres managed to continue to drive away from the scene and was later treated at a hospital for her injuries. When Torres sued the officers for using excessive force, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit threw out her case. It ruled that Torres had not been “seized” because she continued to drive away after being shot, rather than being arrested. Torres asked the justices to review that ruling, which they agreed to do today.
In City of Chicago v. Fulton, the justices will consider whether the “automatic stay” imposed by the Bankruptcy Code requires creditors to turn over property belonging to a debtor that they have repossessed as soon as the debtor files for bankruptcy. The issue arose in this case when the city impounded the respondents’ cars based on the respondents’ failure to pay traffic fines and then refused to return the cars after the respondents filed for bankruptcy.
And in Pereida v. Barr, the justices will decide whether a noncitizen who is convicted of a state crime can apply for relief from deportation – such as asylum or cancellation of removal – when the state-court record is ambiguous about whether his conviction corresponds to an offense listed in the Immigration and Nationality Act. The question arises in the case of Clemente Pereida, who was convicted in Nebraska of “attempted criminal impersonation,” a misdemeanor for which he was fined $100. The dispute centers on whether the conviction was a “crime of moral turpitude,” which would bar Pereida from applying for relief from deportation. The federal government agreed with Pereida that review should be granted, although it agrees with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit that Pereida is not eligible for relief from deportation.
With the justices not scheduled to consider new petitions for review again until January 10, 2020, today’s new grants give the Supreme Court enough cases to comfortably fill its March argument session, which begins on March 23. Orders from the January 10 conference could come as early as that afternoon.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.