This afternoon the Supreme Court issued orders from the justices’ private conference earlier in the day. The justices granted four petitions for review, two of which will be consolidated, for a total of three additional hours of argument this term. The cases will likely be argued early next year.
Among the grants today was Google v. Oracle, a copyright case involving computer code. The case arises from Google’s reuse of so-called “declarations” that introduce short-cut programs written for the Java programming language. Google reused the declarations to make it easier for programmers familiar with the Java language to write applications for Google’s Android operating system. In two successive proceedings, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the declarations are copyrightable and that Google’s conduct was not fair use. The federal government had recommended that the court deny Google’s petition, expressing the government’s support for the Federal Circuit’s rulings.
The justices also granted two requests by the government to weigh in on the statute of limitations for old rape charges against members of the armed forces. The question arises in the case of Michael Briggs, a captain in the U.S. Air Force who in 2014 was charged with the 2005 rape of a member of his squadron. Under the version of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that was in effect when Briggs was charged, there is no statute of limitations for rape. At his court-martial proceeding, Briggs was found guilty, but an appeals court later ordered that the charge be dismissed. It reasoned that under a 2018 ruling by the same court, the five-year statute of limitations for the version of the UCMJ in effect in 2005 applied to Briggs’ offense. The court also ruled that a 2006 law that specifically provides that there is no statute of limitations for rape does not apply to rapes committed before 2006.
The government filed a separate petition for review in the case of two other members of the Air Force. Richard Collins was an instructor at an Air Force base in Texas. In 2016 he was found guilty of the August 2000 rape of a student in his course. As in Briggs’ case, an appeals court reversed Collins’ conviction, pointing to a 2018 decision by the same court. Humphrey Daniels was convicted in 2017 of the 1998 rape of a civilian near the North Dakota Air Force base where he was stationed; his conviction was also reversed.
The government appealed to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to grant both petitions. The government told the justices that sexual assault is “devastating to the morale, discipline, and effectiveness of our Armed Forces, but also difficult to uncover.” The request was supported by a “friend of the court” brief by Harmony Allen and Tonja Schultz – the victims of Collins and Daniels. Today the justices agreed to take up the case.
In Walker v. United States, the justices will consider whether a criminal offense that can be committed merely by being reckless can qualify as a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act, a 1984 law that extends the sentences of felons who commit crimes with guns if they have been convicted three or more times of certain crimes.
The question comes to the court in the case of James Walker, an elderly Tennessee man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison under the ACCA after police discovered 13 bullets – which Walker had found while cleaning the rooming house that he managed – when responding to reports of drug sales at the house. Walker argues that the ACCA should not apply to his case. He contends that one of his prior convictions, for robbery in Texas, does not qualify as a “violent felony” because a defendant could be convicted if he recklessly caused injury during a theft.
The federal government agrees with Walker that the justices should weigh in on the issue, but it maintains that the lower court was correct in deeming Walker’s robbery conviction a “violent felony” for purposes of the ACCA.
More orders from today’s conference are expected on Monday at 9:30 a.m.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.