Supreme Court Roundup: October Term 2017 [SCOTUSbrief]
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Supreme Court Roundup: October Term 2017 [SCOTUSbrief]


The case of Sveen v. Melin is a case about
the contracts clause of the Constitution. Contracts clause says that no state shall
pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts. And at issue is a 2002 Minnesota law that
said that in the event of a divorce, the designation of an ex-spouse as a beneficiary will be revoked
automatically. Kaye Melin and Mark Sveen were married in
1997. They get divorced in 2007. When Mr. Sveen died, the primary beneficiary
on his life insurance policy was his ex-wife, Kaye Melin, and the contingent
beneficiaries were his two children from a prior marriage. So the question is, is Kaye Melin still the
beneficiary, or did the law operate to make his two children from a prior marriage the
beneficiaries? I don’t think that the outcome of Sveen v.
Melin surprised anyone, the children win. Justice Kagan says that there was no substantial
impairment of the insurance contract, by the Minnesota law. Because basically, the law just reflects what
the likely intent of a policyholder would be, upon getting a divorce. The dissent by Justice Gorsuch, um, is interesting
because he says, “Look, the contracts clause doesn’t say, ‘only substantial impairments
trigger the protection of the Constitution,’ it says, ‘any impairment.'” Right? And so, that’s not a part of the original
constitutional protection as a matter of text, as a matter of original public meaning. The idea behind that dissent is to sort of
revive the contracts clause as a valid, constitutional provision for analysis. In Lucia versus Securities and Exchange Commission,
an administrative law judge found that Mr. Lucia had violated various investment-related
regulations. Congress, by statute, had already given SEC
commissioners the authority to appoint ALJs. But the SEC commissioners had decided on their
own, to delegate that power. And so, it was really staff within the SEC
who had signed on the dotted line of the ALJ’s appointment. Mr. Lucia said that violated Article II of
The Constitution, therefore, the ALJ was never appropriately exercising governmental power
in the first place, and could not impose that penalty on Mr. Lucia. The Supreme Court reconfirmed that the appointments
clause is an important mechanism for accountability within the executive branch. Administrative law judges who oversee formal
hearings within a- administrative agencies are officers of the United States, who need
to be appointed by either the President, or a department head, or court of law, which
gives accountability back to the people to know who put in place administrative law judges
who are carrying out important decisions with great weight for members of the American public. Animal Sciences versus Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical
involves a lawsuit brought under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, alleging that
four Chinese vitamin C manufacturers were fixing prices on vitamin C exports into the
United States. That case was tried to a jury, and the jury
rendered a verdict of 147 million dollars, in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the
Chinese companies had in fact engaged in price fixing. A very interesting thing happened, the Chinese
Ministry of Commerce filed an Amicus brief, and the Amicus brief stated that Chinese law
required the Chinese government to charge the prices that they did. The Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1 says,
“Whenever a US district court is confronted with an issue of foreign law, it shall treat
that question as issue of law, not one of fact, and it can consult whatever relevant
materials or sources it feels it needs to.” So the Second Circuit says, “Well, we think
that if a foreign government intervenes, and says that it’s their law, that we have to
defer to it, um, so long as it’s reasonable.” Supreme Court opinion by Justice Ginsburg
remanded to the Second Circuit and essentially said conclusive deference is wrong. You can still say that Chinese law is what
the Chinese government says it is, and you could still reverse the jury verdict, but
you have to look at the representations that are made.

One Comment

  • WPLU572 Trunked Radio

    family law should be on a new panel at the Federalist society. Maybe you could talk about tort law and family law and what have been the results are rather sorry what has been the result of eliminating faults in divorce in practically every state in our Union. Can tort law fill the gap Left behind? Do we need a new tort called infliction of spousal emotional abuse?

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