Supreme Court to hear immunity, discrimination, free speech cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari [order list, PDF] Monday in four cases. In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will determine whether three oil companies are immune from US lawsuits under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 [text] for torture and international law violations that took place overseas. In a similar case, Mohamad v. Rajoub [docket], the court will decide whether political organizations including the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization could be immune from liability under the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1992 (TVPA) [text]. The plaintiffs in both cases allege human rights violations against an entity other than an individual person. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the oil companies were immune from liability [JURIST report], and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reached the same result [opinion, PDF] with respect to political organizations. The court will hear arguments for both Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and Mohamad v. Rajoub in tandem.

The court will also hear arguments in Elgin v. Department of the Treasury [docket; cert. petition, PDF] to decide whether federal district courts have jurisdiction over constitutional claims for equitable relief brought by federal employees. The plaintiffs, former federal employees who had failed to register with the Selective Service between the ages of 18 and 26 pursuant to the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA) [text, PDF], claim that the MSSA discriminates based on sex because it imposes a lifetime bar on federal executive agency employment for violations carried out by a specific group of men. The men resigned or were fired from their federal posts for failure to register. The US Courts of Appeals for the Third and District of Columbia Circuits have held that federal employees do have valid claims under the Civil Service Reform Act [materials], while the First, Second and Tenth Circuits have precluded such jurisdiction.

Finally, in US v. Alvarez [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court is asked to determine whether the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 (SVA) [text], legislation that makes it a federal crime to falsely assert that one has "received a decoration or medal authorized by Congress" for US armed forces, is a violation of the First Amendment [text] right to freedom of speech. Respondent Xavier Alvarez told members of a public water district board meeting that he was a retired US Marine, had been wounded many times and received the Congressional Medal of Honor, when in fact he had never served in the US military. Alvarez pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a fine and serve three years of probation, but the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the conviction [opinion, PDF], finding the SVA facially unconstitutional [JURIST report]. The US Solicitor General argued [JURIST report] in his petition for certiorari that the appeals court erroneously applied the strict scrutiny standard to invalidate the SVA and overturn the conviction.

 

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