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Supreme Court hears arguments on jurisdiction over constitutional claims

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in two cases on Monday. In Elgin v. Department of Treasury [transcript; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether federal district courts have jurisdiction over constitutional claims for equitable relief brought by federal employees under the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) [materials]. The petitioners argued that the CSRA was never intended to review constitutional claims, therefore the jurisdiction issue is non-material. The respondents, the Solicitor General's office, argued that the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) should determine whether a claim can be heard in district court. The respondents, 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 court did not consider this constitutional issue on Monday.

The court also considered Wood v. Milyard [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] to decide if the prosecution failing to raise a statute of limitations argument in response to plaintiff's writ of habeas corpus is an error that can be overturned. Further, specific to this case, if the state's assurance to the plaintiff that they would not raise a statute of limitations argument is enough to bind them to not be able to raise it later in proceedings. The petitioner, Patrick Wood's attorney, argued that the state of Colorado had acted strategically in raising to fail the claim and could not be rewarded for this. The Solicitor General of Colorado argued, in response, that the Supreme Court should, "recognize that courts are not bound by a State's failure to properly argue and preserve a procedural bar to a habeas claim; and second, to the extent there is an exception to that rule for deliberate waivers, the court should apply the common rule that a waiver must be unequivocal."

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